Caveat Emptor: The Podcast

Decisions, decisions: we make them all day long. But what fuels our decision-making? Research!

Every association executive uses research to make decisions, and often we’re responsible for conducting – or at least sponsoring – original research.

How can we ensure that the research we’re using or creating is good quality, able to support evidence-based decisions that produce good outcomes?

That’s the question that drove my and Polly Karpowicz’s recent conversation with Cecilia Sepp for the Radio Free 501c podcast, where we discussed our whitepaper Caveat Emptor: Becoming a Responsible Consumer of Research.

The conversation touched on what everyone should know about research, how we can educate ourselves to make the best choices, and how most of us learn it on the job. (We also talked about our gardens!) Listen to this fun and wide ranging episode.

Association Meetings in a Post-Roe World

On Tuesday, October 11, Shelly Alcorn hosted Joan Eisenstodt and me on The Phoenix Cast for an important conversation about association meetings in a post-Roe world.

Just as meetings are starting to recover from pandemic shutdowns, new (and old) laws are putting pregnant attendees at significant risk.

The key thing I think associations need to take from our conversation is that choices about where we host our meetings could be putting pregnant attendees at SIGNIFICANT risk if they have a medical emergency related to pregnancy during the event.

In the immediate term, association execs and boards need to talk that through and make a plan for your next event.

In the longer term, we need to talk, as a community, about what this means in terms of equity of access (or lack thereof) for attendees.

We also need a plan as an industry to respond to this. As we saw back in 2016-17 when we came together to respond to the rash of transphobic “bathroom bills,” there is strength in numbers!

Most of all, DO NOT ignore this situation.

Edited to add: ASAE has recently released a decision guide to help association executives think through implications of our choices in conference location decisions. Learn more about it and download the guide here

The Single Biggest Opportunity for Associations Today?

When I was speaking with the nice folks at Naylor for Association Adviser TV, they also asked me to address:

What do you think is the single biggest opportunity for associations today?

My response? Addressing the education to employment gap.

Back in January, I had the opportunity to participate in Shelly Alcorn’s Association Forecast on the same topic. We discussed Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works, a McKinsey research report that brought together global data from students, higher education institutions, and employers to address issues related to workplace readiness. The short version is that we have a crisis in youth unemployment worldwide at the same time as we have a shortage of critical skills. And while colleges and universities think they’re properly preparing students for the workforce, students and employers – and the data – disagree.

McKinsey graph - does education prepare you for employment?

Image credit: McKinsey, Education to Employment, pg. 19

To me, this presents a tremendous opportunity for associations to fill that gap.

There are many ways we could do this: facilitating deep mentoring relationships (thus also allowing us to address the burgeoning retiring members issue), providing REAL professional development (not just some webinars and conference breakout sessions), supporting apprenticeship programs, creating certification programs, creating certificate programs (and no, those are not the same thing).

And it presents the chance for us to do good (for our members and other audiences, and our entire industries and professions) while also doing well (making the switch from being a locus of information and networking people can now get elsewhere, often for free, to providing real value).

To learn more about this issue, watch our Association Forecast conversation in full:



What Is Your Real Mission?

Last fall, I had the opportunity to participate in The Boondoggle. Organized by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen, it provided an opportunity for 10 people who didn’t know each other to sit in a cabin outside Omaha for 2 1/2 days and think and talk deeply about the future of work.

By the afternoon of day two, we’d pretty much all gotten past the posturing, and we were finally getting real. We had grouped all the previous day and half’s work into key themes, then we did an exercise where teams were assigned to facilitate a discussion around each of the key themes.

My partner and I were assigned to facilitate a discussion around finding meaning in your work, which led us into talking about organizational mission, and how that aligns – or doesn’t align – with personal values.

Now I’m not saying that everyone has to find deep meaning in her work. I think it’s completely acceptable to “just” a job that pays your bills, and find your meaning in your family and friends or your religious community or your volunteer work or your avocation.

But I do think that if you want to find meaning in your work, that option should be available to you. And everyone doesn’t have to find the same meaning. If your meaning is saving puppies or teaching kids to read, that’s great. But your meaning could be a fat title and a fatter paycheck. It could be amassing personal power. You should’ve have to “greenwash” what’s really important to you.

The problem is, every organization – for profit or otherwise – has a mission statement. But most of them are so much sunny bullshit.

If you want to know what an organization really values, look at what they reward.

Do they say they value customer service, but their default answer to everything is “that’s against policy”?

Do they claim to value teamwork, but reward kingdom building and territoriality?

Do they say they provide quality products and services at competitive prices…and don’t?

Do they say they want innovation, then automatically shoot down every new idea anyone proposes?

And even when what the organization actually values isn’t in direct conflict with what the organization claims to value, mission statements are often nothing more than empty platitudes that sound nice and mean nothing.

Why not be honest?

If your organization will do ANYTHING – exploit low-skilled workers, pollute the environment, skirt taxes and regulations – to make your widget 5 cents cheaper than the other guy’s, admit it.

If you really do value excellent customer service above all, live it, and tell people.

If what your organization really wants is to never, under any circumstances, rock the boat in your industry or profession, say so.

If you aim to change the world in some tangible way no matter what the cost to the people involved, let people know.

Brand authenticity drives brand loyalty. If you’re open and authentic about what life is really like inside your organization, you’ll find yourself doing business with staff and customers who are truly of a like mind and can align themselves with what your organization is truly values, not some nice, sappy-sounding thing that’s on your website that is patently false.

There really are people who would love to work at a place where the profit motive is the most important thing. There really are people who want to change things so badly, they will not count the personal cost. It’s not everyone, but if, as an organization, you can be honest about what you really value, the people who do choose to do business with you will be choosing that from an authentic place and will, ultimately, be happier.

Be authentic, warts and all. Someone will still love you and want exactly what you’re offering.