The Passive Experienced Member

The MCI Group recently released the American Engagement Index 2017 (the link takes you to a page where you can enter your contact information to get your own copy, and you really should). There’s lots of interesting information in there, but one thing jumped out at me (and Associations Now‘s Tim Ebner), in part because I’ve seen this issue in many of my clients:  disengaged (or, using Tim’s term, “passive”) experienced members.

I’m about to lay an “on the one hand” – “on the other hand” post on you.

On the one hand, maybe it’s OK that a given experienced member is “passive.” She’s probably pretty settled in her career at this point. She has the degrees and certifications she needs to be successful. She’s not jumping jobs every 18 months anymore. And even when she is changing jobs, she has an established, robust network she can turn to for leads and connections. Her kids may be getting older and their lives might be getting more complicated. She might be in a “sandwich” situation, taking care of elderly relatives as well. In short, it might not be about you.

On the other hand, it MIGHT be about you. One issue that comes up over and over in talking with my clients’ members (regardless of profession/industry or whether membership is individual or corporate/institutional) is lack of content that goes beyond the basics. Many (if not most) associations appear to lack programs, products, and services that can help mid-career members achieve their particular most important goals or solve their unique most pressing problems.

Which makes sense. It’s relatively easy to figure out what someone who’s fresh out of school or otherwise new to a given profession or industry is going to need – introduction to basic principles, help understanding how to translate training or a particular degree into the actual jobs in your industry, relationship and network building, soft skills development, your certification – and it’s relatively easy to create programs, products, and services that deliver those things, often using mostly (or only) unpaid volunteers.

It’s not nearly as simple to to do that for people who already know the 101 and 201 level stuff. Their needs will be more complex and individualized. You might actually have to pay some experts (either subject matter or instructional design or both). You might have to act more as a broker, helping those members find what they need outside your association, with the association vetting quality and perhaps negotiating for better rates for association member, rather than creating programs yourself. You might have to step into the role of host, creating a forum for them to share information and experiences with each other, rather than a content-provider (and you should probably rethink what you charge for those different types of experiences). It’s not an easy nut to crack.

So which is it? Should you look at your passive members and think: “No worries – they’re just busy”? Or is it time to panic? How do you what situation you’re in?

You have to ask them. And I don’t just mean via a survey, because the answer here is utterly individual – one member might just be really busy, but the next one might be dissatisfied and ready to walk away if the situation doesn’t improve, and the only way you’ll know which is which is to have genuine one-on-one conversations. That can be scary, because you might hear some negative feedback. But diagnosing the problem correctly is the first step to finding an effective cure.


Membership 101: Recruitment versus Retention versus Renewal

Uncle Sam World War 2 I want you poster

Three great tastes that taste great together.

Recruitment, retention, and renewal are related, but they aren’t the same thing.

Recruitment is what you do to get people in the door of your association in the first place. It’s at least partially about sales, but it’s also about starting a relationship. When you recruit a member, you are both choosing to start a relationship with each other.

Retention, on the other hand, is about keeping members, nurturing those new relationships over the long term.

To quote Joe Rominiecki from ASAE’s Associations Now membership blog:

“Recruitment requires creativity, but retention demands authenticity. Any number of offers, incentives, or messages can convince someone to try out your association, but once they’ve experienced it for a year, it’s either good or it isn’t. Which makes the decision to renew a lot different than the decision to join.”

Association membership professionals tend to focus a lot of energy on recruitment, and that’s understandable because campaigns are fun, let you be creative, and are time-limited (that is, they have a start and an end). But retention is critical to long-term, sustainable growth. Recruitment, no matter how successful, without a strong retention relationship-buiding program, is like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it. Pointless.

Renewal is a process. It’s the mechanics of retention, the glue that holds this cycle together. As such, it’s tactical, focused on answering questions like:

  • How many notices are you going to send?
  • When?
  • On what platforms/channels? (DO NOT only send emails.)
  • What offers are you going to make?
  • What messages are you going to use?
  • Who do you need to convince? (Your actual member may not be the only decision-maker.)

Retention is the goal. Renewal is the tactic you use to achieve that goal.

Image found here.

Where are the YPs?

“How can I recruit young professional members if there are no young professionals entering our industry?”

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently, not least of which because I have a client that is in this EXACT situation. Their industry is blue collar, but it is also one with excellent career and salary prospects and a clear educational track. That track just doesn’t happen to include college.

Associations Now recently profiled an initiative by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association focused on exactly this: recruiting young people into the industry.

I’d guess that PHCC and my client aren’t the only associations struggling with this.

One of the things that basic math tells us is that associations are in for a bit of a rough patch related to membership. The fact of the matter is that GenerationX, currently in their prime career and, thus, association membership target, years, is a smaller cohort than the retiring Baby Boomers and up and coming Millennials. And while the internet didn’t kill membership for the Xers (in fact, Xers join associations at higher rates than Boomers), we’re in the middle part of the narrow part of the hourglass. Which puts pressure on associations to hang on to retiring members longer and recruit young members earlier than we historically have.

On the “hang on to them longer” front, we are assisted by the fact that Boomers are retiring later, and far more partially, than their Silent Generation forebears. While what Boomers are looking for from their memberships and what they’re willing and able to contribute as members of our professional communities may shift, they aren’t hitting 65 and bolting out the door, gold watch in hand, to move to Florida and fish full time.

On the “recruit them earlier” front, though, we’re having more trouble, not least of which because, for some of us, young people aren’t showing up to our professions or industries in the first place.

What can we do about that?

Associations have enormous untapped advantages in filling the workforce pipeline for the professions and industries we serve:

  • We have direct connections to, and existing relationships with, employers, so we know what they need in entry-level and junior workers.
  • We own non-college certification and credentialing. No other sector has as much experience with this as we do.
  • We’re lightening fast, at least compared with hidebound higher education.
  • We know how to educate non-traditional students in non-traditional settings.

To learn more about what you association can do to help create your universe of future members, check out The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm, the latest Spark whitepaper, co-authored with Shelly Alcorn, CAE, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting. It includes case studies of associations that are doing good work in educating the next generation of professionals in their industries, and practical steps you can take right now to position your association for success in this critically important arena.

Get your free copy today at


Is Growth Necessarily Good?

For membership associations, total membership count tends to be one of the key pieces of data we report to our senior leadership, our Board, and often publicly. And up is always better, right?

Not necessarily.

First of all, to quote the Spark/Mariner Getting to the ‘Good Stuff’: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Associations:

More members may be better up to a point, but beyond that you risk bringing in marginal members whose commitment to your mission is incidental at best, whose contribution to your community will be minimal, and whose acquisition and renewal costs will exceed their marginal revenue. In other words, they’ll be a drain on your association’s resources.

(Joe Rominiecki talked about this concept recently in Associations Now, too.)

This is all focused on growing your market share, that is, getting more customers.

But there’s also the concept of growing your customer share, that is, getting your customers to have a larger relationship with you – to buy more stuff and be more involved.

Harvard Business Review recently highlighted this same trend in looking at “super consumers.”

“But my most involved members already are, well, really involved. They aren’t going to buy more, are they?”

Actually, they will. To quote HBR:

…superconsumers represent 10% of a category’s customers but account for 30% to 70% of sales and an even higher share of profits.

Admittedly, their study focused on consumer brands. But it reiterates a message associations would benefit from, one that I’ve written about before:

Assume you have 10,000 members. Your annual meeting regularly sees 500 attendees, at $500 a pop. Based on past attendance, your actual number of prospective attendees is about 1,000. And you have a $10,000 marketing budget.

Most of us proceed to blast undifferentiated messages out to the entire 10,000 members. Which means we can spend $1 per member trying to get people to our conference. What if, instead, we focused that $10,000 and our staff time ONLY on the 1000 prospects who are likely to attend? All of a sudden, we’re only managing 1000 contacts, not 10,000, and we have $10 per prospect to market the conference. What if those focused, high-impact messages aimed only at truly likely attendees could increase conference attendance from 500 to 700? At $500 a head, that’s an additional $100,000.

In other words, pay more attention to your super consumers, who are, again according to HBR:

…defined by both economics and attitude: They are a subset of heavy users who are highly engaged with a category and a brand. They are especially interested in innovative uses for the product and in new variations on it. They aren’t particularly price sensitive. (emphasis added)

These are the people who aren’t just members or attendees or readers – they LOVE your association and are willing to offer their time, expertise, and innovative ideas to make it better.

What are you doing to find them, to nurture them, and to let them know you appreciate them? Maybe if we all got off our “growth in (marginal?) membership, no matter what” hamster wheels, we could find out.


Three Keys to Inspire New Ideas from Staff

What does it take for associations to succeed at innovation?

I’ve been doing some research on innovation initiatives in associations for a client and had written a bit about it for the Spark blog a few weeks ago. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark Athitakis from ASAE about what I’d learned in a little more length, and he wrote the following piece for Associations Now. They’ve graciously given me permission to share it.

The best ideas for your association may come from your employees, but how do you get those ideas launched? Money matters, but so does trust and support.

Your staff has ideas about new services your association can provide for members. Some of those ideas may be very good ones. Problem is, how do you help get those ideas organized and tested?

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, has recently been interviewing leaders at associations that have launched internal innovation and new business development programs. “We talk about innovation in the association world a lot,” Engel says. “I wondered what was happening. Is anybody doing this well?”

The answer is yes, though not without some serious effort. Engel’s research uncovered three common elements of successful programs.

1. It needs its own funding. Success here, Engel says, requires “paying attention to opportunity and then being able to do something about it now, not in 24 months when you can finally make room in the budget.” The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, for instance, maintains a $500,000 fund that’s used annually to invest in new ideas from staff. That includes hiring people dedicated to working on it, as opposed to burdening current staff with new duties.

2. It needs a clearly defined process. A marketing staffer may have a brilliant idea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she has the financial know-how to put together a business plan to show how it might work. The three associations Engel studied each had a clearly defined process for staff to propose an idea, institutional support for making the proposal, and a clear set of benchmarks for it. “They’re asking, ‘What criteria do you need to meet in order for this thing to continue passing the test?’” Engel says. “It can be a revenue criteria, but it doesn’t have to be. It has to be clear what standards you’re going to need to keep going.”

3. It needs institutional support. This can be trickier than it seems. Chuck Cochran, CAE, ASHA’s chief staff officer for operations, says the association launched its own program in 1997, during a reorganization. ASHA was in silo-smashing mode, looking to flatten hierarchies, make board activities more transparent, and involve staff in more of the decision making. “The culture change in the organization was huge,” he says.

That kind of hard-won trust and transparency encourages staffers to come forward with their ideas. “I can’t imagine what [the program] would be like if there was distrust,” Cochran says. “People would be afraid they’re going to be zapped.” Cochran estimates that today about 80 percent of the ideas proposed via the fund are successful—that is, proved themselves financially viable after three years and became part of the regular operating budget.

You don’t get to that point, Engel says, without leadership endorsing the concept. “The CEO or executive director has to be supportive of the decision,” she says. “Senior leadership has to say, ‘Yes, this is a good thing.’”

But practically speaking, you also don’t get there without money, and not every association has half a million dollars available to road-test a new idea. Cochran encourages associations to look at the status of their reserves; if they’re in excess of 50 percent of annual unrestricted operating expenses (the typical target for reserves), those excess dollars may provide the start-up costs for a fund.

Because new ideas may require dedicated staff, the amount of money matters. But Engel suggests that even a smaller-scale effort is worthwhile. “It’s a lot easier to find a spare $500,000 set aside for your innovation budget if you’re ASHA than if you’re a $2 million association,” she says. “The raw amount of money doesn’t scale. But the concept—if all you can set aside if $5,000, even if you can get 5 percent time, that part of it is scalable.”

Does your association have a program to encourage staff to propose new ideas, and how do you make it work? Share your experiences in the comments.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, July 2014, Washington, DC.

Let Your Member Data Show You the Way

Associations Now recently did a story on my awesome client NICSA and the new membership model project we worked on together last summer. They’ve graciously given me permission to share it.

How one association unbundled some of its benefits and packaged them around “clusters of behavior” in its member engagement data.

The winter of 2014 brought a lot of cold weather and snow to much of the United States. And, with apologies to polar vortex, it also brought us one of my favorite new words: sneckdown.

Both a delightful portmanteau and a revelatory phenomenon arising in urban streetscapes during snowstorms, the sneckdown appears when drivers follow narrow paths through snow-covered roads and intersections. The snow that’s left shows urban planners where curbs (or “neckdowns“) could easily be extended to slow traffic and provide safer crossings for pedestrians.

We were able to make sense of different packages that would reflect or be representative of behavior that we had observed.

The power of the sneckdown is what it reveals about human behavior. This Old City blogger Jon Geeting’s photos of sneckdowns in Philadelphia in February are a perfect illustration of how, paradoxically, a blanket of snow uncovers the most natural paths for cars and pedestrians. Being able to see these paths so clearly makes urban street planning suddenly seem simple.

Behavioral data will do that. Rather than trying to guess what people want to do, or even trying to ask them what they want to do, you can just observe their behavior and design to match it. This is the path that NICSA (formerly the National Investment Company Service Association) followed to a dramatically simpler membership structure last year.

Prior to November 2013, NICSA asked its 170 member companies to join into one of 18 different member categories. In short, 18 was too many, and their aging definitions weren’t keeping up with post-recession conditions in the global investment management industry, anyway, says Michele Liston, CMP, deputy executive director at NICSA. “People were really having a hard time seeing where they fit within the categories, and I think it actually impacted our ability to bring in the dues that we needed to,” she says.

Today, NICSA now offers just five membership levels based on number of employees, removing any ambiguity for the joining member or NICSA’s membership staff. Additionally—and this is where the behavioral data is paying off—members can buy one of three optional membership packages that offer extra benefits at a discounted rate. Each one—the Educational Package, the Marketing Package, and the Global Leader Package—is tailored toward different ways NICSA’s members were already commonly engaging with the association:

NICSA Optional Membership Packages

NICSA analyzed member activity data to develop three optional membership packages that roughly matched members’ “clusters of behavior.” Click to enlarge.

These “clusters of behavior” were uncovered through analysis of member activity data conducted for NICSA by Elizabeth Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist at Spark Consulting. She and NICSA kept it simple, analyzing use of key products and services like conferences, webinars, publications, and exhibitor booths. Looking at the numbers revealed the sneckdowns in the member activity.

“By playing around with different options, we were able to piece together that we have clusters of behavior around these certain number of registrations or certain number of webinar attendances or certain publication purchasing patterns and things like that, and then we were able to make sense of different packages that would reflect or be representative of behavior that we had observed,” Engel says.

So far, the packages have “gone crazy,” Liston says. “We’ve got firms calling us saying ‘Hey, tell me about these packages.’” The cost savings are attractive to NICSA’s financially inclined members, and prepurchasing also offers a “set it and forget it” appeal. They’re also an easy sell because NICSA can show a member company its historical buying behavior and recommend the package that matches. While the base dues rate is up about 8 percent to 10 percent overall, the package discounts mean a member’s “total spend” may go down.

Knowing that total spend data was key to pricing the packages, Engel says. “It was not just how much were they paying in dues, it was how much are they spending as a whole with NICSA throughout the entire year,” she says. It was also vital during the planning process as NICSA tinkered with its options. Being able to plug in historical activity data gave it realistic revenue estimates for any potential combination of dues and benefits packages.

Such a drastic change in membership structure was accompanied by the adoption of a new association management system, Liston says. (This seems to often be the case in these sorts of overhauls.) The transition year has been tricky, but “the fact that we’re simplifying a lot of this, making it less of an administrative burden, is freeing us up to take more time to go after prospects and potential members,” Liston says.

NICSA is preparing for June, when about half of its members come up for renewal. Come November, once all members have been renewed and transitioned to the new member structure, NICSA staff will begin a full evaluation of how the new structure has fared.

From my perspective as an association blogger, I’m a big fan of NICSA’s membership restructure because it reflects at least four different themes we’ve discussed here before: using behavioral data, assembling it all in one place, giving members unbundled options, and putting a clear dollar value on them.

But from your perspective as an association membership pro, you might find NICSA’s case inspiring for its simplicity. NICSA has five staff members, and Engel conducted her analysis in Microsoft Excel. “Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a huge research department and high-level analytical software stop you from looking at your data. Sometimes you just need a little will to make it happen. You can do a lot with the tools most of us have access to,” Engel says. “For small and medium-sized associations, don’t let we don’t have the tools be an excuse. You can still look at what’s going on and say, ‘How are our members actually behaving?’”

How is your association tracking member behavior and engagement? Are you using that data to shape your benefits packages? Where are your association’s sneckdowns? Please share in the comments.

Republished with permission. Copyright ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, Washington, DC, April 2014.

Content Curation Revisited

Thanks in part to the recent release of the Looking Forward 2014 survey by Association Laboratory, associations execs are once again thinking about our members’ experience of information overload.

According to the Association Lab survey, the association executives who responded believe that information management, including both volume and quality of information, is their members’ top concern in 2014.

Although Association Lab concludes that:

the development of comprehensive strategies to help members deal with information management issues is a strategic priority for associations

(indeed, one might argue that it’s a top strategic priority, if, in fact, the survey respondents are correct in their assessment of their members’ concerns), they also found that:

Executives anticipate that members will continue to rely on their associations as a primary source of information.

I’d like to question that. And in a recent post to Associations Now, Joe Rominiecki discusses the same thing, urging associations to begin taking on more of an information curator role for our members, shifting from our more traditional information creator role.

Inherent in the shift from “association as source of information” to “association as hub of information” is that the community of professionals, experts, and organizations your association lives in is now a constant driver of knowledge in your field. (It always was, of course, but now everyone has blogs and social media.) This dynamic is both a source and result of our information overload. Which means good information management is curation of both content and community.

Information overload and what associations can do about it for our members was the focus of the very first Spark whitepaper, published in November 2012. As I wrote in Attention Doesn’t Scale:

Content curation provides a potential path to a new type of thought leadership [for associations], one that is more suited to a world where information is no longer the scarce resource…But that type of support will require a significant shift in our business models.

It also requires a shift in how we think on an organizational level and how we relate to our various audiences, both member and non-member.

The key for associations, I believe, is to select carefully and provide context for our audiences.

In other words, don’t write another article on leadership for your enewsletter. Find the three best pieces that have been written on leadership in the past six months from places like Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review and Forbes and Fast Company and Seth Godin and Dan Pink and Clayton Christensen, etc., and explain why they’re the best and how the points they raise are going to impact executives in the particular profession or industry your association serves (the reconceptualized Associations Now, by the way, provides an excellent example of what this looks like).

What is your association doing to help your audiences cope with our information-saturated reality? How are you shifting what you provide and how you provide it to position yourself as a trusted adviser to your audiences?

The free whitepaper describes the scope of the information overload problem we all face, poses content curation as a potential solution, discusses the types and modes of curation an organization can engage, looks at that required shift in thought and relationship, describes some of the skills we need to nurture in order to curate effectively, and shares a few examples of organizations (both non profit and for profit) that are doing curation well.

Download your free copy.


Getting Lean

Is it just me, or is lean process trending?

I recently read a great Harvard Business Review article on the lean startup. According to HBR, lean:

…favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development.

It also includes the ideas of the “minimum viable product” and the decide –> experiment –> learn –> iterate cycle.

Per the HBR article, lean is built on three truths:

  1. All you have to start with are untested hypothesis, aka “good guesses.” And investing a lot of time in crafting a detailed five-year business plan based on “good guesses” is a fool’s errand.
  2. Your good guesses will never be more than that until you actually start interacting with your potential customers. So the sooner you start talking to them, the better. Yes, before you actually have a product to show them.
  3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get a product out there, even if – especially if – it’s still in beta and plan to make improvements immediately and continually.

Lean also requires us to be transparent. No more operating in secrecy until you have everything just right – invite your customers in as part of your design and development process, with the goal of making your product better.

How does this all apply to associations?

Associations Now recently addressed that, with an article looking at lean process in associations. The AN article addresses the more old-school concept of lean manufacturing, developed by the Japanese after WWII, which focuses on eliminating waste and redundancy.

While I get that eliminating waste and redundancy is important, particularly in typically thinly-resourced tax exempt organizations, if we stop there, we’re missing the good stuff.

I think the most important thing for us to remember is that, at the beginning of any new program, product, or service all we have are good guesses. Admitting that publicly and celebrating it is the key to everything that follows. It grants us tremendous freedom, because it removes a lot of the ego involved in decision making, allowing us to have more than one good guess and to know right from the beginning that they aren’t all going to work out. If you’re just making an educated guess that you know you’re going to have to test, it removes all the pressure to be 100% right 100% of the time.

What could your association accomplish if you could be free to guess, test, and learn?


Welcoming a New Chief Executive

If you’ve been paying attention to CEO Update, you’ve probably noticed that announcements of CEO retirements are increasing and, as a result, the listings of CEO openings are picking up.

That means a lot of CEOs are going to be starting new positions soon. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the new CEO welcome team in previous associations, and I picked up a few ideas along the way:

First of all, whether you’re the new CEO, part of the staff welcome team, part of the rest of the staff, or a board member, I recommend starting with the excellent article Jackie Eder-Van Hook wrote for Associations Now a little over a year ago. It clearly and concisely lays out what the board, the new CEO, and the staff can do to help prepare for and facilitate a smooth transition.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that your new CEO’s background and your internal structure have a major impact on what you need to prepare to help her transition. If your new CEO comes from an association background, she’ll know how to run an association, but she’ll need to be quickly brought up to speed on your industry or profession, particularly if you have any major advocacy issues in play. And she’ll need to be quickly introduced to key players inside and outside the association. She’ll need a group of advisors (maybe the board, maybe additional people) who are known and respected in the industry who can teach her about it.

If your CEO comes from the industry or profession, she will know the key players and issues, but she’ll have to be educated about thinking about them and relating to people as a representative of the whole industry, not just her own company. And she’ll need a primer on how running an association is like and not like running a business. And a solid #2 or senior team to help keep the business of running the association going while she learns.

If your CEO comes from Capitol Hill…well, I don’t recommend doing that unless you have a strong internal structure, including a true COO (not just a glorified director of finance) who is responsible for running the association day to day. Because a high-profile lobbyist is just that. You’re buying influence, and expecting that person to run the organization as well is a big mistake.

Regardless of where you find your new CEO, she will need:

  • The current full financial and membership picture. And don’t even try to hide bad news. If you do, you’re setting her and your organization up for failure.
  • A list of the true decision makers in the organization. Which may or may not be the same as the board and/or senior team. If she really can’t make a decision without running it by the assistant conference director (for whatever reason), she needs to know.
  • The time and structured opportunities to get to know people. It’s hard to do this, because a new CEO will want to hit the ground running with all her great new ideas, and that’s good and appropriate (that’s why you hired her, right?), but she also needs space to get familiar with the staff and internal dynamics and current culture.
  • Clarity about people’s real expectations. Does the board expect her to lead, or to manage process? Is she supposed to be a change agent, or not upset the apple cart? What level of interaction do staff members want and expect?
  • All your policies, processes, procedures, work plans, strategic plans, audited financials, board books, committee books, schedules, style guides, branding rules, annual reports, etc. But don’t dump it all on her in a big pile all at once. Create a clearly labeled library on a shelf in her office so can review and assimilate all the information at her pace.
  • A group of CEO peers she can turn to when she has questions that aren’t appropriate for the board or her #2. That’s probably something she needs to put together for herself, but you could do worse than suggesting ASAE’s CEO membership and symposia and, if appropriate and offered in your area, something like DC SAFE.

CEO transitions are scary for everyone – the new CEO, the outgoing CEO, the board, the staff, the membership – but with some preparation, transparency, and cutting everyone some slack, they can also be a springboard to take your association to even greater heights.

Power With versus Power Over

About a week ago, I was finally reading the June 2011 of Associations Now (it accidentally got buried in the pile of unread magazines), and I read the Favorites Game piece with Jeffrey Pfeffer. My first thought was that his suggestions reminded me at bit of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (you can take the girl out of grad school, but…). And I was hoping that, like The Prince, it was intended as satire. Hey, they both stress the importance of flattery, right?

But somehow, I don’t think Pfeffer is being funny.

My second thought was that he was articulating the concept of “power over” very clearly. But there’s also a concept called “power with.” It features heavily in progressive movements like feminism, the green movement and many earth-based religions.

So what’s the difference?

Power OVER is about scarcity, rules, procedures, compliance, competition, rewards and threats, hoarding information, assigning blame, fear and skepticism, exclusion, silos, and control.

Power WITH is about abundance, principles, mission, commitment, creativity, focusing on what’s going right, sharing, being open, trust and confidence, inclusion, working together, questioning, inspiring and clarity.

As I’m sure you recognize, traditional hierarchical organizations rely on power over. And I suspect that’s where most of our associations fall. But they don’t have to.

In fact, forward-looking organizations need 21st century leaders. A quick Google search on that term returns things like: communicators, good social skills, open, transparent, authentic, team players/team success, influence instead of authority, non-traditional, accepting of diversity, creativity, innovation, intuition, bias towards action, energy and enthusiasm.

Which of the above two power models seems like a better match for the realities of *today’s* work place? Looking at the lists above, where would you rather work?

How do we get from here to there? It comes down to each and every one of us honestly assessing ourselves and, each day, choosing to walk the talk of power with rather than power over. You’re not going to completely transform your organizational culture over night. But you can lead, even from the middle, by example. Not everyone will get it. Not everyone will come with you. But we have to start transforming the culture of work somewhere.

I’m going – will you come with me?

(Jamie Notter has a terrific take on this topic in his blog post Love and Power – go check it out! )