Monday, August 5, 2013

Careful What You Ask For, Part 2

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Two weeks ago, in Careful What You Ask For, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

I've been commenting on the responses I received to an anonymous survey I asked my staff to complete on the values our organization currently holds, whether or not they are worth keeping, and which new values should be added.

Last time I talked about the juxtaposition that emerged between a high level of commitment to exceeding the service expectations of members and the fact that not everyone was comfortable with experimentation and risk-taking, especially when those actions were perceived as putting the high member service commitment at risk. This time I want to talk about a second juxtaposition that I saw emerging from the survey responses.

Among the broad themes I identified were:

3. There is a desire for mutual respect and open communication.

It was difficult for me to tell from the survey responses if this was isolated to a few relationships or if it was pervasive throughout the organization, but it was clear that not everyone on staff was receiving the respect they believed they were entitled to, and that a forum for airing those grievances was thought to be be missing. This was a little jarring for me, as I took conscious pains to treat people with respect and for having an open door policy within the office. There had been times when personal conflicts between staff members had been brought to my attention, and I had worked hard to understand and resolve the differences--first as the active mediator, and then, increasingly, as the convener of the necessary dialogue among the people affected. The survey responses made me think that my actions had done little more than skim the cream off the top of the problem, and that unresolved issues continued to bubble away beneath the surface.


4. There is some frustration with a culture that seems to reward isolation and quiet over interaction and fun.

This one was more obvious to me. In my experience, there is always so much to do in running an association, and those staff members who are good at buckling down and getting volumes of work done are often the rising stars in any organization. My own career had been built on just such a foundation, and if people wanted to accuse me of bringing that expectation into my current association, I had nothing else to say but, "Guilty as charged."

What I saw in both of these themes was the importance of my role in the process, of understanding that as the CEO, the organization was going to follow my lead--for good or for bad. People who had become accustomed to more dialogue, and more opportunities to interaction and fun, were suffering in the environment I had unknowingly created.

But at the same time, culture is a two-way street. I was ready to take responsibility for my part, but what was keeping these people from speaking up, from interacting in the way they desired, for having more fun in the day-to-day struggle to meet our organizational objectives?

This juxtaposition, between my leadership style, and the responsibilities that we all shared for creating the culture we all wanted, was something I was determined to explore when it came time to start drafting our actual values statement.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: How I prepared for the in-person discussion that created the draft values statement.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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