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You can get there from here.

You Can Get There From Here

"Plan your work and work your plan." That's the last thing Bradford W. Claxton, CAE, said in our interview, and if you've heard it before, I hadn't. It characterizes the manner in which the executive director of the American Academy of Dermatology, Evanston, Illinois, leads his association and the perspective he offers on finessing such management issues as staff education and training, information overload, technology, and use of staff resources. AM: How will changing work force demographics affect associations in the next decade? Claxton: Paying attention to demographics is part of any manager's repertoire. Demographics can show you the community that you'll serve in the future. You must plan for it, or it will be a problem you won't have answers for.

Where the diversity issue will affect all of us in the demand for more highly educated managers. At the entry level, we're going to compete for employees who just have the basic skills of reading, writing, and spelling. Managers will have to know the decision making process and be willing to take some chances. Unless we improve the education system, we're going to be faced with a serious shortage in the workplace. Associations will have to compete with industry, government, and other groups for quality people, and we're going to have to get into the training fields ourselves.

AM: What will be the most crucial skill to train in? Claxton: We may have to begin with the basics. For example, just to secure a person for the position we used to call secretary, we may have to reinforce basic training in English, spelling, and the correct use of punctuation. And even at the manager level, people with college degrees are unable to write and communicate effectively. People are well-trained in technological sciences but not in communication skills.

AM: At what level should associations get involved? Claxton: Some industries are training people at a remedial level in their own workplace. Associations will have to look at the industrial model and set up training programs.


AM: If our future lies in the phrase information is power, how will that affect the role of associations in society? Claxton: There are two aspects of information: gathering and sharing. Gathering information has always been a prime function of associations and will remain so. But communicating that information will become more complicated because of the "noise level" the public experiences.

From the time you get up until you go to bed you are bombarded with messages on the radio, in the paper, in your mail, on the telephone, and through the fax. This is information overload. An article that I just read says that you may find yourself talking to a person when suddenly you lose your train of thought. You have five or six different problems you're trying to work through, so you lose one thought when you start working on something else.

So how do you address overload? Here at the academy we've set up a worldwide computer link that our members can access. Our data base is available 24 hours a day and allows the professional to search the literature.

AM: So associations should think about making information available via computer? Claxton: Yes, I think one of the best things you can learn is that you don't have to cart all the information around in your head; you need to know how to access it. The association can facilitate that by being the resource.

AM: Is there an analogy to draw about information and power within the association? Can we afford to have information concentrated at the top of a power hierarchy? Claxton: The pyramid model in today's environment is outdated. There's so much information that you really need staff specialists. The association chief executive is a generalist - he or she knows where the information is. If I need information on specific subjects such as state legislative initiatives or internal cost accounting, I go to one of our people for the answer.

What is needed - for all of us, whether at the departmental, middle management, or CEO level - is a way to avoid reinventing the wheel. The problems I confront are the same problems my colleagues have confronted. If I encounter a new problem or a new set of circumstances, I would like to know how other association executives responded to the same issue. What was their thinking process and conclusion? I'd like to plug into a data base of decision matrixes of problems and problem solving - a keyword computer maze.

AM:Technology is an expensive budget decision. Do you feel comfortable having a staff specialist be more expert when you are responsible for the bottom line? Claxton: Very good point and an easy question to answer: It goes with my management philosophy that says you always hire people who are better than you are. You have to have confidence in your ability to manage and challenge those individuals to be creative.

For example, I know very little about computer theory, so I scheduled myself through a series of courses. I came away knowing a little about the language so I could ask the right questions. That helped me hire Larry Rosenthal, who is now deputy executive director. He has a strong background in computer science; he knows systems development and application. I rely very strongly on him.

AM: And what impact does technology have on staff? Claxton: Desktop publishing is a new addition, and it's proved so effective we've bought a second system. That changes staffing needs. Costs for outside services have been reduced so significantly that we paid for both systems within two years of operation. And some people on staff are now more specialized.

All of our people are computer trained as they come on board. We now have one full-time trainer who helps our 50 staffers and assists members who call in to learn the applications of our data bases.

AM: Where should associations not yet computerized head first? Claxton: They shouldn't get into the technology game until they analyze their needs and what they want to accomplish. People say, "I have to have a word processor a personal computer," without understanding what it is. I would take the original dollars and invest in a consultant, not a computer salesperson. Ask, "How can I accomplish this goal with technology?"

Staff resources

AM: Apropos of new staffing concerns, do you foresee using more consultants on a project basis? Claxton: That's a two-edged sword. One side is that you use consultants on an ad hoc basis, and while the initial cost may be high, you get a different perspective and you can save money because you don't have to pay salary and benefits. On the other side, a group of trained specialists on staff can become consultants to other organizations, providing a source of nondues income.

For example, we had put together a unique group of people in meeting management and computer services. We took this talent pool and developed a for-profit subsidiary - a multimanagement business. We currently manage about 13 other associations or societies.

AM: How does that affect staff time and work load? Claxton: For instance, we have a superb meeting manager, Cheryl Nordstedt. Cheryl and her staff manager our annual meeting, which attracts 12,000 people. But there are six months out of the year when we can use their talents elsewhere.

AM: Do other staffers have enough downtime to contribute to the for-profit subsidiary, or did you hire staff for it? Claxton: A bit of each. We created a department of special society services with the equivalent of 3 1/2 full-time staff. They became a profit center for us. Essentially they are account supervisors who broker services out to our departments. First we look at our talent base, what people we have available, and what priority commitments they have to the academy. Often, having the contract work helps us with borderline positions by adding a "half person" worth of work to create a full-time position.

AM: Does the subsidiary fall into the trend toward market-driven products and services? Claxton: It's expensive to run an association, and sometimes you look at the bottom line and say, "We have to increase profitability." That may take your eye off your primary mission. That's critical to a society because first and foremost you serve your constituents.

There's an analogy in the visioning process ASAE is pursuing. The board's facilitator, Michael Doyle, gave an example of another group whose vision included being the top financial institution in 50 countries by the year 2000. But in the process of doing their environmental scan, no one forsaw the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, a united Germany, or the Gulf war.

As we were discussing this, the question came up, "Why should we spend all our time on this when we can't predict what's going to happen tomorrow?" Doyle had a great response. He said their vision didn't change; it is still to be the top financial institution in 50 countries by 2000. The strategies of how to do that changed - but the vision hasn't. That's very important. So yes, an association should be market-driven to the extent that the market serves the goals and mission of the organization.

Kristin Staroba is associate editor of Association Management.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:interview with Brad Claxton
Author:Staroba, Kristin
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:interview
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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Next Article:An international meetings checklist.

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