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Creating positive culture for your association

From an article by Sarah Sladek, Author and Speaker, April 30, 2012

Culture is not some inanimate object to scoff at or neglect. Fueled by economic decline, rapidly changing technology, and demographic shifts, culture is more powerful than ever.

Here are a few tips for creating a positive culture for your association:

  • Gain support. Start with people who have considerable influence in the organization. (Note: The board and senior staff aren’t always the most influential.) If you get the influencers committed to change, cultural challenges will be easier to resolve.
  • Provide proof. In the 1990s a New York Police Commissioner made his top brass—including himself—ride the subways day and night to understand why frightened New Yorkers had come to call it the “Electric Sewer.” Instead of just lecturing on the need for change, get people to experience the harsh realities that make it necessary.
  • Focus on values. Core values form the foundation on which the association performs work and behaves. Core values are who you are and why, not who, you serve. If you’re serious about your values, and if you hire (and even fire) around them, you’ll have a culture that speaks of who you are and who you want to be.
  • Welcome. Associations have about a 60-day window of opportunity from the time a member joins until that member decides whether to renew the membership. An association should strive to create a positive experience for members year-round, but that first 60 days is especially critical to making members feel welcome, appreciated, and engaged.
  • Details, details. It’s hard to feel good about your membership if you don’t have any idea how it’s benefitting you. There should be no mystery or exclusivity within your association. Be open with, and effectively communicate to, the membership on a consistent basis via multiple communication streams.
  • Celebrate. Every person, regardless of age or influence, wants to be appreciated. How do you express your appreciation for, thank, and celebrate the membership? A culture of gratitude is an environment that members will always value.

Associations with unsupportive cultures will certainly underperform, experience declining membership and revenues and meet an untimely fate.

There is an alternative. If you eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive, your association will be capable of tremendous growth, success, and prosperity.

Sarah Sladek was leading the charge for organizations and companies to adapt to younger generations long before anybody else. Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah founded XYZ University in 2002 and her fifth book will be published this year.

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