Normal is Over(rated) – For Now

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

This is a guest post by Joy S. Davis, CAE, based on an email she sent to me after reading Lisa Block’s recent post, “I Am Sorry, But We Are Not All Fine.” Joy is Managing Director, Member Products, for the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.

Not too long ago, I gently asked my Executive Director to stop opening her weekly columns to members with a depressing reminder of COVID-19 and how weird things are right now. She’s a very upbeat, can-do kind of person, and her columns are always forward-looking and sunny, except for her first paragraphs these past few months. Week after week, I’d been editing out those first sentences.

I’m on the verge of saying something similar to a few of the volunteer leaders in my organization. In every video call at some point they give everyone a sad look and offer some variation of, “I wish we could be together.”

I have also banned the phrase “return to normal,” because right now is normal. Change is normal. Perhaps our current rate of acceleration is not – but change itself is normal. Today it’s normal that I don’t eat in restaurants or fly, and at some point it will be normal that I do those things again.

We association people are talking like “normal” is a perfect, balanced state to which we will inevitably return. It’s what we know and it’s comfortingly familiar, so we have begun to fetishize it. We fantasize about crowded exhibit halls, packed hotels, and chummy, in-person board meetings.

I get a million emails a day with some variation of “Here’s when I think we can hold big meetings again.” I delete them all. Reading them would be a waste of my time. I need to operate now and look forward, not try to claw may way back to “normal.” The “normal” we know is history. And I have to ask, do we really want to repeat it? We should not, even if we think we can.

Good Business Strategy Looks Forward

Going backward has never, ever been a good business strategy. Why are we all sitting around talking about how much we want to go backward, as if that’s an option?

I am increasingly disturbed by association leaders who, nine months into this pandemic, are talking about “a return to normal” as if it was just around the corner – as if this were just a bizarre interruption in our regularly scheduled programming. This is despite all the evidence in the world that:

1) We won’t have a widely distributed vaccine as a preventive solution until mid-2021 at the earliest

2) This solution may not be widely accepted or long-lasting

3) We’re not going back to normal, because normal is how we got here

You cannot find your way forward if you are constantly looking backward. Or waiting for things to go back to normal. Or trying to recreate your favorite memory, which some of us appear to have labeled “normal,” bedazzled for extra zing, and placed in a jar so that we can stare at it longingly.

The stress of clinging to a past normal will break you. It’s breaking people right now. At the very least it will limit or paralyze you. Inflexibility in the face of things so far beyond your control – of changes so far afield from the security of your trends, and your past performance, and your conventional wisdom, and your beliefs about what kind of people your neighbors are — will lead to your total mental shut-down.

An obsession with what the world once looked like and getting back to that will also keep you from seeing what it could look like, and what you can do about that right now. It will damage your ability to assess risk because it limits your scenario planning. It will also limit your ability to imagine things differently — the root cause of organizational failure cited by a thousand motivational speakers during “normal” times. “We’ll get a vaccine and then everyone will get back on planes and it will be business as usual” is a dangerous line of thinking for people who are responsible for large organizations that depend on meetings. What if that’s not what happens?

I’m not sure my association will hold a big, in-person meeting in 2021. A few of the largest partners in my space are beginning to whisper to us they won’t have people on the road again until 2022, and I believe them. My association may be doing all-virtual meetings for another year. Or more. Or something else altogether.

So, we’re placing our bets, just like we always do. We are making educated guesses, based on the cards we can see, about what will come up next in the 2020 deck.

Placing Bets About the Future

I think what we have missed most is the relative, data-driven certainty of past guesses in a world that we understood so much better, and that we knew how to measure. I think that in these exhausting days, drenched in uncertainty and drowning in self-doubt, we’re longing for how much simpler it was when we had the comfort of easy foresight and the ease of having done everything before. All our tools – our spreadsheets of past registration numbers; our well-tested, reliable membership renewal mailings; our annual crowding of the exhibit hall without a care in the world – were easier than now is.

But now is what we can affect. And we have always placed bets. We just called it forecasting.

Mourning our dead dreams of what might have been and wrapping them in the shroud of “normal” is not going to get us anywhere. They were just dreams, you know. You have no idea what really would have happened in 2020 if there hadn’t been a pandemic. My organization was supposed to hold a 5,000-person meeting in Louisiana in late October. Seen any weather reports from the Gulf lately?

We need to stop talking about a return to normal and start thinking our way forward. And we can’t do that if we keep starting every conversation with some reference to “normal” and how much we miss it.

In this, the year of the Murder Hornets, my team put on a great meeting. We brought the pharmaceutical scientists together to discuss how to vaccinate billions of people and develop antiviral treatments, among other Very Important Stuff. We are taking advantage of opportunities and gambling on the cards we can see to keep supporting our scientists, and the advancement of their science.

We never lost sight of the fact that our mission is not to have an in-person meeting – it is to bring scientists together. That’s our actual job, and we’re doing it. I’m proud of my team, which did not lose sight of that while baking bread, protesting social injustice, and teaching the new math at their dining room tables. We are doing something important for the scientific community. That’s what we can control, and we’re taking full advantage of it.

The Rise of Apology Meetings

When we began planning this meeting, we looked at what other organizations were doing and saying – and I quickly became frustrated by what I have come to think of as the rise of the 2020 Apology Meetings. The underlying message of these meetings is that “in these unprecedented times,” (another phrase I have banned) “this is the best we can do. Please register out of a sense of duty.”

As leaders we are complicit in diminishing our purpose, vision, and accomplishments when we think this way. Worse: we let it drip into our marketing and our board meetings, and from there into our members. We are telling our people that no matter what they do, it will never be as good as what we did before, and we cannot wait to get back to doing things that way, without even trying what we could be doing now.

Normal wasn’t great. It (almost) never is, at least in real-time. It’s always better in hindsight. That’s where our emotion-driven perceptions hinder us right now.

You shouldn’t go back to doing things the way you did them before. If you do that, then you didn’t learn anything. That’s dangerous, because right now your partners are learning how much data they can get from online engagements, and your members are learning how to network online with intentionality. The market you operate in is undergoing profound, likely permanent shifts in labor and capital. If you are not following and analyzing those trends – these new flows in the 2020 card deck – you’re not doing your job as the leader of an organization.

Help Your Members Where They Are Today

Now is a chance to remember and refocus on why your organization exists. It’s also a chance to give your people an opportunity to try things.

But no one can do that if you start every conversation with, “I’m so sorry we can’t be together.” At least give that up. Start with something different. “I’m glad to see you!” is about now, and not what might have been. So is: “Who do you think will go back to work first, and last, in our membership? How do we help them right now?”

Lead with your value. You are so much more than people who know how to organize a gala fundraiser. Your value was never in the beauty of your exhibit hall layout or your ability to negotiate a good hotel rate.

Get a little excited about what you can do right now. Start every conversation from a place that encourages creativity and problem-solving. Ask your members to renew because you’re doing stuff that helps them where they are today.

I’m proud of all our association brethren, who are figuring it out and doing the mission and hustling. Who they are and what they can do is way more important than what I thought was true, or what was definitely easier, a year ago. I’m not going to talk about then – I’m going to talk about now.

Now is always happening, and the future is the only thing you can change. Stop talking about normal and getting back to it. Start talking about where you’re going and what you’re doing, even though it’s harder, and the numbers are less impressive than before, and we’re not sure when we’re going to reopen the office. Give up on the “return to normal” and be what you can be today and be incredibly proud of that. Understand and create what a good normal is for you and your organization right now.

It’s all going to change again anyway, you know. It always does. That will always be normal.

How is your organization seizing opportunity in this time of change?

The post Normal is Over(rated) – For Now appeared first on Velvet Chainsaw.

Five Ways to Have Fun With Remote Colleagues That Aren’t Just Another Happy Hour

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As months of remote work go by, organizations are ready to find new ways to engage employees. Consider these activities to help virtual team members connect with one another.

Back in March, organizations had to think of clever ways to connect coworkers as they transitioned to working from home. Thus, the virtual happy hour was born. But for some, the novelty of this activity has vanished after months of remote work.

Yet social activities are still important in combating feelings of isolation among those working from home. Consider these five fun approaches as you plan future virtual team-building experiences.

Three Minutes of Nerd

Put a twist on show-and-tell: Have everyone come prepared to talk for three minutes about something they “nerd out” about. Star Wars, baking, computer programming, craft beer—anything goes! (Props welcomed.) Understanding interests is an important part of building relationships, so employees are likely to make connections as they discuss things they’re passionate about.

Taste Test

Send participants a “taste test” kit with three different brands or varieties of a snack—such as a chocolate bar or potato chips—to taste together and take notes. This offers a new dimension, adding a physical component to a virtual setting.

Another taste-testing activity is to compare name brands to generic alternatives to see if the popular brands live up to their reputations.

Worth a Thousand Words

Get your team’s creative juices flowing with drawing activities. Try a blind drawing exercise, where one person describes an image taken from a random image generator while other team members attempt to draw the image. The catch: The speakers can’t say what the image is, so they are forced to use descriptions, like “wavy lines in background” to describe a mountainous landscape. If you want to turn it into a competition, do it Pictionary-style and ask participants to draw pictures while separate teams guess what the picture is—whichever team makes more correct guesses wins.

Play these games often enough and your workforce might become more productive—studies show that drawing can sharpen memory, improve concentration, and relieve stress.

Virtual Escape Room

The popular in-person experience has gone virtual, allowing teams to cooperatively solve puzzles from home. There are a host of virtual escape rooms to choose from: You can figure out how to jump off a runaway train in the nick of time, or see if you can evacuate from a damaged space station with no gravity and no power. Whatever the adventure, virtual teams will bond over conquering these challenges together.

PowerPoint Karaoke

Put your coworkers’ presentation skills to the test with PowerPoint karaoke. Participants deliver an on-the-spot presentation based on slides they’ve never seen before—and hilarity often ensues. Hold a video meeting with your usual happy-hour group, and select a new person each time to be the presenter.

Silliness aside, this activity can also help employees to build their presenting skills by learning to improvise in front of an audience.

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How to Better Accommodate People With Disabilities at Meetings

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A disability inclusion expert shares ideas for making attendees with disabilities feel welcome and included at your conferences.

Whether organizing in-person, hybrid, or virtual events, association meeting professionals want to make sure they are accessible, inclusive, and equitable for everyone.

But even with the best of intentions, there are likely areas where you could better accommodate people with disabilities, some of which you may have never considered.

To gain some insight into how to do this, I spoke with speaker, trainer, and consultant Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D., president of Rossetti Enterprises, Inc. Rossetti, who has used a wheelchair since she suffered a spinal cord injury in 1998, said that meeting pros who “lead with an inclusion mindset” will be most successful.

“You need to think about having people with disabilities and having people without disabilities,” she said. “You want all attendees to be able to take part, on their own terms.”

Here are three tips she shared that are worth keeping in mind as you plan future meetings:

Ask attendees about their needs. When people with disabilities attend your events, it is important to be prepared and know ahead of time how your staff—and for in-person events, the venue—can be helpful. “During the registration process, ask people what assistance they may need,” Rossetti said. “And then follow up with a phone call or email to get clarity so you can begin making the necessary plans and preparations to accommodate them.” This may include a special meal due a food allergy, or you may need to convert handouts to braille for a person who is blind.

Inform and educate your speakers. As part of their orientation or training, speakers should learn how to accommodate people with disabilities during their sessions. Part of that may be providing them with instructions on how to create accessible presentation slides and handouts. And if speakers are using lots of graphics or other visuals, Rossetti said they should describe the slides briefly. “That’s a really quick, simple thing for them to do, and it will make your participants who are blind or have another type of visual impairment feel included,” she said.

Get feedback and input from people with disabilities during meeting planning. As face-to-face meetings make a comeback, so will site visits. Rossetti said these visits are a prime opportunity for your association to think about how to accommodate people with disabilities. “If you’ve never been in a wheelchair, I suggest having one on hand as you tour your venues,” she said. “This will give you a better idea of how to set up rooms and to accommodate participants who will be using a wheelchair. For instance, can they easily maneuver through a room?” Another idea that Rossetti shared: Invite members with disabilities to participate in your site visits or to test out your virtual platforms. They’ll be able to give feedback and raise any potential challenges that could make their participation more difficult.

What steps has your association taken to ensure that both its in-person and virtual meetings are accessible for everyone? Please share in the comments.

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A Concierge Approach to Enhancing the Member Experience

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Thinking of ways to step up your membership recruitment and retention plan? One association took an approach based on a staple of luxury hotels to customize the member experience and show value for group memberships.

The American Health Law Association’s membership was stagnating. A 2018 member survey revealed that only two out of five members would pay for their membership if their organization did not. And large organizations with group memberships would sometimes abruptly drop 50 to 100 staff members and AHLA had no idea why.

“There was no rhyme or reason,” said AHLA’s Stefan Bradham, CAE, senior director of marketing and communications. “We were always trying to play catch-up.”

He knew it was time to devise a strategy to boost recruitment and retention, so he created a concierge membership program, which will launch the end of this year, to provide tailored support and service modeled on hotel concierges, who are guests’ go-to for whatever they need to acclimate themselves during their hotel stay. AHLA’s member concierge, a one-year contract position, will be the point of contact helping members maximize their benefits and demonstrate to organizations the return on their investment.

Demonstrating Value

Organizations front the bill for many individual AHLA memberships—and some purchase group memberships for a number of employees—so it’s important to show how the employer benefits, Bradham said. “We don’t have organizational members, but we have to act like we do,” he said, to prevent organizations from reducing the number of individual memberships they’ll fund.

Organizations with 25 AHLA members or more are eligible for the concierge program. The member concierge will compile periodic member usage reports to show members what benefits they’ve used and encourage them to take advantage of others and stay engaged.

The membership team is also zeroing in on who makes the decision at organizations to stop paying AHLA membership dues for employees. Often the marketing or professional development person maintains the organization’s budget for memberships, Bradham said, but because that person doesn’t have any regular interaction with AHLA, they don’t have a good grasp on the value the association provides for employees.

Building Relationships

To address that issue, the member concierge will have periodic check-ins with those decision makers throughout the year and, with the help of the information on the member usage reports, iron out any questions or concerns to make sure the organization’s employees are getting the most out of AHLA benefits.

For example, if an organization has 25 premium members but they aren’t using their access to free webinars that comes with a premium package, the concierge might suggest shifting the member mid-cycle to a lower bracket, which will save the organization money and be a better fit for the members.

Members of AHLA’s membership committee will also reach out to organizations directly to ask how the membership is going. It’s an extra step at the board level to show AHLA’s commitment to a meaningful membership experience.

Now, when an organization is up for membership renewal, the member concierge will already know what’s coming and be prepared for it.

“This program is about building relationships,” Bradham said. “It’s about connecting throughout the year instead of having a renewal conversation once a year.”

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Five Ways to Help Members Maintain Certifications in 2021

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The pandemic has created challenges for professionals who wish to maintain their association certifications. What members need will vary across professions, but these five tips can help you assess how to help them.

Of the many things shaken up by the pandemic this year, a specific pain point is emerging for association members: professional credentials.

With in-person meetings on hold and job situations altered, certification renewal is more difficult now. But for associations that want to help members maintain their certifications, “there’s really not going to be one kind of blanket solution,” says consultant Mickie Rops, CAE.

She points out two examples: healthcare employees, who currently have jobs but little time because of the extra work they’re doing to fight this disease, and those who have lost their jobs and have the time to work on certifications but may not be able to financially invest in continuing education.

“I think that the biggest thing would be to find out what the members’ struggles are,” Rops says. “They may be obvious, but for some, I don’t know if they’re obvious.”

She offers a few considerations for associations as they move into 2021:

Explore whether you can change the rules for renewal. Right now, circumstances may cause members to miss renewal deadlines that they otherwise would have hit—particularly if their pandemic workload is unusually heavy, as in the medical and education fields. In such cases, it may be worth considering whether to extend renewal timelines. But Rops urges caution: “If you’re accredited and you have established policies and you’re held to those, you’ve got to be more careful about just changing things,” she says.

Offer a hiatus or grants to those with financial hardships. Rops suggests offering out-of-work members an inactive status for their certifications; once they return to work, they can become active again. Another option is to start a grant program to help cover member expenses. “I do have some clients that are seeking grants and being pretty successful in it,” she says.

Add flexible elements. Certain renewal requirements, such as attendance at in-person meetings, don’t make sense at the moment. Additionally, Rops notes that many people working remotely for the first time may find it difficult to focus, so virtual events may not be the answer for everyone. “Attention span right now is at an all-time low because of all the distractions and all the people that have both two adults in the house, working at home, and then the kids” that may need help with schooling, she says. While virtual learning events might make sense for some learners, others may do better with looser formats that allow them to learn at their own pace.

Look into microcredentialing. One way to reach members who may not have the time to invest in a full certification is microcredentialing. (One example is the National Education Association, which is highlighting microcertifications relevant to the current moment—on technology integration, cultivating socially just environments, and cultural competency.) Rops, a strong advocate for microcredentialing, says that this approach may be particularly effective in this environment. “Right now especially, you can’t be expecting someone to put 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 years into something,” she says. “Break it down, so they can start getting some immediate learning and/or credentialing.”

Consider building or refreshing a program now. Rops says that despite the disruption that many organizations are facing, associations have an opportunity to make lasting changes to an existing credentialing program—or to start a new one. “In a time of recession and things like that, that’s when people need education and credentialing,” she says. “So if associations can afford it, now’s the time, because it really is when your members need to reskill and upskill the most.”

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How to Create a 2021 Communications Plan That Shows Value

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While 2020 has left many associations reeling, that doesn’t have to be the case in 2021. A good communications plan will align to your association’s strategic goals, allow for flexibility in shifting times, and build buy-in for your budgetary needs.

This year has been rough on most associations’ budgets, but communications teams are not the place to skimp. That’s because these teams can help show members value and increase revenue—and that all starts with a good communications plan, said speakers during the recent “Building Your 2021 Communications Plan” webinar.

“A lot of leadership wants to look at marketing or comms as a cost,” said Rachel Clemens, chief communications officer at Mighty Citizen. “If done correctly, it is not a cost. It is an investment in additional revenue and growth.”

That’s why it is crucial for communications teams to show their value to organizational success. “When comms supports the organization as a whole, it’s easier to get buy-in and budget,” Clemens said.

Therefore, a big part of any plan is going to be aligning communications goals with organizational ones. “In many of our organizations, we have strategic plans,” Clemens said. “We know what we are trying to do as a full organization for 2021. You want to show how the communications plan is helping reach those overarching goals for your association.”

The communications plan should be created by the comms team—even if that is a team of one—with input from leadership. “You want to share it up the chain, so they know how communications is going to reach their overarching goals,” Clemens said. “Make sure you are sharing it with them, and they see buy-in.”

The plan should have goals, strategies, and tactics. Clemens said to think of strategies as what you’re going to do and tactics as how you’re going to do it.

“You want to focus on strategy, because if you only focus on tactics and tasks without connecting them to strategy, you’re going to waste time and energy pursuing tactics that aren’t necessarily returning organizational value,” she said. “If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, how do you know what to budget for?”

In addition, the communications plan should take a deep dive into your audience so the comms team can understand who they are, what they want, and what other sources (i.e., competitors) they use to get the information they seek, said Nicole Araujo, CAE, Mighty Citizen client engagement director, who also spoke at the webinar.

Understanding your audience will allow you to create a communications plan that reaches them. “[Your communications will] be in the places they are finding their media and in the language that is speaking to them,” Araujo said. “It helps us in understanding how we create our content, when we release it, where we release it.”

Clemens noted that the communications plan will also help create common language for the association for consistency. “Create a list of your products and services,” Clemens said. “What do you offer to your audiences, and what are those things called? This is really important for getting everyone in the organization, as best you can, calling things the same things.”

For example, if advocacy is called “legislative efforts” at your organization, that should appear everywhere. “Make sure that’s what it’s called on the website and in your marketing materials,” she said.

Finally, when drafting the plan, you may have a lot of ideas, but it’s important to determine what your staff can do. “A lot of you are one-person departments,” Clemens said. “How do we prioritize, and what can we actually get done?”

So, when you put it all together, Clemens said a portion of the plan might look like this: Your goal may be to increase new member retention, and the strategies you choose might be to send all new members a welcome kit and also a monthly email highlighting one member benefit. That second tactic would capitalize on your research and understanding of your audience. “If it’s hard for you to keep track of the benefits, it’s hard for members to keep track,” Clemens said.

What steps have you taken to create your 2021 communications plan? Share in the comments.

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For Virtual Events, the Destination Still Matters—Here’s Why

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Grounding the event in a sense of place is important even if the format moves away from face-to-face.

Q: My meeting moves to a hybrid format next year, but I want to keep the destination front and center to anchor attendees in the event’s history and keep them excited about an in-person future. What are some ways to do that?

A: Mike Detling, director of event sales and services at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

While pandemic circumstances have required many events to move to a hybrid or fully virtual format, the destination still matters—a lot—for the reasons you note.

For events annually held in the same place, the host city is the source of attendees’ magical memories year after year, both purely professional and social too. And it’s also the place where in-person events will welcome attendees back when it’s safe. So having a sense of place maintains and builds on the enthusiasm for the future.

You can achieve this sense of place through large-scale gestures—say, a dramatic drone flyover to open the conference—or even by way of subtler, smaller, and budget-friendly details. For instance, we offer a trivia game during breaks, and the prize is a gift card from our museum store. Other destinations might focus trivia on regional history, sports teams, cuisine, or personalities, and reward winners with prizes that tie back to the local theme.

Destinations Drive Engagement

The key to everything we put together for groups is engagement—that’s the component that stops you from getting up to unload the dishwasher during the break. All the testing and research that we did before we launched our virtual offerings underscored the importance of engagement.

Your program has to be something that the guests can participate in, that they feel connected to, and allows them to take away something unforgettable from the experience. One of our experiences asks attendees who they think should be inducted into the rock hall and why; you can argue that point with your colleagues or other people in the breakout session. It’s super memorable, introduces friendly competition, involves a topic a lot of people feel passionately about, and gives attendees something to take away from their participation. That’s what’s going to keep them attending.

Host Cities Generate Excitement for the Future

Many people were disappointed that the live event couldn’t happen; going to the museum is often a highlight of their trip. So this way, we can still bring them a piece of the museum, and get them excited to plan another visit for the future, whenever the conference can return in person.

Overall, playing up the host city really helps to draw attendance. Think of it the same way as choosing to host an event in a generic hotel ballroom that could be anywhere, or in a unique and enticing venue. When you do this, you present a distinct and special sense of place that keeps people connected. And hopefully it gives them enough excitement about it that they just have to come back.

This Q&A column is brought to you by Destination Cleveland. Keep an eye out for more meeting planning tips as you continue to navigate the new environment. And to learn more about Cleveland, visit

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How Leaders Can Build Empathy

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While having empathy is a key aspect of being a good leader, it’s not intrinsic—but it can be learned. Here are some ways leaders can build empathy.

At a time of widespread tension—say, a global pandemic—teams need empathy even more than usual.

And it’s a refrain that’s highlighted repeatedly in studies. For example, Businessolver’s 2020 State of Workplace Empathy report [registration] found that 74 percent of employees would work longer hours for an empathetic employer. In fact, more than 90 percent of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs have consistently said empathy is important in the last three studies.

Of course, simply hearing that you need to have empathy is one thing—it’s another to develop the skill set needed to lead in an empathetic way. Here are some tips for building empathy into your leadership toolkit:

Be willing to show curiosity when talking to others. A key starting point for empathetic leadership is having an open mind and being approachable. As author and philosopher Roman Krznaric writes in a 2012 article for the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine, people who are highly empathetic are often willing to listen to strangers at length, which shows a strong tendency toward curiosity. “They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: ‘Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer,’” he wrote.

This quality might be more difficult to project in a remote environment, but paying genuine attention to colleagues goes a long way. When a team member says something that piques your interest, follow up one-on-one. You can also make curiosity proactive: Reach out to people and ask what they’re working on that you may not be aware of.

Focus on processing what others tell you. It’s one thing to listen to what others have to say, but showing that you’ve gained something from hearing their insights helps to strengthen empathetic feelings, wrote Christine M. Riordan, president of Adelphi University and a former management professor, in Harvard Business Review. “Leaders who are effective at processing assure others that they are remembering what others say, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and capture global themes and key messages from the conversation,” she wrote. “Sample phrases might include the following: Here are a couple of key points that I heard from this meeting; here are our points of agreement and disagreement; here are a few more pieces of information we should gather; here are some suggested next steps—what do you think?”

Get past broad-brush labeling of others. A recent piece in The New York Times highlighted empathetic skills worth trying from a variety of voices—including Krznaric. One person in the article, Instagram influencer and licensed therapist Nedra Tawwab, says that all too often, people are labeled based on one small element of their lives rather than the totality. Moving past this narrow view of a person can help in dealing with those who are labeled “difficult,” particularly when you need to form a connection with people who exhibit their own prejudices or biases. “We don’t realize how important it is to expose prejudiced people to things they might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with,” Tawwab told the newspaper. “I think the exposure can be more impactful in terms of changing people’s mindset than arguing or creating a disagreement.”

When it comes to the workplace, this means getting past thinking of someone as a “slacker” or a “type A” individual. Look at that person as an individual, and try to understand the cause of their behavior. Doing so will help you see where they might be coming from—and how to address it.

Consider the language you use—especially in a remote-first environment. Traditionally, it was common for remote workers to feel like the odd ones out, but now that half or more of all employees are remote, that disengagement can spread. In a piece for Atlassian’s Worklife blog, future-of-work strategist Sophie Wade shares a number of ways to improve empathy in a remote environment, including focusing on personal communication. “Moving on from impersonal and imperial directives, leaders have to be open and authentic and adapt their style and approach for each team’s or employee’s specific needs and temperament,” she wrote. “This means communicating with extra sensitivity, since lockdowns, family tragedies, and economic hardships may well have added to a team member’s stress.”

When sending emails, take an extra moment to look for responses that could be read as curt. A quick, unscheduled phone call to an employee who had a small success—a strong member presentation, a delicate communication with a board member handled with aplomb—can assure team members that they are being seen as individuals.

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Why Waiting for “Normal” Is a Bad Strategy

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Many associations are concerned that they can’t provide a pre-COVID-19 experience for the foreseeable future. One association’s recommendation: Get over it.

Joy Davis, CAE, had had it.

This has been a rough year for associations, of course, and a lot of the emotional toll has crept into their marketing. Davis, managing director of member products at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), saw the worst of it in meetings communications. We’re sorry we can’t see you in person. This won’t be our preferred member experience, but…

All through the year, I saw really terrible messaging coming out of associations.

“All through the year, I saw really terrible messaging coming out of associations,” she says. “I’m like, why are you saying that to your members?”

Davis funneled her exasperation into an essay, “Normal Is Over(rated)—For Now,” published last month at the Velvet Chainsaw blog. The heart of her argument is that COVID-19 has prompted too many associations to engage in wishful thinking about what’ll happen without a pandemic, instead of accepting the situation as it is. That’s led to what she calls the “apology meeting.”

“We are telling our people that no matter what they do, it will never be as good as what we did before, and we cannot wait to get back to doing things that way, without even trying what we could be doing now,” Davis says.

In other words, associations have found another way back into that mindset we all thought we’d banned: But we’ve always done it that way. “It was not just the communication, it was this failure to imagine something different,” says AAPS Executive Director Tina Morris.

AAPS’s most aggressive act of resistance on this front involved its annual meeting. Like just about every association meeting in 2020, it moved its annual conference, PharmSci 360, online. But unlike a lot of associations, it held the line on registration fees. Instead of marketing around interactions that couldn’t happen anyway, it highlighted the amount of content it had to offer and widened the time frame within which attendees could experience it.

“If you were to go back and look at all of our marketing messaging, in every single email there is a sentence that says ‘PharmSci 360 on your schedule,’” says Davis.

This isn’t just a matter of marketing differently, Morris says. An “apology” mindset has a way of creeping into how associations think about their future plans and whether their decisions reflect the current reality or a wished-for one. At AAPS, that’s required some conversations with volunteer leaders about shifting their mindsets.

“Reinforcement was very important because we had different leaders who at different times during the year had challenges,” Morris says. “We were trying to be very deliberate as a leadership team about how we communicated the degree of change that was happening. We do realize that different people have different comfort levels.”

In her article, Davis explains some of the upsides of getting out of the apology mindset: opportunities to better understand a changing market, the new kinds of data that you’re gathering in a virtual environment, and the new ways of communicating that members are discovering and using. “Get a little excited about what you can do right now,” she writes. “Start every conversation from a place that encourages creativity and problem-solving. Ask your members to renew because you’re doing stuff that helps them where they are today.”

Davis recalls that one of the mantras at a previous association where she worked was “don’t get into a conversation about pricing—talk about quality.” That mindset kept AAPS from holding an apology meeting in 2020, but it’s also provided a north star for getting through the pandemic—it trusts that the value of what the association provides is more meaningful than the delivery method. And it trusts that members will pay what those products and services are worth in a challenging economic time.

“Treat your members like you want to have a relationship after this crisis is over—or any crisis,” she says. “If you really think you’re a content organization, you should be willing to say, ‘We’re a content organization and that’s the value here. You should be able to stand up for that.”

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COVID Silver Linings: Something New

Written by GSF Editor on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Before the pandemic, we all dreamed about what we’d do with more time. Then we finally had more time to turn those nagging “what-ifs” into reality. Here’s what happened.

We’ve all heard it before: If I had more time, I’d write a novel, make turducken, learn to play an instrument, become fluent in Uzbek, or move to a bucolic paradise, far from the madding crowd. These dreams always seemed relegated to the “When I retire” or “When the kids are grown up” file. Then, at the flip of a switch, many of us had the extra hours we’d longed for to accomplish these seemingly far-fetched goals and make them happen.

Suddenly there were no more excuses, and a lot of us picked up that easel, blank page, instrument, or computer and got busy fulfilling those promises to ourselves.

Here, association pros share new opportunities they’ve explored since the pandemic began.

Linda Grande Brady, CAE

Executive Director, Texas Dental Association

We sold our home and bought a home in the country with a bit of acreage and dark skies. There’s no way we would have been able to make this happen in “normal” times.

Randi Sumner

Senior Director of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, IEEE

We became foster dog parents and really love the entire experience. We’re on our third bonded pair since April!

Willis Turner, CAE

CEO, Sales and Marketing Executives International, Inc.

I started Virtual Memorial Gatherings, a website for virtual gatherings to memorialize lost loved ones, in April. So far we have helped over 70 families create beautiful live virtual memorial services.

Deedre Daniel

Founder, The Interesting Conversations Company

I wrote a book, created an online version of The Very Interesting Game, and have written new card questions almost every day for future versions, and a few expansion packs. I wouldn’t have completed any of these if I were still traveling as frequently as before. Ironically, I have met many more new people playing my game virtually than in person. I spend my days laughing with strangers. Quite frankly, I hope that part stays.

Betsy Boyd-Flynn, CAE

Executive Director, Oregon Academy of Family Physicians

I have started taking trumpet lessons. I have never played before, and it is delightful and hard to be a rank novice. I love it. Two months in, and I can totally play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” without any trouble.

Editor’s Note: These responses were compiled by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, CEO and president of Avenue M Group, in response to a question she posed on her Facebook page asking her friends and colleagues to share their COVID-19 silver linings. We thank them for sharing them with us.



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