Monday, April 30, 2012

Everyone Is Responsible for Member Recruitment

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There's a great article in the March 2012 issue of Associations Now. "A High-Stakes Turnaround Strategy" is about Bob Weidner, CEO of the Metals Service Center Institute, and the strategy he used to turn that association around. There's a lot of leadership lessons in it, but the thing that really caught my attention was the new business model he proposed and was able to create.

Weidner wanted to find out what would make MSCI indispensable to members. His conclusion was that crafting targeted solutions to the critical issues that kept members up at night delivered far greater value than providing programs and services that had increasingly shorter shelf lives and were easily found elsewhere.

I wanted to learn more, and I had a unique opportunity to do so. I know Bob. So I called him up and asked him some of questions about how we was able to effect such a critical change to the way MSCI staff functioned and viewed their relationship to the members. My interest was especially piqued by this paragraph in the article.

Weidner instituted new performance criteria and incentives for staff to emphasize this important change in their role. Staff is expected to uncover concealed needs even before members are fully aware of them and to help members plan for the future "and not just what's on their desk today," he says. As a result, staff members' focus shifted from tactical process and program management to continuous member engagement and solutions development.

Bob was very generous with his time. He talked to me about the need for change. He talked about the dysfunctional situation he walked into at MSCI, and the ground rules he confirmed with his leadership before accepting the turn-around challenge. He talked about a very difficult financial situation, his need to cut expenses, and the decisions he had to make to eliminate more than 50% of MSCI's staff positions. But more importantly, he talked about the staff behaviors he wanted to keep within the organization and the incentives he put in place in order to encourage and develop them.

"Everyone," he said, "is responsible for member recruitment."

When he said it, I have to admit, it sounded like another platitude to me, like something you might read in a consultant's book. But Bob was serious, and he has given this platitude real teeth within MSCI. Everyone there is responsible for recruiting 2-3 new members per year. Not just the membership manager, but everyone. It's part of their yearly goals. It's discussed as part of their performance evaluations. Compensation decisions are based on it.

And I suddenly saw it as something other than a membership growth strategy. Given the context of our discussion and the paragraphs I've highlighted from the article, I saw it as part of a larger strategy to help the organization develop a deeper understanding of its members, the marketplace they function in, and the value they place on the association's evolving products and services.

Think about it. Especially those of you who don't have direct member recruitment responsibilities. Charged with such a task, would it not compel you to learn more about your universe of prospective members? Why should they join your association? What do you have to offer that can help them solve problems they're facing on a day-to-day basis? And what value would they place on those solutions? Now think about every staff person in your organization asking those questions and interacting with people in your marketplace to help answer them. Could you not take that shared market intelligence and use it to make your association's products more relevant and valuable to your constituency?

It was a tremendous insight for me, and one worth considering in order to breed a deeper understanding of the world we serve.

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