Association Management Has The Power To Break Silos

While working at a large association you have likely learned to live with silos, smokestacks, or stovepipes. No matter what you call them you know their organizational impact is the same: inefficiency, dysfunction, hard feelings, and low moral.

The conditions that created these silos are often firmly entrenched that combatting them doesn’t seem worth the effort. However good association management knows that the overall negative impact from silos can be reduced. It will likely take a big change approach with effort from every level of the association.  

With that in mind here are three strategies for that can help your association dismantle the silos.

Your association's structure should not resemble this picture.

Your association’s structure should not resemble this picture.

Operational Empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings or difficulties, operational empathy is how individuals and entire functional areas identify with and understand other functional areas.

There is no doubt that this strategy is the most difficult to execute, but without operational empathy, silos will continue to rule. Use a top down approach to build operational empathy over time. From experience we know senior leaders set the tone for their functional areas, and their empathy will spread to their teams.

One way to create operational empathy is launching a monthly forum where senior leaders present their operational results, progress on major initiatives and challenges to their peers for input and assistance. Over time, each leader will gain a better understanding of their peers’ organizations. This broad collaborative approach will produce superior results, compared to a narrow, function-only focus.

Organizational Design

Look at your organizational design to determine what changes you can make to break down silos. Matrix structures require considerable effort and leadership to manage, but the output is usually better. Think about what’s worth the effort in your organization.


Big or small, every silo has a leader, and it is only through the intentional or unintentional efforts of the leader that silos are allowed to flourish. Good leaders develop, reward, and protect their staff to build a strong, cohesive and effective team.

Yet these very acts can further insulate a silo from the rest of the organization. Great leaders build a strong team with an eye on the broader organizational context and the good of the organization balanced against the good of the team.

The effort, pain and angst of changing culture to eliminate organizational silos can be immense, but the rewards may be greater than any other single change strategy you can pursue.

Next week we’ll look at more strategies your association can use to attack silos. In the meantime let us know about how silos have affected your work experience in the comments and on social media. 

How Association Managers Can Help Members In Crisis

The Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD) and the Dairy Producers of New Mexico (DPNM) have stepped up to help farmers affected by Goliath, an early winter storm. Associations Now said TAD is now working with state officials in Texas to see if they can get financial assistance for their members.

DPNM, meanwhile, has scheduled meetings . . . with New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte and other officials to discuss disaster programs,” reports Associations Now.

Both these associations are giving their members help when they need it most. The winter storm has devastated southern cattle farmers. The support farmers are receiving serves as a great reminder about why people choose to become association members in the first place.

association managers crisis help

What can association managers learn from the TAD and DPNM?

  1. In a crisis situation approach government on behalf of your members. Present a united front with clear requests. This helps officials understand the scope and impact of the crisis. With that improved understanding government can respond appropriately to the situation. 
  2. Send out a professional press release to media outlets who cover your industry. It will get your members’ story out the way you want it. It will also make reporting the story easier which increases the likelihood of it getting covered.
  3. Members will remember when their association came through for them. When a member feels like they are a part of an effective, powerful group with tangible benefits they are easier to retain.

How has your association dealt with a crisis situation? Let us know in the comments and on social media.

4 Ways Association Executives Can Increase Member Engagement

Association executives all experience some anxiety over member engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty. They wonder “Am I doing enough for members?” This is an impossible question to answer in exact terms however it is worth trying. A great first step to take is increasing member engagement. When members are engaged and involved with their association they are more communicative. Communicative members are more invested in their association and therefore less likely to leave it.

Driving Engagement

One unexpected place to look for inspiration is the video game retailer Gamestop. A recent piece in Associations Now highlights what the company does for members of their PowerUp Loyalty program. PowerUp’s members get basic benefits from a free membership tier and discounts from a paid one. Members who pay for the small annual fee make up 71 per cent of the company’s sales. That figure is a testament to how engaged their paying members are. It proves that what they are doing is working.

Associations Now features four things that make the PowerUp program effective.

gamestop association exectuives

Free Membership

Establishing a two tiered membership system has generated sales leads for Gamestop. They have free members of PowerUp sign up with their email address. After a customer is signed up Gamestop is able to track their buying habits and interests.

Some associations such as The Alliance for Women In Media already have a free membership category. Free members get access to materials that were previously held under a pay wall but have limited say in the association.

Rewarding Loyalty

The article recommends that associations adopt a points based rewards program. It is an uncommon thing for associations to do but “it might be a missed opportunity, because earning rewards can drive long-term gratification and build a more lasting relationship with a member than a one-time discount.” If you know of an association that offers a points reward program let us know in the comments.

Personalizing Everything

By collecting large amount of data about members associations have the ability to offer personalized service to their members. Gamestop uses their data to recommend new games based on past purchases. It is currently getting their in store employees to scan member cards so they can see the customer’s entire purchase history.

For associations having individual, easily navigable files on each member creates an incredible opportunity engagement. It allows associations to follow up on comments made by specific members. By fostering caring environment where members feel listened to and valued associations will stand out.

Understanding Mobile

Open your association’s website on your phone or tablet. Now try to navigate through it for key information. If it is a frustrating experience for you it likely is also frustrating for your members. Having an unresponsive and difficult to navigate mobile site will create a negative experience for members that will stick with them. So spend some time tweaking the site your members will thank you.

Did these tips get you thinking differently about association membership? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Association Leadership: What A Good Vision Statement Looks Like

Last week we discussed how association leadership should approach your association’s Vision Statement. In this week’s blog we highlight good, the bad, and the ugly of Vision Statements. These are real vision statements that we changed enough to protect the companies and associations that submitted them. Our changes are in [brackets].

vision statement association leadership

The Good

At the end of 2017, Acme is recognized by business, media, and government as the most important authority for Canadian [xyz] issues, and the principal advocate for the [xyz] community. With [X,000] highly engaged members and [X] regional chapters, we have more in diverse revenue and a sustainable business model for an expanded delivery of our mandate.

In particular:

  1. We understand and address the in-depth needs of our members across a broad industry and sector representation.
  1. Our annual conference is the foremost [xyz] event in Canada with more than [X] exhibitors and [X] attendees.
  1. We are an important career resource for members and the preferred sourcing point for [xyz] roles for Canadian employers.
  1. Our searchable online library of precedents, tools, and resources is a central component of the value we provide members, and the most comprehensive source of [xyz] knowledge in Canada.
  1. We provide timely, relevant communication to our members regarding issues that matter to them.
  1. Our efforts have helped to improve the understanding and importance of the role of the [xyz professional] in Canada.

What makes it good?

It’s relatively short, and they have put the supporting detail in bullet points that could easily be dropped when a sound bite is all that is needed. It’s written in an active voice. This may have thrown you at first to see the words “we are, we have” in a vision statement, but it creates a sense of ownership over a passive voice of “the XYZ organization will…” or worse yet, “a new system will…” This statement is specific about the timing, but not too detailed. Using 2017 creates a sense of urgency, but they recognized that this is still a strategic document, and they didn’t say “March 1” 2017.

They made sure that everything in here is measurable. They didn’t (and shouldn’t) lay out the exact measures in the Vision Statement, but they made sure the concepts are concrete enough to actually track for success.

The statement is written as if it already is 2017, and this vision was written in 2014. Remember this is a vision of where the organization will be, not a strategy, or plan of how to get there. Although the statement is specific and easy to understand, the vision is not a slam dunk. This organization will really have to stretch itself to achieve this vision, and any employee or member would immediately recognize that. Employees would also recognize that under the right circumstances, the vision is achievable.

Although it’s a vision statement, it foreshadows the real priorities of the organization.

The Bad

“The [XYX] is a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, scholarly, international society that provides an open forum for all those who are interested in risk analysis. Risk analysis is broadly defined to include risk assessment, risk characterization, risk communication, risk management, and policy relating to risk, in the context of risks of concern to individuals, to public and private sector organizations, and to society at a local, regional, national, or global level.”

What makes it bad?

It is too complicated and even people in this field will not read it. This is not a Vision Statement at all. It’s more of a description of what this society is and a definition of their work.

The Downright Ugly

“To be the leading global force in advancing science to enhance human, animal, and environmental health.”

What makes it ugly?

This could be for almost anything. This statement is far too vague to be valuable. Furthermore it won’t drive any action because anyone that reads it will not take it seriously. Finally, it doesn’t make sense grammatically.

Now you know what to look for when reviewing your association’s Vision Statement.