By Terry Dwyer, CEO
As 2013 begins, it is the perfect time to assess your association, set new goals and plans to lead your team, as well as your members, to success in the new year. I use this time of year to quietly think through where I, as CEO, can have the greatest impact. This effort can take real discipline since, if you are like me, you might want to make sure “all the important items are included.” Most of us will lean toward making this list too long and, as a result, find ourselves frustrated during the year as we are reminded of the “important” things we haven’t accomplished. As I have built upon my experience base (I turned 30 in November, for the 30th time) I have learned the value of the saying “less is more.”
Many association and Chamber of Commerce executives share this orientation, but the most successful ones consistently follow these 3 rules:
1. Pay attention only to the "A" items - (Don't sweat the small stuff!)
The charge for associations is to successfully recruit and retain membership! That is a huge charge, and more than a full time job for an executive. Too often executives complain that they are pulled into activities that do not align squarely with increasing membership dues revenue and improving your bottom line. This needs to be your number one priority every day, and you should selfishly treat all other activities as distant seconds. Highly effective CEOs I have dealt with begin each day with a list of from their membership database they intend to contact for the sole purpose of seeing how the organization is doing in meeting their (the member’s) needs. Depending on the size of membership, this list may be shorter or longer. However, it will ensure that you schedule this activity and then follow through on it. Many times I hear executives complain they are distracted by the tyranny of the urgent, or issues that surface daily and keep them from this most important of responsibilities. Be disciplined and don’t let it happen. Successful focus here will result in significant increases in membership dues revenue, member retention, and referrals. Nothing else comes close to this in importance.
2. Make sure the new year’s focus is “relevant” for the changed world
No association can effectively compete in this world without constant review of its relevance – the factors that make it a desirable partner – and an honest regular assessment of how it meets the needs of its members. This has never been more true than it is today for Chambers of Commerce. Chamber member organizations have been challenged to improve their game in the competitive marketplace, and this has directly affected what successful Chambers offer to their members. Successful executives tell me they see competitive threats to their relevance from every sector – other membership organizations, industry groups, the internet, geographically distant organizations. They realize their membership has limited time to participate in activities or initiatives that don’t drive business for their organization. All else is increasingly unimportant.
3. Create a “Stop Doing” list
As important as the first two rules, exercising the discipline to regularly evaluate what is being done and decide which activities and commitments must be discontinued is paramount to making the year a successful one. No longer is it acceptable to continue an activity or investment of time, resource or money just because “…we’ve always done it.” This is the hardest rule for many executives to follow consistently. We are all guilty of having our favorite initiatives. The responsibility we have as executives is to rigorously review and eliminate those activities that just don’t matter anymore. The best test of whether it is important is how it ranks in the minds of your membership. You will know this as you speak with them and survey them. Picking one of these items to eliminate this year will send a strong message to your team that you mean business.
While following the three rules, I think one of the most important things we can do as executives is to not take ourselves too seriously. We are about serious work, and we are professionals in what we do. We work hard at it, and we expect great results. Make sure you take time to enjoy the trip, and have some fun!