Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Contemplative Sciences

Association management is, in and of itself, an odd profession (if, indeed, it is a profession, which I question). When one is employed as a direct staff member of an association, one becomes engaged in a business in which financial profit takes a back seat to many other objectives.

Instead of focusing one's energy on that one bright target...profit...one's objectives in an association management environment are spread over several targets. Profit is but one rather weak commandment. Member service and satisfaction also become key measures of success in the association world. While customer service is a tool for achieving profit in the for-profit world, it is an objective unto itself in associations. Oftentimes, member service is of such overarching importance that it takes precedence over profit and, not infequently, becomes antithetical to profit. These are hard concepts to grasp, much less to implement successfully in ways that serve the association and its members well. The association executive cannot allow member service to decimate the organization's financial well-being, but frequently he or she must fight to acheive an uncomfortable balance between them.

If association management is, in and of itself, an odd profession, owning or working in an association management company adds complexity and angst to the mix, because no longer is the primary objective either profit or member service, it's both. The intrinsic competition between between money and service is exacerbated in an association management company environment because not only do employees have to balance sometimes competing objectives in a single organization, they must balance those objectives between multiple organization clients and even between clients and their employer!

Given these rivalries, you'd expect it to be very tough to find staff who can operate effectively in those types of environments. You might think so, but it's not really so tough to identify the characteristics you're looking for...but it IS hard to find people who possess the requisite characteristics.

So, the association management company executive is constantly on the lookout for bright, perceptive, hard-charging, self-motivated, entrepreneurial souls who care as much about friendship and comaraderie as they do about money. And they must be able to shine the spotlight on others and shade themselves from it. And, speaking from experience, these people are hard to find.

I have always wanted to find someone to join my staff who not only wants the clients to excel operationally and financially but also wants to own a piece of the business so that, one day, he or she can prove that they can run the business better than I have or better than I can.

There is no better reason for writing these words today than my interest in the contemplative sciences at the moment. That is, I enjoy marrying hard sciences with soft, fluffy mind-wandering. And this little bit about life in an association management bubble is the result. More later. Maybe.