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Anticipatory management.

Anticipatory MANAGEMENT

Don't let the soft Tennessee accent, the undergraduate degree in chemistry, and the unassuming, almost shy demeanor fool you. He's as opinionated, savvy, and driven as any top staff executive of a $16 million organization.

R. William Taylor, CAE, celebrates his 10th anniversary as ASAE's president this fall. Precisely when is something akin to the vagueness surrounding some people's birth dates. While Taylor took up residence at ASAE full-time Dec. 1, 1981, he actually began that October--commuting from Dearborn, Michigan, where he was still serving as chief staff executive of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). Using annual leave to be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and Fridays, Taylor's compensation from ASAE during that time was $1 a month.

Not exactly motivated by financial reward, you might observe. You should also know that the new job didn't come about by chance. "I'd been ASAE's chief elected officer in the mid-'70s, and I always thought that if [former ASAE president] Jim Low retired I was going to offer my services; and I took a pay cut to do it," explains Taylor. Anticipating the opportunity, Taylor had one exclusion in his eight-year contract with SME--namely, release from the contract if he were offered the ASAE job.

That was 10 years ago, and a lot has changed at ASAE since then, but Taylor's philosophy about setting goals and looking to the future are at the heart of everything he does. He advises his senior staff to exercise the very same forethought that has served him so well: "I say to all my staff, |If you are looking for a new job, I would like to help you find the best job you can.' I feel like all of us need to determine where we want to be" and be ready when the opportunity comes. That means, according to Taylor, preparing with deliberateness for a bigger job than the one you have now if "moving up" is your aspiration.

Being "where the action is" keeps Taylor charged. "Right now I'm staffing the Global Issues Task Force, the Association Management Company Task Force, the Planning Committee, the Key Philanthropic Associations Committee, and the Associate Members Senior Roundtable. I like to be part of formulating new plans for ASAE and then delegating responsibilities and moving on to other new areas." Being in the midst of it all, always having two or three new projects is Taylor's way of maintaining his enthusiasm for a 10-year-old job.

"If you manage in a passive way, it's got to be boring. I really enjoy problem solving. What makes the juices flow is to come up with new ideas and to meet with volunteers and staff and create new things."

A plan of action

Taylor guesstimates that a third of his time is devoted to working with ASAE's volunteer leadership. He considers his role of advising and serving ASAE's top elected official a top priority. "A way in which I can serve the chairman is to try to help that person carve out a role that plays on his or her expertise and ASAE's current needs.

"I think each chairman likes to make a unique contribution beyond just chairing the board and visiting allied societies." In [now past chair] Kathryn Johnson's case, explains Taylor, this contribution is visioning. In [now chair] Gene Fondren's case, Taylor predicts that "we will look back at the end of his term and say Gene made us more effective with the allieds, particularly on grass-roots government affairs."

He says this because he and Fondren worked together long before Fondren's swearing in, and much of their discussions focused on state and government relations activities.

"A model law for UBIT [unrelated business income tax] has been sent to all states by the Business Coalition for Fair Competition [Washington, D.C.], so we need to work with the allied societies to fight it on a state-by-state basis." This direction is a natural for Fondren, formerly a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Prior to officially becoming ASAE's chair, Fondren had appointed Frank McCarthy, chief staff executive of the McLean, Virginia-based National Automobile Dealers Association (an organization known for its strong state government relations program) to chair ASAE's Government Affairs Committee.

What Taylor especially appreciates in this instance is Fondren's natural leadership in an area that will complement but not duplicate staff expertise. "It's always exciting to have a chairman use an expertise in ways that can get something done that staff would have a hard time doing on its own" is how Taylor sees this silver lining.

Taylor has a knack, honed by years of experience, for guiding ASAE's volunteer leaders in directions that enable these individuals to have the greatest positive impact. "I've started now to meet with Quincalee Brown [ASAE's chair-elect] to help her analyze her areas of greatest interest and expertise, where she can be most effective." Together these partners look for ways in which the chair might offer unique guidance to the association. When the process is working well, the leadership and the society are the beneficiaries.

Joint decision making

What, then, is the key to a successful partnership? "I've worked best with chairmen who are frequent and relaxed communicators," says Taylor. Lots of telephone calls and comparing of ideas makes for comfortable brainstorming and easy decision making. "In a divided-responsibility situation, where neither is totally sure of his authorities, it's awfully good to stay in communication and reach agreement on everything." As Taylor puts it, you don't have to worry about the division of responsibility within an association when you've agreeably made a decision together. All those phone conversations put both parties at ease, aligning them on issues rather than on territory.

Decision making comes with Taylor's territory. Despite the analytic mind-set required of someone with academic training in chemistry, Taylor describes himself as intuitive. "I like to make decisions, and I have to hold myself back from making them before I have all of the facts, because often the answer seems so clear so quickly."

In fact, though, if you ask Taylor's right-hand man Jon Grove, CAE, executive vice president, he'll tell you Taylor has a quite predictable, and rational, method of decision making. Taylor uses the answers to four straightforward questions, according to Grove, to arrive at a decision: What is the impact on and what will be the reaction of the ASAE Executive Committee and Board of Directors? What will be the impact on and reaction of the members? What is the impact on the budget? What is the impact on staff?

A new management style

And how does this decision-making style fit into Taylor's management style? Taylor says that by necessity his style has shifted over the years. "I naturally have a participative management style that works today because I just never was comfortable being authoritarian." That doesn't mean he shies in the least from making the final decision; it does mean, however, that Taylor surrounds himself with division directors who have a great deal of autonomy and, as long as they live up to their commitments and accountabilities, a great deal of freedom.

Taylor admits his management structure has its weaknesses. The emphasis on results and bottom lines by division (if your division wants soft drinks at its staff meeting, you pay ASAE's conference center for the drinks; if your division wants an advertisement in Association Management, you pay the magazine for the ad) is sometimes counterproductive to teamwork. Balancing a basically competitive structure with the need to have everyone rowing in the same direction is a price Taylor is willing to pay. He helps build a sense of team playing by making sure each division feels the successes of the others, by hiring people with "the right chemistry" for the group, and by creating opportunities for frequent interaction and goal setting.

And, of course, by participative management. Taylor attributes the general shift in organizations from autocratic to participative management to "the need for so much more emphasis on service, quality, and on being market driven. It's almost night and day, really, insofar as the way the CEO functioned a decade ago and the way the CEO functions now. To fully serve members, the CEO has to empower staff to make good independent decisions. And then staff has to be responsible for those decisions."

Behind the shift to service, quality, and being market directed is increasingly accessible information about members' wants and needs. And behind information accessibility is technology.

It begins to sound like the foot bone connected to the ankle bone, only some organizations are definitely impaired by the cost of the technology. Taylor believes large associations have responded to computerization as well as has industry, but many small associations don't have the necessary funds.

There are ways to get marketing data that don't have to break the bank, suggests Taylor, such as making full use of surveys and focus groups. However you manage to do it, advises Taylor, there's no escaping the need to understand what the member wants "because the members are not going to continue to pay dues if they don't get what they want." The ramifications are obvious: To the extent that on-target services are not delivered, your association risks losing members.

The technology--service connection

The impact of technological changes on decision making and on associations' ability to deliver more valuable products and services is remarkable. While technology has the potential to empower the association, it does so by "taking away the propensity of the board and staff to determine the product mix and services offered by the organization." Information--not staff and volunteer leaders--increasingly drives decisions. Decisions can become less arbitrary, a prospect that may unsettle some.

You couldn't count Taylor in that group. ASAE's approaching computer upgrade is one of several ASAE commitments to the information age. Another comes in the form of ASAE's recently formed Technology Committee. The committee will provide guidance to ASAE members who are upgrading their automation systems. While the mechanism for providing this guidance has still to be worked out, Taylor envisions an information exchange, products and publications that anticipate members' questions, and networking opportunities with experts in the field.

Asked about the effect of technology on the frequency and types of meetings that association executives conduct, Taylor sees a number of factors coming into play. He foresees hotel room rates skyrocketing by the end of the decade because right now "most hotels are operating below break-even." He also anticipates airline rates going up tremendously as a result of mergers. Thus, Taylor bemoans, the cost for a person attending a convention may be 50 percent more than today, which is going to "have a great impact on people's willingness to go to meetings. So I think we're going to see more and more use of electronic technology for meetings."

That doesn't mean, says Taylor, that people will stop attending meetings. Instead, he predicts, the partnership between association executives and executives from the hospitality industry will take on unprecedented importance to both. "We will need to work together to restructure and communicate the financial margins of the meetings industry so that we all win."

In a sense, Taylor's observations on this front come back to the importance of associations serving their members' needs. If it's true that members today do not have the allegiance to their associations that members had 20 years ago, then delivering the right product and service becomes all important. Taylor thinks people are inclined to support the association "if they see some fair return on their investment. We used to recruit members on the basis of one's professional responsibility to join. Now we also promote membership on the basis of benefits."

Quality, too, is in demand these days. "I think that the boomer generation has made all of us much more quality conscious." Taylor cites ASAE as an example of an organization responding to this shift in values. ASAE offers a money-back guarantee "basically because we know that the member wants quality."

Discovering best practice

Does Taylor see ASAE on the leading edge when it comes to technology, member service, quality management, internationalization? Well, not always--"though we strive to be," he says. Take the international scene as an example. Taylor has been a keen observer of how other associations operate globally. The common denominator, he says, is that it costs a lot to become effective internationally, and "by and large members are not willing to increase the dues or [in other ways] free up the money to let the association become highly competent internationally." While he notes that some associations--for instance the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, Washington, D.C.--have made great strides internationally, most have not been able to find the time and money. Yet when queried, associations recognize the need to extend in this direction.

As for ASAE, Taylor believes "ASAE needs to be out there helping associations become effective internationally." To that end, for example, ASAE helps its members improve their international outreach. ASAE also aids national societies of association executives (e.g., the European Society of Association Executives, the British, Australian, and French societies) serve the members within their respective countries--"as opposed to conducting an international membership recruitment effort."

Taylor raises an important point here: If you recruit a contingent of non-American members, you had best be prepared to change your current products or add new products to suit their needs because often their needs will be different. As Taylor puts it, "you can't in good conscience sign up members unless you intend to provide service to them."

Helping other organizations become effective internationally doesn't mean, then, that ASAE has to be the first to become an international society. The responsibility, as Taylor sees it, is to help others understand "best practice"--how associations that have succeeded internationally have got there.

Taylor is emphatic on ASAE's role in this arena as in any: "We cannot be a role model in international activities. In fact, there is nothing we do that I can't name an organization that does it better. I think our job is to discover best practice and make sure that through our awards program, through the magazine, through our newsletters, conferences, and so forth, we showcase best practice wherever it's discovered."

Learning by the example of others is also a way of leading. "I've always been a leader by example," Taylor explains. "I don't think I've ever asked anybody to do anything that I am not willing to do. I enjoy being the first one at work each day and one of the last to leave. I just feel people are influenced a lot more by what you do than by what you say, and so if you set the example by your work ethic and what you value, that really is what people believe in."

Believe it. No matter how early I get to the office, he beats me every time.

Editor's note: This article is based on an interview with ASAE President R. William Taylor, CAE, in July, in honor of his 10 years of achievement for ASAE. At his request, the article is not a restrospective; however, some important changes of the last decade can hardly be ignored; the charts in this article are some of the measures of growth. [Charts Omitted]

Ann I. Mahoney is editor of Association Management.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:interview with American Society of Association Executives president R. William Taylor
Author:Mahoney, Ann I.
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:interview
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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