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The Power of Talking – Association Executive Roundtable Recap

By Tom Laughon & Melissa Laughon

Are we up or are we down? Are we heading towards success or irrelevancy?  Is the recession over or just about to begin again?  Are we growing or shrinking?

Our sense is that the answer depends on who you are talking to.  And, we were particularly interested in taking a pulse with associations.  When the opportunity arose for Tom Laughon, Catch Your Limit’s Founder/CEO, to be the VIP guest at an executive roundtable on September 22, 2011 sponsored by the Colorado Society of Association Executives in Denver, we leapt at it.  The roundtable was such a meaningful experience; we decided to keep the conversation going.  The very next week, we held a similar roundtable in Richmond with association executives.  We posed a variety of questions including:

  • We’re all trying to do more with less.  How are you staying focused, energized and enthusiastic?  What are you doing/what could we do to combat fatigue in ourselves and our organizations?
  • In these challenging economic times, how do we balance needing to be strategic, innovative leaders for our categories (+ members + staff) while at the same needing job security?
  • Looking into 2012 … what behaviors/trends do you expect to see with your members that you’re taking notice of? How are you (+ your association) responding?
  • Over the past few years …
    • Where have you cut resources (time, energy, $) and found that it paid off in a positive way? How are you (+ your association) responding?
    • Where have you cut resources (time, energy, $) and found that it was costly and detrimental?  How are you (+ your association) responding?

The questions were powerful and they served their purpose … they got folks talking.  But, it was what was shared during the conversations that left us laughing, crying, hoping and cursing … the power of peers coming together to share their experiences was most impactful.

From the roundtables in Denver and Richmond, as well as the conversations that we’re having with association executives around the nation, we’ve listed a few of our observations.  Please note that the association executives that we’ve talked with and that we work with are a small sample size and this summary is not a research report.  Also, insights may be slightly skewed as we surround ourselves with executives that are setting standards for best practices and are leading the industry in various ways.

Observation 1: You’re Up For the Challenge
If someone thought that you’d back down from a challenge without a fight, they were dead wrong. There may have been an initial “shock and awe” aspect to the impacts the recession and the economy were having on you and your members, but you’ve bounced back as leaders.  You’re growing as leaders as you guide your board, staff and members during tumultuous times.  You’re making much needed changes that should prove to be beneficial, although they have taken a toll in the short run. You’re asking hard questions, you’re problem solving  and you’re more than willing to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to be successful.

Observation 2: You Have Needs, Too
As the times have taken their toll on your members, you’ve been there to empathize, be supportive and offer to help in a variety of ways.  You’ve seen the categories that you represent from a unique perspective.  Some of you have had to say good-bye and mourn long time industry players that you could never have imagined closing their doors.  Or, perhaps you’ve seen your industry shrink as mergers and acquisitions continue. Some of you have had to educate new start-ups on the importance of an association that advocates on your behalf.  Others have seen impressive growth and have been scurrying around to meet increasing needs.  Whatever the situation, you are there.  You are there caring for your members and your category.  But, you haven’t always cared for yourself.  It’s critical that you find time to tend to the care and well being of you so that you can continue to serve others.  Talking with other association peers can be a positive way to stay focused and energized.

Observation 3: A Roadmap Is Difficult To Come By
Dorothy said it best, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  You are doing your part to assess the new landscape and identify opportunities but things are changing quickly.  You’re trying to move things along but you recognize that the structure you’ve operated in for years can be slow and clunky and not conducive to creativity and innovation.  You’re working with your volunteer leaders to change mindsets and skillsets so that you’ll be open to new ideas and in a position to act on them. You’ve asked your volunteer leaders for special sessions or to move up dates so that you can get their hearts and brains in the game and come up with the best possible roadmap given what you know today and what scenarios might occur in the future.

Observation 4: Money matters. Performance Counts. Time is the Enemy.
This mantra is posted in everyone’s office at Catch Your Limit.  But, we’re certain that you’ve got this as a tattoo!  You get that money matters, especially to your boards.  You’re having debates over whether to cut costs or invest new directions.  This is especially tricky and sensitive when you’re dealing with downturns and reserves.  You’re having to earn your keep and your staff is doing more than ever before with less.  And, with unrelenting meeting schedules, perhaps the resource you covet the most is time … time to be strategic, time to innovate, time to lead.

Observation 5: Work smarter, Not Harder
Your association is changing.  You’re coming up with new plans and are trying new things.  You have less resources.  In this environment, a “stop doing” list is crucial.  And, although you’ve been through lots of change in recent years, you must never underestimate how difficult change can be and how powerful “but we’ve always done it that way” can be.  Where does your focus need to be? What is getting in the way?  What programs have little to no ROI? The time is right to examine what you need to stop investing resources (time, $ and energy) in.  Also, be sure that you’re leveraging your staff, board and committees to the fullest.  Where is the highest and best use of your time?

Join the conversation.
Use the questions to generate discussions for your organization.  Share what you learn/observe with us.

Melissa Laughon

><(("> Melissa Laughon

Melissa is a ><(("> Team Member at Catch Your Limit, a management consulting firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, visit

Posted in Change, Leadership, Miscellaneous.


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