An Executive Director's point of view


August 12, 2015: Do it yourself

Posted by: David M Patt
Beware of suggestions that you try to become an expert at everything.

Pitches are often made to association professionals (especially those working in small associations) to purchase software that will enable them to become designers, accountants, technicians, and just about anything else involved in organizational work.

Why hire others, we are asked, when we can save money by doing everything ourselves?

I wonder how often association Board members ask themselves that same question when deciding if they really, really need a CEO, or if they can save money and simply manage things themselves.

November 26, 2014: The right to fail

Posted by: David M Patt
One of the greatest challenges for association professionals is persuading organizations to do things they way we (association folk) think are best.

But our attitudes are often viewed by organizations as an assault on their culture, or at the very least as demonstrating a lack of understanding of their associations, professions, or industries.

Leaders and members of associations often conduct organizational business in the same manner in which they perform their own jobs. And they think that is perfectly correct.

Are they accustomed to making decisions or following other people's orders? Are they used to delegating tasks or doing things themselves? Are they employed in large bureaucracies or in small agencies or businesses.

Do they create their own work environments or do they rigidly follow rules that were set by others? Do they normally work individually or in groups? Do they like to talk about "the big picture" or focus on operational details?

Do they feel comfortable reacting to already vetted ideas or would they rather construct proposals from scratch - at Board meetings?

We (association folk) may often think they are disorganized, misguided, dysfunctional, or just plain wrong. But they frequently think we are the odd ones, even when their way of doing things does not yield positive results.

It's important to remember that associations belong to them, not to us. They have the right to bumble through things without accepting our guidance or advice. And they have the right to fail.

October 28, 2014: Overhead

Posted by: David M Patt
Overhead is not a dirty word.

July 23, 2014: The sky is not the limit

Posted by: David M Patt
Growth for most associations and businesses is limited. The pool of potential members and customers may become exhausted. New audiences may need to be found or new products created for existing audiences.

But growth is not unlimited.

At some point, income or participation may plateau. And that is not always a sign of poor performance. It may merely be a sign of market saturation.

Posted by: David M Patt
Make sure you are prepared to work with a new Board or Committee Chair.

Before the end of the incumbent's term, meet with the next Chair (or with the person you think is likely to become the next Chair) to find out what that person wants to achieve in office and to figure out how the two of you can best work together.

You may have already developed a good working relationship, but that was in a different situation. As Chair, that person may think and act differently - and that may require you to think and act differently, as well.

So, get ahead of the curve and be ready. Determine how you can ensure that the Board or Committee - and the organization - can benefit from the service of the new leader.

February 04, 2014: Paper jam

Posted by: David M Patt
If the office copier becomes jammed when you try to use it, don't just walk away and leave the problem for somebody else to deal with.

Tell the person who is in charge of the copier, so you - and your co-workers - will be able to use it.

Act responsibly.

October 22, 2013: Death of the open office

Posted by: David M Patt
Lots of companies and associations have created "open offices" in recent years, tearing down walls and creating open space to increase "collaboration" and improve employee productivity.

Well, that's not always a good idea.

In the 2013 Workplace Survey, conducted by architectural firm Gensler, more than half of all employees reported being disturbed by others when trying to focus. And that should be no surprise.

Open offices invite interruptions. They expose employees to unwanted noise, music, and other distractions. And they ignore the need for private conversations with other employees, or with therapists or gynecologists.

"Collaboration" can be achieved without forcing everybody to work in one big room. And "collaboration" is not always related to employee productivity.

So, do what you think is best and don't just follow the current fad.

August 08, 2012: Taking things personally

Posted by: David M Patt
Remember that volunteers - including Board members - often take things personally. They don't always act professionally (after all, this is our profession, not theirs) when volunteering, talking, discussing, debating, or voting. They don't always understand that business is not personal.

If they don't get what they want, they may be offended, feel hurt, sulk, or criticize those who didn't agree with them. It's not because they are egocentric or think everything must be done their way (although, that is sometimes the case).

It's because their volunteer efforts are very personal to them and they often react as they would if something was amiss in a personal relationship.

So, don't be afraid to disagree with them and don't feel obligated to support what they propose just to make them happy. But don't talk down to them, either. Don't label their ideas "amateurish" and don't simply dismiss their proposals.

Be nice to them and tell them how much you appreciate their support and their effort.

Then show them how their proposals fit or don't fit into the association's plan and find a way (if their involvement is beneficial to the organization) for them to be a part of something that does fit into the association's plan.

July 24, 2012: Transition tip

Posted by: David M Patt
We've already talked about how an outgoing executive should leave a transition plan for a successor.

It's also important to leave files in a form in which they can easily be found. For example, don't place a marketing program file in a folder marked "Board" because it triggers your memory of the ideas that were raised during a Board meeting.

Your files are going to be used by somebody else from now on, so organize them in a way others are likely to think, not in the way you have thought.

May 24, 2012: The ideal desk

Posted by: David M Patt
I once thought my ideal desk would have no drawers, just a tabletop to work on.

My computer and printer would sit on a stand behind my chair, so I'd just have to swivel around to use them. The computer would store most of my files and the printer would be able to copy small jobs and scan documents.

The tabletop would be wide enough to allow people to pull up chairs for short meetings. My paper files would sit in open cubbies along the wall. A landline would drop down from the ceiling. Everything would be instantly accessible.

Well, I found that I actually needed some drawers, for stuff I didn't want sitting on top of the desk and for documents that required security (like financial and personnel files). File cabinets proved to be more accessible than open cubbies. And telephone lines dangling from the ceiling would have been unsightly, bothersome when I stood up, and expensive to install.

So, I eventually opted for a desk with drawers, with a landline on a ledge abutting the desk (I reserved my cell phone for out of office use). The computer and printer were able to rest on a stand behind my chair. Everything was handy, even though I'd have to open drawers to get some of those things.

When designing your work space, wherever it is, make it as efficient as is practical. And you'll probably need more than just a laptop and a cell.
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