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Movin' on up.

Young association professionals are making their way to the top with an eye on their piece of the pie.

Meet the new kids on the block. Armed with certified acronyms and abbreviations, a variety of backgrounds, hands-on information age experience, and a new attitude, they may still be a little wet behind the ears, but they're learning what it takes to be the big cheese. They're the up-and-comers, and soon they'll be in a leadership position near you.

As legends and leaders in the profession pass the baton to the next generation, young association professionals are eagerly waiting in the wings, but by no means are they sitting on the sidelines. They're contemplating the future and how they fit within the big picture.

All under the age of 35, the young professionals in this story offered us a piece of their minds. All have sound experience working for nonprofit organizations and association management companies, in positions ranging from director to chief executive officer. Here's what they're thinking.

Change the culture

As oxymoronic as it sounds, young professionals want work to be fun. The leader of the future has developed a new office culture - one that, to a certain degree, emulates the fantasy world of today's Internet startup companies. It's the environment they read about every month in Fast Company, the magazine that leaves them scratching their heads, wondering why their employer - literally and figuratively - doesn't just let go of the starch.

Flexible human resource policies are one option for creating a less formal workplace, which can make work seem less like work. According to Diane C. Feirman, CAE, director of membership for the Promotion Marketing Association, Inc., New York City, to remain competitive in an increasingly tight labor market, associations "need to start looking at benefits in addition to salary. These may include travel opportunities and alternative working environments - particularly telecommuting - plus incentive pay plans, including bonuses for meeting goals, and commissions on membership and meeting attendance." She also mentions the possibility of allowing employees to do outside work to supplement income, and notes that, in general, "we need to be more creative."

Accept - and implement - fresh ideas

The enthusiasm and fresh approach coming from someone just out of the gate should be used as inspiration to invigorate the organization, they say. How many association executives are familiar with this experience: A young staff member attempts to implement a new idea, only to fall victim to existing politics or administrative issues.

"This tends to happen even if the idea has the full support of vice presidents and even the chief executive officer," says Joan Braden, CAE, assistant director of marketing for the National Court Reporters Association, Vienna, Virginia. "This can be disheartening, especially when it happens repeatedly. Often, the young leader will say, 'Hey, associations are too stagnant. I'm going to head over to the private sector where a good idea can be moved through the pipeline much more quickly.'"

Moving around

When it comes to options, up-and-comers aren't afraid to exercise them. It may be a sign of the times, but young professionals are losing patience with the tedium of the daily grind and are more apt to move around before they surrender to inflexible systems or unchallenging, irrelevant positions. The National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, Alexandria, Virginia, reports that the average daily employment in temporary help services has increased from 1.17 million in 1990 to 2.94 million in 1998. NATSS goes on to note that throughout the 1990s, the need for flexibility on the part of companies, and the desire for flexibility on the part of employees, have created increasing demand for staffing services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than one third of temporary employees now prefer the alternative arrangement over traditional employment.

Vernon Jones III, CAE, vice president of customer service, Service One Association of Realtors, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, believes his generational peers aren't working to retire; they want to make a difference right now. "We need intellectual and social stimulation in the workplace. We crave and demand respect for our competencies and contributions to the organization, as opposed to simply rising through the ranks. Our workweek is not governed by the clock, but by the completion of projects. As soon as we are bored and no longer feel challenged, we move on to another position in the same field."

Given the work of associations, Brian E. Rounsavill, CAE, director of meetings, exhibits, and online services for The Electrochemical Society, Inc., Pennington, New Jersey, questions the logic of traditional policies and vows he'd offer worker-friendly policies, such as flextime, casual Fridays, and telecommuting if he were the chief executive officer. Rounsavill remarks, "Most associations don't have daily, face-to-face interactions with their 'customers.' They likely only see members at the annual meetings once or twice a year or occasional office visits and board meetings. Therefore, association professionals can get the job done effectively in casual clothing or via modems from home as long as they provide the necessary level of member service."

Get wired and think business

Our interviewees agree that effective association management requires an understanding of the basics - financial management, communication, and member relations, to name a few. But the people we spoke with are also shoring up on two relatively new professional skills that haven't always been requisite: technology and for-profit thinking.

The executive summary of a 1998 ASAE Foundation environmental scan identified technology use as one of 14 trends facing associations in the future. In the association context, it's "the ability to link people, build relationships, and foster communities" via technology that will become a core competency of chief executive officers.

Think those in the top job are above knowing and understanding the dynamics of technology and can afford to relegate this to other staff? Think again. "Although it is important today, I feel it's becoming even more vital to be well versed in Internet technology," says Sharon S. Bruce, CAE, executive director of the Connecticut Association of School Business Officials, West Hartford. "I believe that Web sites, e-mail lists, and e-mail broadcasts will become the most used form of communication with our members, because the technology is efficient and economical."

Elizabeth Armstrong, CAE, agrees. "You must be literate in electronic communication and recognize the power of the Internet," asserts Armstrong, vice president, Association and Society Management International, Inc., Falls Church, Virginia. "I have earned lots of points with my elected leaders by knowing what the Internet can do for associations."

The use of technology is only one example of how associations are emulating for-profit industries. Alliances, mergers, co-sourcing, outsourcing, and globalization are other ways in which associations are adopting traditionally for-profit models. To engage in these activities, associations need leaders who possess the skills and expertise to look up from the day-to-day operations and scan the horizon for all possibilities. Or, as John Vowell, CAE, deputy executive director of APICS - The Educational Society for Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia, puts it, "The business savvy and broad-based communication skills required of a successful chief executive officer in a for-profit corporation are now the same as those required for success as an association chief executive officer."

Fuel the learning fire

Thomas Jefferson philosophized that there's no such thing as a senior in education. While a college degree may get your foot in the door, the learning process doesn't end in the foyer. Whether it's attending seminars, taking a class, working nights and weekends toward a degree, or seeking certification, young professionals vouch that keeping the educational fire burning is integral to staying ahead. "While we can't control demographics or the economy, we can pursue focused, continuous learning," says Dave Jennings, CAE, Midwest area manager for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Alexandria, Virginia.

Two main educational recommendations included registering for the Institute for Organizational Management program offered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., and pursuing ASAE's Certified Association Executive designation. "Although the certification is valuable, the process of preparing for the exam is really what I thought was helpful," notes Thomas Passek, CAE, director, society activities, ASM International, Materials Park, Ohio.

When asked what they read to keep up with the ever-changing world of work, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, Internet Today, Entrepreneur, and Fast Company topped the list. They realize, though, that learning doesn't come only from a book. Practical experience gives people perspective beyond the classroom. To gain this experience, young professionals are becoming active in their local societies of association executives, joining professional development groups such as Toastmasters, and continually seeking new opportunities for increased responsibilities.

"Preparing to compete in this environment requires going far beyond the usual education received at institutions of higher learning," says APICS's Vowell. "[Preparation] requires the ability to maintain a high level of curiosity that fuels lifelong learning. Being active in professional society committees and educational events has enabled me to learn from a wider group of association colleagues," Vowell continues. "However, realizing that not all of the best ideas come from within the association community, I regularly look for best practices and educational opportunities out of our industry."

Build a network

Up-and-comers concede that, while the world is becoming increasingly high tech, the nature of the association management profession will continue to be high touch. Whether it's dealing with the chief elected officer or the member who calls only once with a simple question, relationship building plays a big role in leading an association. Connections mean more than an improved social network; they're comparable to continuing education.

Angela Wheeler, publisher, Who Cares, a Washington D.C.-based magazine dedicated to "building the community of social entrepreneurs," works firsthand with nonprofit leaders building a better world. For those seeking leadership positions in the nonprofit community, her words to the wise echo those of others seeking higher ground. "Seek the advice of mentors and others you trust to help evaluate your decision to enter a leadership position in the sector," Wheeler urges. "Those who know your personality and work ethic may provide valuable insight. Surround yourself with confidants and allies who are invested in you and your goal. Confidants will allow you to speak unedited about your challenges and give you encouragement when times are tough. Surround yourself with allies who don't always agree with you."

Stephen P. Jiang, former executive director, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Oakland, California, attributes his professional achievement to developing a rapport with "everyone from the clerks and secretaries to the chief executive officers and directors. Through this broad network, I have access to a great deal of insights, information, and inside information." Above all, he adds, he's earned trust and respect. Plus, with the help of a mentor, Jiang has learned more - and faster, he says. According to him, this type of experience is requisite for establishing oneself as a stable executive.

Jiang advises, "If anyone under 30 is seriously considering a chief executive officer position, the individual should accept the position only if there is a mentor to work with across the next three to five years." He explains that situations that could be opportunities can readily turn into landmines when a young chief executive officer is working without the benefit of a mentor.

Finding a mentor

When seeking a mentor, consider these comments from Peter O'Neil, CAE, vice president of operations, National Association for Medical Equipment Services, Alexandria, Virginia: "Your mentor should be someone whom you respect and who has excelled in the particular profession. In terms of finding or approaching a mentor, I wouldn't walk up to someone and say, 'Will you be my mentor?' The relationship needs to grow between two individuals in order for the transition to be made to mentoring."

Speaking from his own mentor experience, O'Neil points out that having someone to look up to doesn't have to be a formal process. "The word mentor has only been used between us once in conversation. Mentoring is simply another form of a relationship between two people who have mutual respect and where one feels they can help another - possibly from their own experiences."

For those seeking more than the informal network, ASTD's Jennings encourages coaching as a more disciplined alternative to getting professional feedback. "You may have all the right credentials," he says, "but if you come across like a jerk and don't know it, you have a blind spot."

Get a life

You might think that up-and-comers are willing to sacrifice a life outside of work to achieve a successful professional life. In most cases, you'd be wrong. True, some young people land the top job early in their careers; however, working toward a balanced lifestyle is essential to their pursuit of happiness.

"Balancing a family with an incredibly busy job isn't easy," says David Nielsen, CAE, executive director of USFN - America's Mortgage Banking Attorneys, Tustin, California. "While I work long hours during the week, I also try and make a point of rarely doing work on the weekends. Weekends are my family time - and also time when I can give my wife a break from being the full-time parent to our daughter."

Adhering to a five-day workweek is one way to limit intrusion into your personal life. Loving where you live is another. Take, for example, John Mazor, CAE, president and chief executive officer of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alaska. When he was looking for a new opportunity, location ranked top on his list, but not for the traditional reasons. "Being an avid outdoorsman, I have to pursue a geographic location of employment that affords me recreational opportunities," says Mazor. "Because time is limited, I have placed location of employment at the top of the considerations list."

Regardless of age, finding the ever-elusive balance is still a challenge. And it's difficult to know when you've achieved it, as balance is more art than science. Recognizing the need to do something about it is the first step.

"My job [took] 60 or more hours a week from me and many weekends," says Jiang. "Travel [was] about 50 percent, taking me away from having a personal life. I recognize this now and am trying to find a better balance, but the job responsibilities always [seemed] to take over."

Think before acting

Branded by a label that has stereotyped them as working hard at slacking off, these young professionals are bringing a new dimension to the evolving profession of association management. Arms stretched, they are ready to take the baton and run to the future. Before grabbing it, Stacy Tetschner, CAE, executive vice president of the National Speakers Association, Tempe, Arizona, offers one final piece of advice: "Very early on in my career, I had a mentor who told me to be patient and not force the issue of promotions. That is some of the best advice I have ever received. You truly know when you are ready to move up. Learn all you can about the field of association management, build your network, and look patiently for the right opportunity. Don't take a chief executive officer position simply for the position. When you're the right person for the organization and you've worked hard to prove yourself, the opportunity will present itself."

Skills Required

Angela Wheeler, publisher of Who Cares - a magazine that aims to "help people create, grow, and manage organizations for the benefit of the common good" - points out two skills required of nonprofit leaders of the future.

Financial management talent. Take course, solicit the help of your organization's accountant, or sign up for training through one of the many programs designed for nonprofit leaders, suggests Wheeler. Even if your organization has a financial officer, the executive director needs to know how to read and interpret these statements.

Ability to attract and retain quality staff. To attract potential recruits to your organization, learn where they network, Wheeler advises. Be clear about what skill set is required for someone to be successful in a role. Make sure that the candidate's skill set matches your job requirements, and also that he or she has the right chemistry. People can be trained for certain roles, but if they can't work with you or others in you organization, you'll be recruiting again for the position sooner than you think.

Leveraging Your Youth

Believe it or not, recruiters do get called on to find up-and-comers to fill executive positions. "Sometimes," says Mary Heideman, principal of Tryon and Heideman, LLC, Kansas City, Missouri, "a fresh, risk-taking approach might be just what the doctor ordered."

According to Heideman and her partner, Katey Tryon, younger prospects are most sought for organizations that "aren't interested in doing things the same way anymore." Usually, the association's membership demographics are changing, younger people are on its search committee, and the association has a strong focus on attracting younger members. Opportunities also exist for young professionals in organizations "outside the Beltway," where the candidate pool is smaller.

First-time chief executive officer candidates are desirable because they still have a hands-on perspective, are willing to take risks, can show a breadth of skills - including membership, education, and marketing experience - have an impressive track record, and have a fresh perspective. To prepare for that first chief executive officer position, know your track record, be willing to put yourself in a situation in which you can demonstrate a breadth of skills, and show your energy, advise Heideman and Tryon. What word do they hear the most from search committees? "Creativity," says Tryon.

Been There, Done That

Sharon S. Bruce, CAE, scored her first chief executive job at the age of 25. "Many of the members were more accustomed to a middle-aged man as the executive director. For some it was difficult for them to have confidence in me due to my age and, occasionally, my gender."

Bruce is now executive director of the Connecticut Association of School Business Officials, West Hartford. Here's what she recommends to others confronting age-related issues.

* Have self-confidence. "If you work hard and love what you do, you are bound to succeed."

* Don't be afraid to ask for input. "Even seasoned professionals know the truth in 'two heads are better than one.'"

* Show proper and due respect. "The leaders of an association are professionals who have earned the respect of their peers."

* Know when to stand your ground and when to concede. "Don't engage in unnecessary power struggles."

* Impress others with action, not words. "If you show them you are a professional, you won't need to tell them."

* Be true to your word. "If you say you will do something, do it."

* Continue your professional education. "It shows that this is your career, not just a job."

Luke Fretwell is production associate and Tammy Cussimanio is director of executive services, ASAE. and
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:young association professionals; includes related article on skills needed by future association leaders and leader opportunities for young association professionals
Author:Cussimanio, Tammy
Publication:Association Management
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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