Monday, August 27, 2012

Association Superfans

watch the clip
A while back, the Harvard Business Review blog was running a series of posts all themed around the idea of "Creating a Customer-Centered Organization." I read them all with interest, looking for tips from the for-profit sector that my association could leverage to increase our interaction with our members--especially with regard to developing innovative programs and services that better met their needs.

But more often than not, I found myself realizing that the association sector actually had something to teach for-profits when it came to creating customer-centered organizations. Here's a good example, a post about how to Create Brand Superfans. In it, the author argues that companies should forget about measuring customer satisfaction, as it is a lagging indicator of performance. To truly succeed, companies need to take satisfaction to the next level as create advocates of their customers. An advocate:

1. Supports the brand. An advocate will stand by the brand even in times of difficulty, isn't afraid to react to criticism or correct factually incorrect statements about the brand, and will purchase brand products as gifts for friends and family.

2. Actively promotes the brand. Advocates share their experiences via various social media, openly praise company employees both internally and externally, and provide unsolicited feedback on service and quality. In some cases, they consider themselves "brand protectors."

3. Is emotionally attached to the brand. They have a sense of ownership in the brand. They will forgive shortcomings (such as price) when buying products, and treat the brand as part of their inner circle.

I think associations naturally attract and are frequently comprised of these advocates, or superfans. Indeed, in the WSAE White Paper on Association Innovation, we defined the stewardship position an association had for its profession or industry as one of the unique advantages it has that could be leveraged for innovation. Although we didn't use the term superfan, it's clear that when members view the association as a necessary institution--as something critical to the continued growth and development of their profession or industry--they are likely to become strong advocates of the association and its programs.

But there's a key difference between association and brand superfans. The HBR post makes the case that a company can turn customers into advocates by offering them special deals and extraordinary experiences. That can work in the association world, but in my experience creating an advocate isn't something you can do simply by giving stuff away. The best thing you can do to turn a member in a superfan is to put them in control and let them define and maximize the value they can derive from the association. Forget the free stuff. If you give them anything, give them the tools they need to create their own meaning.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nothing by Nica Lalli

This is a short memoir that focuses on the spiritual journey towards atheism taken by one Jewish woman living in New York. In it, she recaps a number of experiences in her early and adolescent life that made her question the faith her parents tried to instill in her. Most of them are amusing, and some of them contain seeds of the struggle she will have later in life.

For example, here she finds herself questioning God’s motives after trying and failing to nurse an injured bird back to health.

Well, I reasoned, maybe he isn’t so nice and kind after all. Maybe he is cruel and mean. I had seen boys who would kill things just to watch how it went. They would pull the wings off flies or the legs off daddy longlegs and then watch the insect suffer. I couldn’t stand that even though I hated daddy longlegs; they had ruined many a camping trip by crawling on me and making me itchy and frightened of going to sleep. Maybe God was like that; maybe he killed things to watch what happened.

I used to think that, too. When I got a little older and into Star Trek, I started connecting these thoughts about God with the character, Nagilum, from the Next Generation episode Where Silence Has Lease. “How interesting.”

But these stories, while amusing, were not what drew me to the book. That I found a teaser on the back cover of the paperback version.

In her adult life, her difficulties with religion continue as her family’s spiritual ambivalence conflicts with a new, Christian in-law. In the end, Lalli finds the courage to define what she is rather than what she is not. By delving into these universal themes through the lens of family relationships and the culture of “God Bless America,” Lalli finds that nothing is a philosophy to be embraced rather than feared.

That sounded interesting to me. A philosophy built on “nothing,” that was both satisfying and worthy to be embraced. I really wanted to see that rabbit come out of Lalli’s hat.

The stories from her adult life are less amusing. Engaging, yes, but more serious in their tone and implications. As the back cover promised, a Christian sister-in-law marries into her family, and what follows are years of misunderstanding, fear, and rejection on both sides of that relationship. Things sort of bubble along, until September 11, 2001.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, September 11 affects Lalli in ways us Midwesterners can probably never understand. Here’s an excerpt from her description of that horrible day.

I was home all day, except for those few minutes I was at school to get the children after the ash from the collapsed buildings stopped raining down on our neighborhood. Greg, who had seen the second plane hit the building from the elevated track of the F train, was stuck in Manhattan and had to walk home. While I waited for him, I sat at the dining room table and watched burned bits of paper float down through the smoke that blew overhead and spoke to anyone who managed to get through on the phone.

And much as many casual believers more forcefully embraced their faith as a result of that day, Lalli, like many unbelievers, grew more troubled at the influence of religion on her society and political culture. It forces her to figure out what she does stand for, if she doesn’t stand for the religion of her parents or her sister-in-law.

Frustratingly, there is never a clear statement of what these core beliefs are. Near the very end, this is about as close as she gets.

Because I realize that people are all I really have. Other people are what make my life. They give it meaning. The interactions with other people bring me a wealth of emotions and confirm my place in the world. It is other people who make that place for me, each person shifts and turns to allow me in, to make space for me in this crowded world. These people are my family—they are nearest to me and mean the most to me. These people are my friends, my acquaintances, my neighbors—even the smallest nod of the head in greeting counts as interaction and adds to the experience of my day.

I could never value gods above humans. I could never prefer to spend time with deities and miss opportunities to connect with people. My sister-in-law once told me that God was more important to her than her own son. I spent months trying to figure out how that could be true. And I still puzzle over it. I cannot even think that there is a God who would want us to care more about him than our own offspring.

I’ll have to confess, that doesn’t resonate very strongly with me. I mean, I mostly agree with it—there’s a pretty strong streak of humanism that runs through me. But I was ultimately disappointed with its lack of power. What should have been a climactic reveal—a true epiphany for those searching for truth in a world without gods—instead strikes me as more a restatement of the obvious.

Of course people are more important than gods, I felt like saying at the end. If you don’t believe gods are real, than who else is there for you to worry about? And conversely, if you do believe gods are real—I mean really real, like “creator of heaven and earth, ready to stuff you in the fiery furnace” real—then of course you’re going to think allegiance to their doctrines is more important than your relationship with the mere mortals that surround you. What exactly is there to puzzle over about that? Isn’t the fact that millions of people think that way kind of obvious?

What’s more important—to me at least—is how you act and how you treat other people. Some people on both sides of the believe/don’t believe divide treat people well, just as some people on both sides treat people like crap. I, for one, don’t see much of a connection between belief (or non-belief) and being a supportive member of our human society. Most of the world may think that the only way to measure goodness is on the believe/don’t believe scale, but I think that’s a false comparison.

It’s not clear to me what Lalli thinks of that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions

image source
I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the third post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.

+ + +

Member Engagement Solution #3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions

It is critical to find the time and appropriate mechanisms for recognizing the work of association volunteers. They are not paid for their contributions, and can easily fall away if they perceive that their efforts and are not valued and appreciated.

I most recently wrote about my own experiences with this here, but I don't want to leave the impression that everything you do in this regard has to be that elaborate. But it is a fact that the more elaborate mechanisms for recognizing contributions are, in my experience, the easier ones to cement as part of the on-going processes of the organization.

We've all heard about those executives who handwrite a thank you note every day (with a fountain pen, no doubt, first thing in the morning, while his assistant is bringing in his tea and organic honey), but I've always struggled with systems and rituals like this. They've been a little bit like my adventures in journal writing. After awhile the entries--and thank you notes--start feeling forced, and whatever sincerity I'm trying to inject into the writing gradually leaches away.

The only consistent success I've had with small notes of recognition are the verbal ones I offer whenever I'm with a volunteer who is doing something on behalf of the association. In my world, that's most frequently a board or committee chair who is leading a meeting. At the end of the session, especially if things have gone well, I make it a point to thank the individual for their leadership. The comments are always well received.

What other things do you do--large or small--to recognized volunteers for their contributions?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Are You One of the 83%?

Jeff De Cagna recently posted a nicely-produced video summarizing the key results from his Making Innovation Happen Survey. It's only three-and-a-half minutes long. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch it here.

Here's the result that surprised me most:
  • 83% of association CEOs think of themselves as innovators at work.

Why did that surprise me? Well, I guess I can believe that many CEOs think of themselves as innovators, but I find it impossible to believe that many CEOs are innovators. If they were, I dare say Jeff himself would agree that the association community has nothing to worry about.

What's going on here?

Is it a sampling bias? CEOs in Jeff's network skew towards the innovative end of the scale? Maybe. But I'd put my money on complacency. Simply stated, we're lying to ourselves. We've made a couple of progressive changes in our organizations and we think we're done now. We went ahead and put "innovator" on our LinkedIn profile and now we're patting ourselves on the back. Mission accomplished.

Except there is so much more work to do. Look at some of the other stats:
  • Only 55% of association CEOs trust their staff to make good decisions when it comes to innovation.
  • Only 50% of association CEOs believe their boards are committed to making innovation happen.

There is a critical gap here. How can a CEO honestly consider himself an innovator at work if he doesn't trust his staff to make good decisions or if he doesn't have the support of his board? What exactly is he innovating? The number of pages in the board agenda book?

If you responded to Jeff's survey, and you're one of the 83% who called yourself an innovator, I beg you to reconsider your victory. I'm pretty sure I fit into that category, and I know I'm re-evaluating that self-assessment.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire by Robert V. Remini

I was only five pages into the preface for this book and I thought I was in deep trouble. The author, from all other accounts one of the foremost Jackson scholars of our time, is recalling a trip he made decades ago to Spain to review some newly unearthed documents.

I was ecstatic. I could hardly believe my good fortune. What made it so exciting was that here was a sizeable collection of letters written to and from Jackson and the Spanish governor in Florida at the time of Jackson’s seizure of Florida in 1818, and they included correspondence from one Spanish official to another about the American invasion of their colony. I was fascinated as I learned the history of my country as seen through the eyes of aliens, and enemy aliens at that. And to my surprise and horror, I found that they did not think Americans were heroic, generous, kind, trustworthy, or any of those noble characteristics Americans believed about themselves in the 1970s. Quite the opposite. They saw them as thieving, murderous cut-throats, out to steal their empire. I remember muttering to myself, as if responding to the accusations, “You’ve got it all wrong; we’re the good guys.”

Upon reading that, I thought to myself, “This guy’s a historian?” I dreaded the idea that I was in for a long (this book is actually volume one of a three-volume biography on Jackson, all three volumes of which are on my book shelf, courtesy of a long-expired membership in the History Book Club) puff piece on the superior wisdom and nobility of this second generation forefather who so righteously expanded the reach of the grand American experiment.

Fortunately, it got better. But only to a degree.

The Professional Historian

On one hand, Remini proves to be a capable historian, skilled at placing his subject in the context of both his times and ours. For example, here’s an honest and well-crafted character study from one of the middle chapters. The occasion in question is Jackson’s decision to walk his army back to Nashville from Natchez after being called up prematurely for the war that would come in 1812.

Ironically, the disastrous journey to Natchez and back proved a personal triumph for Jackson. All the things the volunteers admired about their General were amplified before their eyes: the  determination, the fortitude, the personal courage, the strength of leadership, the personal identity with their small successes and many hardships, the consideration, the patience and understanding. What it all added up to was the fact that they admired him and trusted him, and so if he said they would walk from Natchez to Nashville, then they would do it.

But something else emerged on the painful road home. It was a quality in Jackson’s character that is essential to an understanding of his subsequent military successes. The quality had probably always been there but now it suddenly billowed out into full view. That quality was will power. Not the ordinary kind. Nothing normal or even natural. This was superhuman. This was virtually demonic. This was sheer, total, concentrated determination to achieve his ends. So if he determined to march his men back to Nashville he would get them there even if it meant carrying every last one of the on his back.

Andrew Jackson was not a great general. He was better than most of the commanders available in 1812, but that hardly does him credit. What distinguished him and basically made the difference between victory and defeat on the battlefield was his absolute determination to win—at whatever cost. As a consequence he was capable of extraordinary feats of courage and daring and perseverance in the face of incredible odds. Nothing less than victory was acceptable. Defeat was unthinkable.

Remini does well here, balancing the good with the bad, reporting the facts as he uncovered them and understood them to be true. Yes, Jackson was a special individual, but not necessarily and automatically a great one. Like most people, he was a mix of talents and foibles—the only thing that makes Jackson exceptional is the historical circumstances that filtered those talents and foibles to the extent they did.

One thing I always find interesting about these massive biographies of pivotal political figures is the treatment given to their childhood and developmental years. The better historians stick to a clear, “just report the facts” style, rarely making judgments about the role the trails and traumas of youth had in shaping the adult. And again, Remini generally does a good job here, albeit acknowledging that many previous Jackson biographers have not.

Here’s an example. At fifteen, Jackson and his older brother, Robert, were soldiers in the Revolutionary War, and they were taken prisoner, where they both suffered from neglect and malnutrition. When they were finally exchanged, their mother, Elizabeth, came to collect them.

Elizabeth blanched when she saw her sons, so wasted were they by disease and malnutrition. Robert, in serious condition, could neither stand nor sit on horseback without support. Elizabeth procured two horses, placed the dying Robert on one and rode the other herself, keeping careful check on Robert to prevent him from collapsing to the ground. Poor Andrew had to walk the forty-five miles home barefoot and without a jacket, his body throbbing with pain. On the last leg of the journey a driving rain drenched the trio. And that was the final blow. The smallpox that had been raging within Andrew burst out in the loathsome sores so typical of the disease. Somehow Elizabeth got her two sons home and put them to bed. Two days later Robert Jackson was dead and his brother delirious and in mortal danger.

Jackson survived (obviously), but as soon as he was strong enough, his mother left him to help nurse other prisoners of war, including two of her nephews, in Charleston. There, she caught cholera and quickly died herself. Remini dutifully reports what others have assumed about Jackson’s character as a result of this unfortunate incident.

He was fifteen at the time of his mother’s death and still recovering from a serious illness. Did he resent his mother’s departure? Did he regard it as abandonment? As rejection? As punishment? Did he think she cared more about her nephews than her own son to leave him when he still needed her? One writer contends that it produced in him a buried rage against his mother for having abandoned him and removed her protection, that Andrew consequently developed “an assertive self, mistrustful of dependence and suspicious of the world.”

One writer contends that, but Remini?

One thing is certain: he suffered a staggering blow, one he probably never understood, one he could never mention or discuss. If he did feel rage against Elizabeth, he disguised it or rechanneled it. Nothing in his writing suggests resentment against her. Nowhere does he blame her for deserting him. Early biographers claim that he “deeply loved” his mother, which may or may not be true. But they noticed something else which was definitely true: he “imbibed a reverence for the character of woman.” He respected women and treated them courteously—far beyond what was expected of him as a proper gentleman. If he hated his mother, would he so revere “the characters of woman”? Would he treat them with such marked respect and kindness?

Good questions. And like a good historian, since it is ultimately conjecture, Remini allows to reader to formulate his own answer.

A Snarky Aside

Speaking momentarily about Jackson’s writings, I wanted to quickly mention how incomprehensible some of them are—especially those (oddly) in which he was trying his best to be understood. His written correspondence quite simply atrocious. Here he is responding on a matter of honor:

Your sacrificing all private confidence by making publick my private letter merits & receives my utmost indignation, Sir the baseness of your heart in violating a confidenc reposed in you in an hour of intimate friendship, should as I conceive it was between you and me, by the most solemn obligation will bring down the indignation of the thinking part of mankind upon you & the thunderbolt you were preparing for me will burst upon your own head, it will occasion that part of mankind, that heretofore view’d you worthy of publick confidence to pause a moment & reflect how far a man is worthy of publick confidence who has violated all kind of private at the Shrine of malice occasioned by goaded disappointment, the Western world will think for themselves like freemen as they are & view the man who had made such sacrifice as you have done, capable of betraying all publick confidence to private interest.

To which I say, huh?

The Politics of Statehood

So Remini is able to win me back after his stumble in the preface through the obvious balance he is attempting to bring to his subject. Those concerns recede into the background and I get more engaged with the actual details of Jackson’s life. I discover that Jackson was one of only a handful of influential men who helped shape and form the new state of Tennessee. This is a fascinating section of the book and of Jackson’s life, primarily because Tennessee was one of the first such states to be created and admitted to the Union under the Federal constitution.

There were a lot of details to be ironed out and, seemingly like every other event in our nation’s history, the partisan politics of their day—not ours—drove most of them to their conclusion. An interesting case in point is the question of Tennessean statehood itself. As Remini explains:

The problem was complicated further by the fact that 1796 was a presidential election year. George Washington had had enough after eight years in office; the verbal abuse he had suffered over the Jay Treaty was more than he chose to endure. The Federalist Party put forward John Adams for the presidency and the Republican Party nominated Thomas Jefferson. Since the Republicans were popular along the frontier because of their strong states’ rights position and their commitment to the needs of the farmer, the Federalists recognized that Tennessee’s admission to the Union would automatically increase Jefferson’s electoral count. There was also sectional rivalry in the presidential contest. Adams came from New England, Jefferson from the South, and Tennessee, a southern as well as a western state, would upset the balance.

As a result, there was a debate in Congress over the validity of the census Tennessee had conducted to certify that they had enough citizens to become a state. One may think that the issue at stake actually was the validity of the census, since that’s what Senators and Representatives argued about. But in fact it wasn’t. The issue was how many electoral votes each party could garner, and the census was only the football that the two teams kicked back and forth.

The House, where Republicans held the majority, liked the census. The Senate, where Federalists held sway, didn’t. The compromise eventually struck, revealed what was actually at stake. Tennessee would be admitted, but with fewer electors than it would ordinarily be entitled to, until after the federal census of 1800 (and the pending presidential election) was conducted.

The more history I read, the more episodes like this jump out at me. The modern American has lost an understanding of what truly motivated his predecessors in taking the actions they did. To us, history is nearly always just so many facts and figures. An understanding of the underlying motivations not only opens up a much richer world, it helps us realize that those long ago people were really not all that different from their modern counterparts.

The Libertarian Perspective on the Louisiana Purchase

Another parallel to modern times comes when Remini discusses the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Although [President Thomas] Jefferson had grave doubts about the constitutionality of the purchase, he knew the alternative should any foreign power control New Orleans; it included the possibility of rebellion or treason by citizens of the southwest. “To lose our country by scrupulous adherence to written law,” he reasoned, “would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” Burdened with fears that he was reducing the Constitution to a scrap of paper, he went ahead with the purchase anyway. But he had no choice. The safety of the Union dictated it.

To which the libertarian streak in me replied sarcastically: Of course. It’s always the “safety of the Union” that’s at stake when Presidents trample on the Constitution.

But this situation actually did make me think. Despite my kneejerk libertarianism, there is a larger point to be made. In a situation where strict adherence to the Constitution would concretely result in the destruction of the country, isn’t there an honest case to be made for the government to transcend the shackles of its founding document?

I mean, if you take the long-view, then no. If you believe that countries themselves should rise and fall rather than stain individual liberty, then of course the answer is no. Then it’s strict adherence all the way to the grave.

But if you believe the country in its current form should be preserved—which I suppose all Presidents honestly do—then doesn’t it rationally make sense to circumvent the Constitution from time to time, in order to preserve the country that cherishes it? Can we say yes to that question without that libertarian streak speaking up again? Doesn’t the Constitution define the country? And doesn’t the country you’re trying to preserve cease to exist the moment you circumvent that document?

It’s a tangled little political and philosophical puzzle, one much easier to arbitrate in the abstract than in the hard reality of the Louisiana Purchase, or the Civil War, or in the wake of 9/11.

But then Remini reveals another interesting note on the Louisiana Purchase.

In fact Britain disputed—correctly—the legality of the Louisiana Purchase. France had no right to sell it to the United States since the Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, by which Napoleon had forced Spain to surrender Louisiana to him, specifically stated that France would not sell or otherwise alienate the territory without first offering to return it to Spain. When Napoleon blithely ignored his own previous agreement with the Spanish government and sold Louisiana to the United States, many other nations regarded the action as illegal.

Didn’t know that. Not only did Jefferson violate the Constitution when he purchased Louisiana from France, he evidently violated international law as well.

The War of 1812 and the Making of Andrew Jackson

Jackson’s story really accelerates with the War of 1812. Today, we know almost nothing about this conflict, but to understand why it made Jackson famous, you have to understand the delicate phase of America’s development as it existed in the years before that war.

The country had entered the war with a desperate need to prove its right to independence, but the last two years seemed to prove the reverse, that the United States was only a temporary experiment in freedom, that its independence was undeserved.

And on this crumbling stage, Jackson appears, leading American troops to a smashing victory over the British at New Orleans. It was a lopsided battle, and although Jackson admittedly deserves credit for capably leading it, the effect that his victory had on his nation still seems out of proportion.

New Orleans demonstrated that the nation had the heart and the will and the strength to roundly defeat its enemies and defend its freedom. “The last six months is the proudest period in the history of the republic,” asserted one newspaper. “We … demonstrated to mankind a capacity to acquire a skill in arms to conquer ‘the conquerors of the conquerors of all’ as Wellington’s invincibles were modestly stiled. … Who would not be an American? Long live the republic! … Last asylum of oppressed humanity! Peace is signed in the Arms of Victory!”

And Jackson gets all the credit.

The nation’s faith and confidence in itself had been restored by General Andrew Jackson. He alone was responsible for giving the country back its self-respect. He had “slaughtered” a magnificent British army—over 2,000 victims, a figure that seemed incredible at that time—and repelled the greatest armada in history.

The American people, their self-confidence restored, abandoned the need to prove their right to independence. Secure in the knowledge that their freedom had been permanently won, they turned to the important tasks of building a nation. Indeed “from that time on the Union had less of the character of a temporary experiment,” something that might disappear in a stroke. “The country had also won respect abroad, and was recognized in the family of nations as it had not been before.”

In the public mind, all of this was associated with Andrew Jackson—not simply because of the magnitude of his victory over the British (although that was certainly important) but because the announcement of his colossal feat immediately preceded the announcement of the conclusion of the war. The tremendous boost to everyone’s morale that his accomplishment on the battlefield provided was followed a few days later by the news of the peace treaty—and people tended to fuse the two events together. The result was the feeling that Andrew Jackson had come like some special messenger of the Almighty to rescue His people and preserve their freedom. Small wonder that Jackson’s place in the pride and affection of the American people lasted until his death—and beyond. Small wonder that his popularity exceeded that of Washington, Jefferson, or Franklin.

I think it’s critical to understand what this victory did for Jackson—both for himself directly and, more importantly, for him in the mind of his countrymen. His fame would help him go on to do other things—some good and some not-so-good—but it was his victory at New Orleans that made him a permanent fixture in the pantheon of American heroes.

The Great White Father

Remini—I think correctly—gives Jackson credit, above all others, for engineering the circumstances which would in time result in the eviction of all native peoples from what is now the Eastern United States. It is one of the things he goes on to do with the fame he won at New Orleans, and the detailed history of the Indian wars he fought and the Indian treaties he signed constitute the second half of Remini’s overall narrative. It is sometimes a disturbing account to read, and it is here, I think, where I begin to lose respect for Remini’s objectivity.

From a chronological perspective, the peace treaty that Jackson negotiates at the end of The Creek War is the first nail in the coffin.

The Creek War and the resulting Treaty of Fort Jackson were the beginning of the end not only for the Creek Nation but for all Indians throughout the south and southwest. What Blount, Burr, and hundreds of others had failed to do, Andrew Jackson accomplished. Millions of acres of choice land had been ripped out of the Indian domain and placed under the auction hammer of the land speculator. And the Indians must remove to get out of harm’s way—for their own good. So the pattern of land seizure and removal was established. Within twenty-five years the entire family of red men, Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Seminoles, were swept from the south and either buried under the ground or banished to the remote western country beyond the Mississippi River. And from start to finish the man most responsible for this expansion of the American empire was Andrew Jackson.

In the long history of Indians in North America the Creek War was the turning point in their ultimate destruction. The certain, the inevitable, the irreversible turn toward obliterating tribes as sovereign
entities within the United States now commenced. The Creek Nation was irreparably shattered. All other tribes would soon experience the same melancholy fate.

It is a strange legacy for a man to have—lauded as he must have been by his contemporaries and by several generations following, but now coming more into infamous repute. Remini recognizes this, but it’s not clear that he sympathizes with the more modern perspective. He absolutely does not shy away from reporting Jackson’s obvious racism against the Indians. He tells us how Jackson fought ceaselessly against them, viewing them as the gravest threat to the productive growth and expansion of his country. And Remini attributes this opposition not to hatred, but rather a strange and compelling logic.

His logic was simple: Indians were savage and warlike because they possessed too much land to roam in and therefore pursued “wandering habits of life.” If the range of their activities were sharply restricted, their errant habits would gradually subside “until at last, necessity would prompt them to industry and agriculture, as the only certain and lasting means of support.” And by being industrious like white men, Indians would eventually share the blessings of civilized life. Thus, for the Indians’ own safety and welfare, it was necessary to seize their property and restrict their movement.

It can easily be argued that this logic is a fraud, a ready justification for theft—and that is true. But it is also true that Jackson and westerners like him believed the argument. Later, in precisely the same way, they would justify the removal of the Indian beyond the Mississippi River. The argument was never simply invented to serve as a coverup. It was always there, a part of their creed, a doctrine of incontestable truth.

Remini may be right in this regard. Jackson’s own statements about the threat posed by the Indian, and his nation’s obvious and fundamental right to oppose that threat, read like rhetoric many American use today when talking about terrorists. A large number of Americans for all generations, it appears, believed that the United States had and has the right to force other cultures and nations to bend to its will. In many cases, now and then, force is seen not just as necessary, but as the preferred alternative. Remini reports that sometimes, rather than forcing Indians off desirable land, the chiefs were paid to voluntarily relocate their populations.

The necessity of bribing the chiefs to obtain their land disgusted Jackson. It was not his style. He much preferred having the United States step in to impose its authority over the tribes, simply telling them what they must do. If this could not be done, he said, then he wanted no part of such negotiations. They revolted him.

Indeed, Andy. Why resort to base commerce when force is so much more noble?

At a later point, Remini makes a critical observation about Jackson’s view towards the Indians. Again, he steers carefully away from hatred and racism.

The key to understanding Jackson’s attitude toward the Indian is not hatred but paternalism. He always treated the Indians as children who did not know what was good for them. But he knew, and he would tell them, and then they must obey. If they refused, they could expect a fearful punishment from a wrathful parent.

This may be a fair comment, but then I think, Remini undercuts himself, and goes too far into excuse-making.

But there was nothing extraordinary about this paternalism. It in no way demonstrated bigotry, racism, or any other prejudice against Indians simply because they were Indians. Jackson was just as paternalistic toward his soldiers. As long as they obeyed him, as long as they demonstrated discipline and loyalty, he praised them without stint; but let them falter in their duty and he could exact the supreme penalty.

More on that “supreme penalty” business below. But the key difference here, of course, is that Jackson’s soldiers were placed under his subservient command by the duly established ethics and practices of his own society. To the best of my knowledge, the Indians were not, nor could legitimately be. At this time, they constituted people of an independent community, as separate from the people of the United States as those of France or Spain or Great Britain.

Nor was this paternalism unique to Jackson. Any number of white men, particularly government officials, practiced the same paternalistic attitude toward the Indians. It was a very common approach and the accepted mode of behavior. The Indians themselves adopted the language of paternalism and frequently spoke of themselves as children of their father, the President.

This “Great White Father” moniker is most perplexing to me. It may be true that the Indians adopted this terminology in both word and thought, but if so, it was certainly thrust upon them by the paternalistic attitude of men like Andrew Jackson. Read some of the formal statements he issued and you will begin to see not just how paternalistic, but how condescending and hostile the language was. Here’s how Remini describes the Indian reaction when General Andrew Jackson was tasked with the conquest of Florida. I’ve added the emphasis myself.

The appointment of Jackson as executioner threw the Indians into wild alarm. Many of those living on the American side of the boundary within lands claimed by the United States under the Treaty of Fort Jackson fled in terror to Florida when they heard the dreadful news of his appointment. To the Indians General Andrew Jackson had assumed the character and form of an evil spirit: He need only point at them and they perished where they stood.

“Great White Father” indeed. And how did Jackson feel about this obvious mischaracterization of his intentions?

Jackson encouraged his reputation—not as executioner but as stern father and wise judge who would protect his Indian children (he actually believed he defended Indian rights) provided they obeyed him without question and closed their ears to false friends and prophets like the English and Spanish who encouraged them in their lawlessness.

The parenthetical comments indicate to me that Remini believes Jackson was delusional—not just by our standards but by the standards of his time. Which is odd, because although Remini does not offer Jackson any absolution, he does entreat his readers not to judge him too harshly. Again, the emphasis below is mine.

The frightful blows sustained by the Indians at the hands of Andrew Jackson, supported by the United States government, in the destruction of the Southern tribes have elicited appropriate criticism and indignation from latter-day Americans. But to understand the meaning and significance of Jackson’s actions, one must view them in the context of the nineteenth century, not that of the late twentieth century. It cannot be ignored or forgotten that a powerful need existed throughout the country during Jackson’s lifetime to subdue the Indians and expel them from territory that was believed to be essential to national expansion and the defense of the country. Jackson was not only a product of that need but the man most responsible for fulfilling it. His military skill and undeviating determination combined to annihilate the Indian tribes and propel thousands of Americans across the  south and west. His decree, more than any other, forever separated the white and red races.

Surely, no higher purpose can be served than national expansion and defense. I think Germany might have felt the same justification in 1937. But, more importantly, the observation that shatters Remini’s whole argument is this. Since when does paternalism lead to annihilation? And annihilation not by accident but by design? Does the father which to destroy his children? Is genocide really what’s best for them?

Yet Another Novel I’ll Never Write

Finally, it’s not unusual when reading one of these historical biographies for me to stumble across a minor episode that strikes me with the uniqueness of its human story, filling me momentarily with the desire to turn it into my next great novel. First it was Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit and the time they spent together on the River of Doubt. Then it was John and John Quincy Adams crossing the Atlantic for the first time on the Boston. Then it was Sarah Ellis Dorsey and the life she led and the lives she nurtured at Beauvoir. Now, it’s General Andrew Jackson and a soldier named John Woods.

During the period of Jackson’s determination to instill absolute discipline in his troops there occurred an incident that would haunt Jackson throughout his military and political life, an incident that convinced people, and indeed engraved it forever in their minds, that Andrew Jackson could be a ruthless, pitiless killer.

Could you ask for a more dramatic theme? Imagine an elderly Jackson, at the end of life and finally past his ability to influence his world and the men who populated it, still plagued with this reputation, scorned and feared by friends and neighbors alike. Looking back on the event, the story opens thus…

John Woods was hardly eighteen years of age when he enlisted in the militia. He belonged to a company that had caused considerable disciplinary problems, although apparently Woods himself took no part in the trouble. In any event, the young man was standing guard one cold, rainy February morning. After obtaining permission from an officer to leave his post, he went to his tent for a blanket. There he found that his comrades had left him his breakfast, and he calmly sat down to eat it. A few minutes later an officer entered the tent and, using abusive language, ordered him to return to his post. Woods, who had received his permission to leave his post from a different officer, refused to obey the order. An argument ensued and the officer ordered Woods’s arrest. Then the young man went berserk. He grabbed his gun and swore he would shoot the first man to lay a hand on him. As the quarreling intensified, someone informed Jackson that a “mutiny” was in progress.

The stage is set. What will our grizzled old hero do? Returned as he is by narrative to the vim and vigor of youth?

The cry “mutiny” was electrifying. Jackson bolted from his tent. “Which is the damned rascal?” he shouted. “Shoot him! Shoot him! Blow ten balls through the damned villain’s body!” In the meantime Woods had been persuaded to give up his gun and submit to arrest.

An impulse, yes. But justified, no? A rank traitor within his midst? How else should a commander react?

Most soldiers thought nothing much would some of the incident. Such things had happened before and the offender was usually dismissed without pay or drummed from the camp. Then, too, militiamen were special; they had rights no others enjoyed—such as freedom from capital punishment for mutinous actions. But Jackson was determined to make an example of Woods.

Of course he was. Rights of man? Posh! He flaunted my authority over him! He broke the chain of command!

He had Woods courtmartialed on a charge of mutiny. The young man pleaded not guilty, but the court found unanimously against him and ordered his execution. Several efforts were made to win clemency for Woods, but the stern commander turned a deaf ear. On March 14, two days after the trial, John Woods was shot to death by a firing squad in the presence of the entire army.

As well he should have been. Let that be an example to the others.

Jackson’s aide, John Reid, believed the execution had a “most salutary effect” on the other men. “That mutinous spirit,” he wrote, “which had so frequently broken into the camp, and for a while suspended all active operations” had to be crushed once and for all and “subordination observed.” “Painful” as the execution was to Jackson, “he viewed it as …essential to the preservation of good order.” It produced “the happiest effect,” Reid reported. “That opinion, so long indulged, that a militia-man was for no offence to suffer death, was, from that moment, abandoned, and strict obedience afterwards characterized the army.”

Here, here. Serves the blackguard right. But…

Many years later, when Jackson sought the presidency of the United States, the circumstances of Woods’s death were recounted in newspapers around the country in attempts to prove that Old Hickory was a butcher who could have imposed a milder sentence for Woods’s momentary rebelliousness but chose instead to snuff out his life.

Petty newspaper scribblers! What do they know of leading men into battle?

The punishment was indeed harsh. Under different circumstanced Jackson might have been more lenient—although he was most unpredictable—but his experiences of the previous December and January left his mood and temper strict and unyielding in matters of discipline. Which was understandable. He had kept a force in the field despite massive desertions and the worst possible hardships. That experience toughened him. As far as he was concerned, the troops must be made to understand their duty whatever the circumstances—even if it meant the sacrifice of a young man’s life.

Exactly! You understand, don’t you. You must!

An Iron General had been fashioned by painful experience. If possible Jackson’s already cold will and steely determination intensified. He became a relentless, driving, indefatigable machine devoted to one solitary purpose—the destruction of his country’s enemies.

And those enemies are everywhere, aren’t they? Even here on this block with me, staring into my windows while avoiding my eyes on the street. The vermin! Would I had the power now I had back then.

Maybe it’s a short story instead of a novel.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Member Engagement Solution #2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy

I've mentioned previously that I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE, something we're calling an Innovation Circle. Ours is focused on member engagement, and you can get an overview of what it is and what we're trying to achieve with it here.

I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the second post in that series. Previous posts include:

#1: Don't Forget the Fun

As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.

+ + +

Member Engagement Solution #2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy

A personal approach is best when it comes to connecting interested volunteers with the tasks the association needs them to perform. A blanket call for volunteers may play a role in identifying interest, but connections should be personal and tailored to the motivations, expertise and time availability of each person.

This is one of the strategies that I, myself, have had some success with. Here's the story of my association's recent experiment with one-to-one recruiting.

At a recent nominating committee meeting, we realized that the well was beginning to run dry of “qualified” candidates for Board service. Our membership was up, and after the economic downturn people were coming back to our conferences, but fewer and fewer, it seemed, were engaging in the volunteer activities of the association--something traditionally seen as an important precursor to being asked to serve on the Board.

There was some discussion about whether or not to abandon that prerequisite. In effect, to create immediate pathways onto the Board for appropriate candidates expressing interest. Although there was a desire to open access to some fresh faces, because of the role Board members play in shaping the overall strategy of the association it was decided that engaged and effective leadership in another volunteer role in the association needed to remain as a critical prerequisite for Board service. The window of opportunity and engagement at the Board level is so short and so focused that existing Board members saw demonstrating a willingness to commit time and expertise to the association as a critical indicator of the Board’s success.

We did, however, want to make it easier for members to step-up and engage with those volunteer roles. As a result, a year-long experiment in outreach and engagement was launched, led by the staff CEO and Board chair. In a nutshell, the following action steps were followed:

1. Board sets strategic priorities at June retreat. This was an existing part of our operations. The Board traditionally sets the strategic agenda for the new fiscal year (beginning July 1) at their retreat held at the end of June.

2. Staff adjusts programs based on strategic priorities and presents action plan to Executive Committee in August. This has been an evolutionary step to our process more formally codified over the past few years. Since the strategic priorities set by the Board are intentionally broader than any individual program, it becomes the responsibility of the staff, led by the CEO, to adjust the programmatic activity of the association to better align with the Board’s strategic priorities. This provides a mechanism for an annual review of the entire program portfolio. Programs that are aligned are sustained or increased, programs that aren’t aligned are decreased or eliminated, and new programs deemed necessary for alignment are introduced.

3. Staff identifies engagement opportunities and disseminates them widely to the membership in September. This is the beginning of our new experiment. With the action plan in place, volunteer roles necessary to support and execute the plan are identified and disseminated to the membership. Some of the activities are organized under existing association committees, some are included as part of new task forces, and others are structured as short-term advisory roles to help provide industry perspective on developing programs. To the degree possible, expected time commitments and work outcomes are included as part of this communication. Any member expressing interest in any of these opportunities is brought into the relevant program or committee and given the staff support needed to engage.

4. Staff reports engagement connections to Board at October meeting and Board identifies individuals for targeted outreach. A report of the member connections with the new volunteer opportunities is prepared for the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting in October. A critical component of their discussion of that report is to identify specific individuals that will be targeted for personalized outreach. Initially, this was done primarily based on Board members’ top-of-mind familiarity of members and member companies, connecting ones with the appropriate background and perspective to the volunteer roles deemed most critical. As the process repeats in future years, we anticipated that a complete set of demographic information across the membership can better assist the Board in this important task.

5. CEO and Board Chair reach out to targeted individuals in November and December. The people identified by the Board are contacted individually by either the CEO or the Board chair for the purpose of engaging them in a volunteer role. In our first year, we invited these individuals to a strategy briefing, either held in person at a regularly-scheduled regional meeting or, if they were unable to attend that meeting, held via conference call at a date and time that worked for a majority of participants. The objective of these briefings was to better communicate the association’s broader strategy and to show how volunteer activities are a critical part of its successful execution. No one is specifically asked to engage with a particular volunteer role as part of this briefing. Rather, the broad and general input of the participants is sought as a way of assessing the level of interest individuals have for getting engaged. The Board chair and CEO lead these briefings, with the Board chair focusing on the decision process that underlies the strategic priorities and the CEO focusing on how those priorities are connected to the programs run and developed by the association.

6. CEO follows-up with individual participants and confirms their engagement in a specific program or activity in January and February. This is where the individualized connections occur. After the strategy briefing, the CEO follows-up with each individual participant and seeks to secure their involvement in either the volunteer role suggested for them by the Board or another role better aligned with their professional and personal interests. For any successful connection made, the member is immediately brought into the relevant program or committee and given the staff support needed to engage.

7. Executive Committee reviews status of newly-engaged members in March to inform discussion of future Board candidates. All of the previous steps provide added benefits for both the member and the association, but here is where we bring the process back to the original intention--grooming candidates for service on the Board of Directors. Combining the demographic necessities of the Board's nomination process with an active record of members taking on new and successful volunteer roles in the organization increases and diversifies the candidates available for the selection process.

8. Repeat. This is seen as a key component to the process. By repeating it each year, tweaking it as necessary but remaining committed to its execution from a time and resource perspective, ensures that we will be able to accomplish its three key goals: (1) Increase the awareness among the membership of the association’s on-going strategy and its connection to the programs it delivers; (2) Engage a growing population of members in that strategy identification and program execution process through the use of clearly aligned volunteer roles; and (3) Increase the number of qualified candidates to draw on for service on the Board of Directors.

The practical results of this past year’s experiment have been extremely encouraging. Of the 33 members contacted, 12 participated in the strategy briefing (either in-person or via conference call), and 7 have assumed volunteer roles in the association.

As we reflect on this, several factors seemed clearly important for the experiment’s on-going success. The most significant investment the association made in this process was time--particularly that of the association CEO and Board chair. But their involvement paid tremendous dividends in terms of the attention given our request by contacted members and their willingness to get engaged. The personal engagement of the association’s leaders, reaching out and seeking the involvement of individual members, was cited numerous times as the reason people chose to get engaged.