Business as Usual is Easy. Breaking Silos is Hard

This post originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of the College of Association Marketing newsletter.

More and more, producing breakthrough results in your marketing and communications campaigns depends on your ability to destroy the silos in your organization.

Yes, YOUR ability.

Every new communications channel requires us to confront the silos in our organization. For example, when we all were publishing our first websites 15 or so years ago, we knew we had to present a unified face to our members and the public. Mostly, our initial solutions were to build sites that looked like our org charts – department by department.

Eventually, though, we came to see the limitations of the org chart website – our members don’t know our org charts, and they don’t care. However, they DO care about getting something done on our sites – register for a conference, find some content, whatever. Eventually, we learned to build sites that reflect the way our members use websites.

But to get there, we had to break apart our department-centric mentality. We had to show how members had trouble finding content. We had to prove to business leaders that they get BETTER business results by organizing materials they way our MEMBERS conceive it, not the way the staff conceives it. It was a victory for silo busting, but the war continued.

Next, when we started employing enterprise-level email marketing and newsletters systems, and we had to have similar conversations. If we tolerated the silo approach, everyone could send email whenever they wanted, and we’d become our members’ worst spammers.

With a careful strategy that acknowledges our collective responsibility for treating the email channels properly, we get better business results through the proper use of email than by spamming; more is not better. But that required an intensive focus on business objectives, strategies and tactics. It was a tough battle, but silo busting won again.

Now, many of us are trying to develop an enterprise approach to social media – moving past the stage of experimentation to business integration. This again means that the association’s various business units must talk together, and align on goals, strategy and tactics. It means treating the channel properly. Without these conversations, our social channels devolve into a cacophony rather than a conversation.

Business as usual is easy. Breaking down silos is hard. It means reallocating resources and budgets – the currencies of organizational power. But if you want to produce breakthrough results in your association, breaking down silos could be the most important thing you do. It disrupts the core of our organization’s culture, and gets us working together smarter and better.

There’s no magic pill. There’s only one way revolutions happen – one conversation at a time. For example, talk to the membership marketing director and learn her specific business goals. Show her what’s working, and not working. Be the pathfinder – show her how she can do better, working in a new way. Address the worries and concerns – and resolve them. Then move on to the next person.

Do this meticulously early in a project, and get the important people on board, and you’re not swimming upstream anymore. You are creating a revolution – and the rest of the organization is on your side.


The Social Media Revolution Continues

This brief video is an update of a really inspiring take on the possibilities of social media.

If you need to make the business case for social media in your organization, you could start with this.

The End of Publishing?

Maybe it’s all about the context.

This video is really, really great – stay with it until the end and you won’t regret it!

P.S. Thanks to Kent Anderson for sharing this.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Association of the Future

One of the most interesting sessions at the Great Ideas Conference last week was “The Association of the Future” – but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

It’s a project of ASAE and the Center, where young staff and volunteers invent and try to improve a fictitious association in a kind of test kitchen. Its mission was to improve the professional development opportunities of young professionals.

It had a four-part mantra: Members come first. No silos. Listen and then talk. Go techno.

So far so good.

After developing their initial model, the members’ early feedback was that the volunteer opportunities for this faux association weren’t meaningful. OK, stuff happens. So the staff went to the drawing board and came back with solutions sounded decidedly old school, including:

  • Restructure councils
  • Invent new councils
  • Create ad hoc groups and task forces
  • Develop partnerships with other organizations.
  • Develop new incentives and recognition programs

These recommendations all rely on tweaking governance an infrastructure, instead of questioning whether they were actually addressing what members want and need.

To several of us in the room, these were surprising and disappointing remedies, especially since the people doing the work were millennials and Gen Xers, supposedly immune from these old-school tactics!

Not surprisingly, the “member” feedback was less than enthusiastic. Among other things, they said they were overwhelmed by the number of suggestions. The “staff” admitted they used a throw-spaghetti-on-the-wall approach – see what sticks. As an experiment, this might be defensible. But in real life, it usually isn’t.

Was this project a failure? No! It was actually incredible instructive. It demonstrated that:

  • Reinventing yourself is deceptively hard work
  • Your age and generation guarantees nothing
  • It’s really easy to lapse into the familiar
  • It’s hard to re-examine fundamental assumptions, even if the association is new and it’s not even real
  • Crowdsourcing might have produced a different result. Doing things the same old way usually produces the same old result.

The staff and volunteers who presented this session have to be commended for their courage in subjecting themselves to this kind of public autopsy. I love the way they took it as a learning opportunity – one that we can all learn from as they move forward.

The Game Changer: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

The Great Ideas Conference, sponsored last week by ASAE and the Center, was more than another conference with some interesting education sessions and good times with friends. It featured a game changer that will stay with me for a long time.

Many others have written about Dan Pink’s exciting talk about intrinsic motivation, the forces that really motivate human beings today. I had finished reading Dan’s book on the flight to the conference, so the content of his talk wasn’t a revelation. But his appearance imprinted it on my brain. It’s rocked me in a big way.

A quick recap:

At the beginning of our existence, humans were motivated by basic bodily needs: Food, sex, shelter, etc. That’s Motivation 1.0.

When basic needs were more-or-less handled in developed countries, Motivation 2.0 was designed: rewards and punishment. Most management practices are based on this 2.0 model. But social scientists have noticed something very strange. Motivation wasn’t 2.0 was working. And the more it was applied, the results were worse. What was missing?

It’s the recognition that human beings have powerful intrinsic motivations that are not addressed by the old models – intrinsic motivations that common management techniques write off. Ever see a young child play? Do they need a bonus to be engaged in what they do?

It’s Motivation 3.0, and its three building blocks are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy: The more people have control over their lives, the happier they are. Self determination is the path to engagement. Our country is built on this principle.

Mastery: We are wired to want to be better at what we do. The mastery of something is its own reward. It may be the most powerful thing driving us.

: We are happiest when we are working for something larger than ourselves.

This is a game changer of the highest order. Autonomy is deeply threatening to those who micromanage. Mastery is disorienting to those who believe people try to do the least they can get away with. The purpose motive is unfathomable to those who lock “strategic planning” in the organization’s ivory tower.

I like to think that I intuitively lean in the direction of Motivation 3.0, probably because I crave this for myself. But Dan Pink’s talk had me reflecting on the areas where I still fall short – in my own life, in my family, with the people in my department, and even with the members of our medical society who volunteer for committees.

In my career, work is least fulfilling when one of these three pieces is missing. My daughters chafe the most when autonomy is not an option (admit, parents, you do it too). At work, I can almost see them go numb when I become unnecessarily prescriptive.

The entire vocabulary of management needs reinvention under this framework. People don’t “report to me” and they don’t “work for me.” Even the word “management” has to be re-examined. Words matter, because they frame thinking and inform action.

Of course, anarchy is not the answer. There’s always work to do, and objectives to accomplish. And as Dan Pink said, you can’t get to Motivation 3.0 if the other needs aren’t addressed adequately and fairly. But he has plenty of ideas to have an engaged workforce or community, while getting the work done, within the framework of Motivation 3.0.

But this line of thinking shouldn’t stop with Dan. For those who us who have been inspired by this, we must keep the conversation alive, and put it in place where we live, work, and play.

To get started, you really should read Dan’s book, Drive. Here it is on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

UPDATE: ASAE and the Center has done something awesome. It’s offering a video of Dan’s Great Ideas talk free, both to members and non members. Enjoy!

UnTech 10: A Glimpse of the Future

A couple of quick thoughts about the #untech10 conference starting tomorrow.

This is what will happen to traditional associations if we don’t get our act together. A crazy group of committed, spirited and smart volunteers can move the world – and they are more than willing to work around a traditional association to get the job done.

Traditional associations can not only coexist with such groups, but thrive. They can always be the platform for like-minded people to get together, learn something together, and do something together – but only if they’re willing to shed outmoded governance and financial structures to do it. As those of us in associations know, this is easier said than done, because there is always a powerful group of stakeholders ready to defend anything of the status quo.

ASAE and the Center is playing its cards right on this one – starting with the wise decision to keep people home, safe and out of DC, and its tacit support for what Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and many others have put together.

This is totally inspiring. I can’t listen to every minute of every session, but I will drop in as often as I can. I can’t wait!

The “Splinternet” is Bad News, and I blame Apple

Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research has written a must-read post on the splintering of the Web, saying that the golden days of the standardized, open-source Web are over. He says we should prepare ourselves for a world in which platforms function well enough within their ecosystems, but are deaf to the rest of the universe around them.

Mobile devices and online networks are the most obvious examples. iPhone apps don’t work on a Blackberry, and vice versa. Facebook apps only work on Facebook. LinkedIn exists by itself in a corner of the world. Their citizens seem quite happy with this state of affairs.

I say it’s bad news, and Apple shares a large part of the blame.

From its beginnings, Apple has refused to play the open source game. It almost died in the 1990s when its closed-end desktop system nearly became irrelevant (except to graphic designers and school systems), but it saved itself by introducing a game-changing, closed-source music ecosystem, then by launching its closed-source, category-killing smartphone. See a pattern?

The irony is that Apple fan boys, who used to demonize Microsoft for its all-Windows-all-the-time dreams of world domination, look the other way when Apple rips pages from the same playbook. Apple will play with you, but only on its terms. Arrogance, anyone? (The same applies to RIM, Facebook and all the rest.)

But Apple’s shareholder value is through the roof, so others are emulating it. Those of us in marketing and communications must now develop on dozens of platforms, each mute to its neighbor, just to engage a critical mass of our markets or communities. Apple didn’t invent this trend, but the turtle-neck wearing guy from Cupertino made it not only acceptable, but admirable.

This is a betrayal of the ideals that made the Web such a revolutionary force – connectivity and community. Instead, these new platforms behave like toddlers on a play date – engaged in their own activities, unaware of the kid next to them. You can’t blame toddlers; their minds haven’t developed enough. Parallel play is all they can do. But these technology companies know better.

You might argue that this development is only the next stage in the 40-year-old fragmentation of communication platforms, but it’s worse than that. It’s a huge step backward for the information economy, isolating people from information and each other, and foisting exorbitant new development costs on to business. These rising costs can only exert a downward pressure on economic growth and prosperity. (Please: Don’t even try to sell me on the idea that the iPhone’s elegance is an excuse for this betrayal.)

Bernoff says it’s too late; that we can’t ask for a return of the standardized, interoperable web. I’m not willing to give up yet. If closed-source efforts at world domination were bad coming from Redmond, why are they so virtuous coming from Cupertino?