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ASAE's strategic plan: working with vision.

ASAE's plan is a focused, outcome-oriented description of an achievable and promising vision of the future. As the plan becomes a working instrument, ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT asks ASAE President R. William Taylor, CAE, about his take on its significance.

R. William Taylor, CAE, is not one to linger on personal revelations about his role in guiding the planning process. No exposes here. And on the surface it's hard to imagine a much more languid topic for an interview than the society's strategic plan.

But underlying any strategic plan or vision is the implied understanding that change is part of the program. So on the strategic planning surface float logic and thoughtfulness, while visible beneath are the splashes of the full gamut of emotions that naturally accompany the change process. It's no wonder, then, that at one point in the interview Taylor uses the word struggle to describe working through the visioning process and, at another point, the word joy to describe communicating the plan.

Taylor enjoys a special perspective about ASAE and conveys his energy and enthusiasm just for the asking. If commitment to excellence is any forecaster of successful implementation of the plan, you can expect to see your association meet your needs and the challenges of a changing environment.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: First it was visioning. Now a strategic plan. What's an ASAE member to make of this most recent charter?

Taylor: Well, the visioning was the preamble to the strategic plan. I think members should consider how the plan can help them lead and manage their own memberships. ASAE's plan is a relatively universal document. Very little in it is unique to ASAE, since almost every association is going to find itself facing the same pressure points: education, technology, internationalism, member services, partnerships, research, and more.

It's also useful to think of the plan in the context of what you really have to do to serve your newer members--the boomers and postboomers. These members want a more responsive and more personalized organization. The younger generations have a different way of thinking that needs to be responded to.

You can excite your members by recognizing and letting them know of your plans to respond. The joy of conveying ASAE's strategic plan to members is that it causes our members to see ASAE as a more inclusive organization ready to respond to their professional concerns, their business concerns, and their concerns as citizens.

ASAE is stretching to be more than we have been historically, wanting to reach out in new directions.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Why is this an opportune time for making that stretch, for acting on a strategic plan?

Taylor: Because we are in an age of rapid change. The visioning process identifies new challenges and aspirations. The strategic plan charts our path for realizing the vision.

ASAE's changing character

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Do you think ASAE members are hungry for the kind of leadership the vision and strategic plan fortify?

Taylor: Yes, based on several presentations I've made to allied and other groups. I hear from individuals in these audiences that the plan is exciting. They're pleased that ASAE is reaching out in new directions.

Before visioning, when asked to talk about ASAE, I described it almost exclusively as a continuing education organization. That's how we perceived ourselves. But the vision and the plan reach out in many ways--technology, partnerships, internationalism, diversity, and others. This represents a breadth that we have not aspired to previously.

We have the visioning exercise to thank for that. As much as we struggled through that process, it was effective in broadening the scope of the organization. We raised our sights. I would urge any organization to undertake visioning, followed by strategic planning. If your strategic plan is simply an extrapolation of what you have done historically, you won't identify new challenges and opportunities. The strategic plan provides the tactics and strategies to implement the vision. I think organizations have to recognize the many changes taking place--and use visioning and strategic planning in effect to reinvent themselves for the year 2000 and beyond.

We serve new constituencies and face new opportunities--diversity, globalization, technology, and much more, viewed differently by the preboomers, boomers, and postboomers. Many associations were founded by preboomers, but values have changed over the years. Because of generational differences in thinking, the preboomer approach doesn't work as well as it used to. Often boomers want a different type of organization.

When we indicate a willingness to effect sweeping changes in ASAE, our boomer and postboomer members really like what they hear, but preboomers often become a bit uncomfortable. They're not sure ASAE should become involved in all of these different things. But the boomer audience, which is now becoming ASAE's mainstream in terms of total number of members, likes the new outreach.

Responding to the needs

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: How, though, does an organization like ASAE manage to take on a new character, go in new directions, when the economic refrain seems to continue to be "do more with less"? In a speech to the Ohio Society of Association Executives this past spring, you said, "We expect |association executives'~ budgets to remain tight, we expect members' demands to become even greater." How does this tension resolve itself?

Taylor: I don't expect the '90s to be as strong as the '80s, when ASAE and other organizations enjoyed dramatic growth annually in both budgets and staff.

Recently many organizations have had to put many needs on hold. Technology and total quality management are just two new imperatives we face that cost money and to which most associations have not responded well. Although I see association economies improving, I expect budgets to remain tight as we face a proliferation of demands.

I tend to agree with a synopsis I heard on the radio recently. The commentator described the good-news-bad-news nature of the current economic climate: that while productivity is up, which means higher profits, employment levels are flat. Most organizations have plateaued or downsized during a time when new responsibilities and priorities have gained prominence.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Sounds like the stress of the '90s. What's your reading on how we'll turn things around?

Taylor: Because of tight economic times, most of us know we haven't responded well to the demands of internationalism, technology, customer service, total quality management, and others. This creates stress for every chief executive officer and every employee.

This is compounded every year as the new board and the new chief elected officer demand additional programs and services. More programs without additional staff adds more stress. We have to do a better job of finding more efficient ways of handling old programs--or abandoning them. We need to learn how to say "no" to new proposals unless there are provisions for some relief from the current work overload. We must make maximum use of technology to increase our efficiency.

Associations' dual roles and images

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: How are associations strategically positioned to seize new opportunities? It seems at times that associations are undervalued or simply not identified as resources by the for-profit and government sectors. How much of this is an image problem versus an association strategic planning problem?

Taylor: ASAE and the association community generally have done a poor job of explaining the high value of associations, how associations advance America. Now we have finally developed some truly effective and valuable tools to do this job. ASAE members manage associations that reach 200 million Americans. If each association would undertake to tell its members the value of associations, how they advance America, our image problem would be solved.

Associations have dual roles--projecting a "soft" image in taking on socially responsible initiatives and conveying a "hard" image by demonstrating leadership on business issues. In most associations the soft image is new--and it certainly helps our profile as good corporate citizens who deserve our tax-exempt status.

More and more associations are beginning to respond to societal concerns, be it in the form of feeding the homeless, adopting schools, responding to local emergencies, or aiding in other special ways.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Government affairs is an area in which an association's focus goes in perhaps opposite directions--at the local or state level versus at the international level. Do you think being pulled in such seemingly different directions actually thwarts the effectiveness of associations?

Taylor: No, I think it just adds to our challenges--the broadened perspective required of the chief executive officer in the '90s. Just as we spend more resources on government affairs at the state and local levels, we must also reach out internationally. Doing more is a fact of life with every association--with less often is the second fact of life.

Using new technologies

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: You've frequently mentioned that capitalizing on technology represents possibly the toughest challenge associations face. What makes technology so hard to get a handle on?

Taylor: Money. And technical knowledge. I think we're gaining on it, but very recently we didn't know enough to make good technology buying decisions. As soon as we buy the latest box, it's obsolete. The list of programming needs is as long as your arm. Every activity within the association has its priorities, and it's hard to decide whether the fifth priority in one area is more important than the second priority in another. Precisely how do you play God to rank all these priorities?

Failure to respond to the opportunities offered by new technology is particularly disastrous for associations because we are communication organizations. We need to be excellent communicators using the latest and best technology. But we see data base companies now providing services that historically were provided by associations. We simply cannot let this happen--or the association is doomed.

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: How is ASAE addressing this dilemma for its members?

Taylor: We are developing a number of aids to help the association executive engage in his or her technology decision-making process, drawing from a half-million-dollar technology fund established by the ASAE Board. The core is the development of an on-line data base to provide data from our Information Central service electronically. We plan to provide a directory of hardware and software used by associations to foster interchange of information and the creation of user groups.

Still other programs will be offered to help our members improve their use of technology. We would like even more input from our members on what we can do to help them fully integrate technology into their operations.

Improved technology creates new opportunities for member service. It undoubtedly represents our best hope for doing more with less.


Our vision is to be a worldwide leader and catalyst in inspiring association executives and their organizations to build and renew society.


ASAE is dedicated to enhancing the competency of association executives, promoting excellence in association management, and increasing the effectiveness of associations to better serve members and society.

Making Vision a REALITY

ASAE's strategic plan is a tool to assess progress toward realization of the society's goals and shared vision. Space prevents us from presenting the plan in its entirety. The nine goals, shown here, describe the conditions or attributes ASAE will seek to attain--what the world will be like as a result, at least in part, of what ASAE will do. Numerous objectives for each goal are contained in the full strategic plan document; the objectives are measurable, attainable milestones ASAE wants to achieve on the way to accomplishing the goals.

Your comments and questions about the strategic plan are always welcome. Please write to R. William Taylor, CAE, president, American Society of Association Executives, 1575 Eye Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20005.


Association professionals will

* be effective executives with a commitment to excellence;

* demonstrate a balance between visionary thinking and short-term action;

* maintain the highest standard of personal conduct;

* contribute to the enrichment of society; and

* be socially responsible and embrace openness and diversity within their organizations.

ASAE will be recognized for its positive contribution in developing the profession.


The contributions to society of associations as voluntary organizations will be publicly recognized and highly valued.


Issues of public policy that affect associations at the a) federal, b) state, and c) local levels will be resolved in a way that meets the needs of association executives, is consistent with the public good, and is supportive of association interests.


ASAE and the association community will utilize information and communications technologies to a) serve their members and b) enhance effectiveness and efficiency.


ASAE will provide high-quality programs and services responsive to the needs of all categories of membership, will inspire new models for the field, and will serve as a source for innovative ideas for association executives and associations.


ASAE will serve as the premier marketplace for the exchange of information and creative thinking and for buying and selling between members of the association community, including association executives, associations, and their suppliers.


ASAE will form strategic alliances with allied societies, affinity groups, the ASAE Foundation, suppliers, related organizations, and others that will enhance the profession and contribute to achievement of mutual goals.


ASAE and the ASAE Foundation will be the premier resource for research information and data collection relevant to association management.


ASAE will be a leader in the global association community and will assist associations in defining their role and responding to the issues and opportunities to globalization.

Ann I. Mahoney, CAE, is editor of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Annual Meeting Issue; interview with American Society of Association Executives President R. William Taylor
Author:Mahoney, Ann I.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Interview
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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