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Thoughts from a Think Tank: The Work We Do

 

The Work We Do is our second topic from the Think Tank event I recently moderated for the Association Executives of North Carolina’s Young Professionals group, FUEL. This portion of the conversation revolved around how our world continuously changes during this pandemic, seemingly cementing our future work post-pandemic. The questions dove into ways we can make changes now to help accommodate our “new normal.”

Catch up on what we’ve learned so far in our previous blog post, Thoughts from a Think Tank: The Shifting Work Culture.

 



The Work We Do
 

How do you share resources or partnerships within our network without feeling sales-y or pushy?

  • Share your VALUE! Lead with what you can do to help prospects or clients with their unique situations. You must use a WIIFM (What’s In It for Me?) approach for consumers to pay attention. When you think from their perspective, it’s a no-brainer to listen to what you have to say.
  • Build your partnerships with the pursuit of TRUST as the cornerstone. If that is not where you start, then frankly, you are just more noise to weed through!
  • HubSpot is an excellent resource for content on how to market both you and your business. Multiple people in the audience had used HubSpot as a resource and found value in the content shared.
  • Lead with questions that help discover pain points, concerns, and actions that benefit the prospect, client, or member. Active listening is so essential in moving the needle forward!

What are your favorite apps or processes that you use to stay organized? How do you manage your to-do list?

  • COZI is a shared family calendar that can help keep appointments, activities, and lists (i.e., grocery, chores, and holidays) in one place for all family members.
  • Multiple people use the Microsoft Outlook to stay on track by using a couple of different methods:
    • Some noted they use appointments that sit at the top half of the day (all-day appointments, marked as “Free”), color code to categorize tasks, then uncategorized when completed or delete when completed.
    • Others use tasks in Outlook and schedule them so that they have affiliated dates. You can also accompany those dates with reminder rules.
    • Inbox Zero is a concept developed by Merlin Mann, where you keep your inbox empty or almost empty. People use various rules that work for their personal, business, or client preferences, but at the end of the day, the goal is to resolve issues or move items to trackable folders for further follow-up. The concept goes against using your inbox as a task tool and is more about organizing tasks appropriately.
  • Microsoft OneNote has a tasks feature that allows you to check off items when completed. The app is also very user-friendly—tasks are viewable and readily available at all times. You are also able to create notebooks to help keep you organized in your work and personal lives.

How do you make time for strategic thinking? How do you automate and streamline day-to-day task flows?

  • DELEGATE! Let go of some stuff! If you are in a position to do so, get items off your plate to make room.
  • Try weekly or monthly working “sabbatical”. The sabbatical is an active exercise for one of the audience members. They take one day every 6-8 weeks and clear their calendar, notify coworkers, and stay off the phone, email, and any other tools, like Slack or Teams. Act as if you are out of office, but you aren’t; prioritize your strategic planning, conversations, or projects. Block the day off and get stuff done! (This was highlighted in our last blog—but I wanted to reiterate it here.) I love this idea and will be stealing it for sure!
  • No-Meeting Fridays are a way for your team to get things done and wrap up the week. The idea is not to have any internal meetings to allow team members to work through their to-do lists. The available time also provides space on Fridays for “water cooler” time. Team bonding is important and can make space for your team members to have fun together without prepping for meetings and formal conversations. This open time also allows for time to focus on larger projects or initiatives to drive completions.

What are some successful ways in which you have bridged the generational/age divide in understanding data integration in your workplace?

  • Educate and train folks on your CRM/AMS systems (or other tools), store all information in the CRM/AMS, and show what it CAN do for them. The group generally felt like there is a barrier of understanding as to what some of the current tools an organization uses can do. Be sure to emphasize how powerful the tools are and what they can accomplish – don’t harp on what they can’t do.
  • For those who don’t buy into the new tools or processes, prove to them that they can trust the data. Put data entry processes/standards and a data cleansing process in place to prove it to them.
  • Be very careful not to put junk data in the system! One person should oversee the cleanliness of the data and own the cleansing process. Also, be sure to put a review process in place for approving new entry fields. Ensure there is a purpose for all items tracked, which will lessen the burden of capturing data. If you can point at what each data point is contributing, then people will be more apt to spend the time entering it correctly in the first place!

How do you deal with conflicts, whether between colleagues or with clients?

  • Try implementing a “clearing time.” Schedule a specific time to address topics or issues and call it out, so the person knows what you are planning to discuss. Clearing time could also be implemented in small groups or meetings, but there must be trust within the group to be effective.
  • As a culture, make it acceptable to voice your concern in the moment, and if significant enough, make it part of your values.
  • Make sure you have the right people in the right seats!
  • Implement a personality test for all team members to learn communication styles, preferences, and set expectations within teams or specific roles to ensure you have the proper people in the right places within the organization. Going through the exercise allows for an unbiased approach to seeing how people engage with others and helps to identify communication preferences, amongst other things. These points are the most actionable items that can apply to everyday work life with your colleagues. There are a ton of personality tests out there. I’d encourage you to do your research and find the best for your organization.

 


 

Sitting down to put all the ideas gathered at Think Tank in one place solidifies that the association world can make major changes to the way we work. The beauty of these sessions is that they allow attendees to take a step back and a deep breath, and hear that they are not the only ones struggling with these issues. They are not alone in their pursuit to move the needle. Their efforts mean something; in fact, they mean huge things for our future.

I hope you are enjoying the insights I’ve shared thus far! Be sure to look out for the next blog where we’ll share the topic area, How Will the Work We Do Be Affected Post-Pandemic? .

 

Headshot of Amanda Davis, Vice President of Client Experience

About the Author

Amanda Davis, CMP is our Vice President of Client Experience and has nearly ten years of experience in the association world, strategically focused on learning products. With multiple association roles as Director of Learning & Development and Online Learning Manager, Amanda has a deep understanding of the adult learning landscape and what keeps association executives up at night. Amanda recognizes the importance of strong learning technologies for today’s nimble associations and hopes through her role with Blue Sky eLearn, she’ll be able to contribute to the success of our growing mix of association clients.

Amanda graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with a degree in Communications Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal Communications. She and her husband are parents of a four-year old, Leo. Amanda enjoys playing competitive tennis, completing DIY projects for their very own “Fixer Upper”, and community outreach activities. Seemingly she stays very busy but is always sure to make time for family fun.

 

 

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Thoughts from a Think Tank: The Shifting Work Culture

 

I recently moderated a Think Tank event for the Association Executives of North Carolina Young Professionals group, FUEL. This event brought association executives and their partner organizations together to discuss the problems they see facing the world and innovate new solutions to fix them.

Think Tanks do not create policy, but they do bring new ideas and solutions to the table to enable change. The format for this event was a moderated discussion where attendees submitted questions ahead of the event and then answered each other’s questions by providing ideas and feedback during the live session. It was an amazing experience watching peers help peers—especially during our ongoing global pandemic. The energy in this session was unmatched. It was exciting, scary (at times), enlightening, and ultimately gratifying. I know no greater success than being able to assist my peers in their pursuit for positive change!

This was my second opportunity to moderate this type of session, and I had an absolute blast doing so! The discussion revolved around three main topics: 1. The Shifting Work Culture, 2. The Work We Do, and 3. How Will the Work We Do Be Affected Post-Pandemic?

Because these topics are top of mind for many association professionals we engage with at Blue Sky eLearn, I’ll be sharing highlights from each in a series of blog posts titled “Thoughts from a Think Tank”. Read on for part one of this three-part series.
 



The Shifting Work Culture

 
The Office: Who is going back to the office full time? Who works in a hybrid environment? Who is now fully remote?

  • The answer? A mix of all three! Association teams primarily work in the hybrid space; however, they also represent the fully remote crowd. Industry, technology, and facility partners were a mix between remote and in-person.
  • Board meetings are now all virtual, which has led to higher engagement.
  • Some professionals are currently working in a hybrid office environment, but they are trying to figure out how to convince decision makers of the need to stay remote. In 2020, work was remote for safety concerns, but now there is a cultural shift with many desiring the flexibility of a remote office.
  • Pay attention to your teams! There is a higher risk of turnover if you aren’t listening to employees’ office preferences. “Why don’t you trust me now? I was able to perform my job well remotely DURING A PANDEMIC. Why can’t I continue?”

With business producing more demand, how do others handle feeling overworked due to lack of staffing? What creative ways are people attempting to find staffing?

  • Many employees are leaving their jobs because of a lack of ongoing flexibility. Turnover is an issue all around, which can impact client/member relationships.
  • One of the hotel members mentioned they are struggling to hire; and when they do hire, they sometimes find that new employees won’t show up for their shifts or will work two shifts and then disappear.
  • They are trying to incentivize employee referrals with things like pizza and ice cream parties. They’re doing anything they can to show they care.
  • Who you are hiring is so important—now more than ever! You must get the right people in the door. And when you don’t, how do you “get them off the bus”? Evaluate team members immediately through onboarding. Try a 90-day hiring period, and write the evaluation period into the offer letter. It saves time and allows space to let them go if they aren’t working out.
  • Talk openly with your team. You should be able to identify who is at risk and who is dedicated to being there through the tough times as well as the good.
  • At the end of the day, the work is never done. But, the thing people love most about Association careers is contributing to something vitally important while maintaining the ever-important work-life balance.

How do you keep young leaders in your organizations engaged?

  • Look at your perks and benefits. Are they enough to retain great people? If they aren’t, NOW IS THE TIME TO PIVOT!
    • Try upping the ante on insurance offerings.
    • Consider increasing your 401(k) contribution…or starting one.
    • Offer continuing education opportunities or funds. Professional development and/or training programs show you are willing to invest in your employees.
    • Extend time off. There are lots of options here! Do what’s right for your business and your membership.
  • Member Engagement: Some are seeing opportunities within their membership in trade associations, increasing the seats at the table to give more access to young professionals.
  • Mission/Vision/Values: If you don’t have them, get them. If you have them, are you living up to them? Young leaders MUST see action on your mission, vision, and values.

Should you try taking a “sabbatical” at work?

  • The idea is to look at your calendar and block out an entire day once a month. You aren’t taking the day off from work, but you are taking the day off in the office. You’re instituting a no-meeting, no-interruptions day to get s**t done! This is such a great idea! So many professionals struggle with meeting mania and have a hard time moving the big rocks. A “sabbatical” day will allow you to do more of those things uninterrupted.
  • Another idea was to make Fridays a no-meeting zone for all team members.

Does your company have travel restrictions or new office policies due to COVID-19?

  • At present, no one in the group had travel restrictions; however, this is a significant consideration with teams who must travel for membership work, events, meetings, etc. Setting some basic policies and procedures will help you navigate when situations arise.

How do you reconnect with colleagues after being out of the office? Within the office hierarchy, how do you manage being in a lower rank and feeling appreciated and heard?

  • Some are super excited to be heading back into the office, while others are apprehensive about their safety and wellbeing. Yet another group would love it if they never had to go back again. Whichever group you fall into, remember that your feelings are important. My advice is to be empathetic to those who may feel differently when you return to the office. Look for visual cues of discomfort in groups, and try to make those people feel comfortable, too. And to the last group, you may not want to be in the office, but make the best of it until you can either get comfortable or find another job.
  • Office hierarchy is such an interesting struggle. I was interested in digging more into the idea of whether hierarchy subsided or increased while remote. Either way, you will always have hierarchy as well as people who misuse power, or conversely, those who don’t use it enough. When you are a lower-ranking team member, you must make your voice heard. Not by power, but by actively adding value to your interactions. Don’t speak to fill space. Be intentional about your contributions and make an impact.
  • Lastly, being appreciated and heard is all about who you are engaging with, and it is something that you CAN’T control. Practice being articulate, especially when standing your ground on an issue, but don’t bulldoze either. It’s a delicate balance to convey your message without drowning people with it. All you can control is your voice. Private conversations seem to work well and can become “coaching moments.” You will see what those with more “power” have to say, and you may find out that you were being heard all along. If possible, offer guidance to those in power. I know that isn’t always an easy place to be and that giving guidance to a leader isn’t always taken well. Leave if you don’t feel heard. Find a place where your contributions will be appreciated and where you can make an impact! Do it safely, but do it.

 


 

WOW! Such great stuff. It was so insightful to hear how people are navigating office culture in this uncertain landscape. As the world changes, so does our office dynamic. This conversation demonstrated that now, more than ever, paying attention to people is vital. “People” can take so many different forms: team members, constituents (those you serve), clients, partners, and others.

The time spent nurturing will pay off in your business outcomes. Take the time now to set yourself up for success in the future. The “loud and clear” message was to make sure you are appreciated for your contributions. There is opportunity out there, and if an organization is unwilling to show you how important you are, other places will.

Be sure to look out for the next blog where I’ll share highlights from our next topic, The Work We Do.

 

Headshot of Amanda Davis, Vice President of Client Experience

About the Author

Amanda Davis, CMP is our Vice President of Client Experience and has nearly ten years of experience in the association world, strategically focused on learning products. With multiple association roles as Director of Learning & Development and Online Learning Manager, Amanda has a deep understanding of the adult learning landscape and what keeps association executives up at night. Amanda recognizes the importance of strong learning technologies for today’s nimble associations and hopes through her role with Blue Sky eLearn, she’ll be able to contribute to the success of our growing mix of association clients.

Amanda graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with a degree in Communications Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal Communications. She and her husband are parents of a four-year old, Leo. Amanda enjoys playing competitive tennis, completing DIY projects for their very own “Fixer Upper”, and community outreach activities. Seemingly she stays very busy but is always sure to make time for family fun.

 

 

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