Monday, June 27, 2016

Busy Is Not Always Better

I recently read a blog post written by a staffer at an association management company (AMC), detailing, with time codes, all the activities she engaged in during a typical day in her office.

2:15 p.m. — Reach out to account manager for VoIP service to follow up on a new phone order and inquire about headsets for some staff that share offices.

2:21 p.m. — Update membership and staff reports for upcoming client Board meeting. I’ve already had various staff members update their areas, so I just need to finalize my sections.

2:30 p.m. — Does it bother you when you ask someone two questions in an email and they only respond to one?

2:46 p.m. — Provide updated membership numbers to finance manager so she can update budget forecast for client.

It's an entertaining read, written with humor and with true enthusiasm for the tasks being performed and the clients being served. OMG! it seems to say. I'm so busy! Isn't it great! It reminds me very much of the young AMC staffer that I used to be at the beginning of my career.

It made me think, however, about how important it is to avoid the cult of being busy.

Not all AMCs are the same, but their business model can sometimes create a lot of activity for a small number of people. For an AMC, financial success logically comes when they maximize the number of association clients and they minimize the number of paid staff. In that environment, doing more with less is not just a strategy, it's a management science.

But busy is not always better. Certainly not for association staffers, who often find themselves burning the candle at both ends; and frequently not for association clients either.

It's fair to say that many associations dramatically benefit from the services of an AMC. Often it's the first time they've had any professional staff at all, and suddenly they have a working membership database with dues being collected on time, newsletters going out, and meetings getting planned. For any association that has overworked volunteers trying to perform these tasks, a management contract with an AMC can be a wonderful bargain.

But once that honeymoon period is over, some associations managed by AMCs struggle to take the next evolutionary step. Association management is one thing, but association strategy and execution is another. Managing the transactional aspects of an association's operation requires real energy and attention to detail, something young workers in AMCs typically have in spades. But helping an association determine and drive its unique place in the universe requires deep thought and engagement, something those same staffers often struggle to find time for.

Be careful when you celebrate the cult of being busy. It sends one kind of message to one group of people, and an entirely different kind of message to others.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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