CEO to CEO: Putting Members First and Required Reading

Helping staff put members first and assigning staff-required reading.

From my very first day on the job, I conveyed to staff that quality customer service is our number-one responsibility. Even though we are not in the restaurant or hotel business, my staff knows that their interaction with members has to be on par with what they might experience while receiving outstanding service at a fine restaurant or resort. They are expected to answer every phone call with a smile and never get defensive when handling a question, concern, or complaint. I believe they have bought into that mindset, and the response from members has been terrific.

—Rob Wigton, CEO, Nevada Association of Realtors, Reno, Nevada. Email: [email protected]

We look at every program, product, and service we provide through our members' eyes and take their feedback very seriously. This occurs internally as staff members bring back experiences they have when attending their own professional association events. When they come back, we debrief on what good experiences and ideas the association provided that we can implement and also what did not work well from an attendee's perspective. It takes a certain kind of staff person to have this attitude, so we hire first for attitude and second for skills. If at any point along the way we find that a staff member loses this focus, we course correct even if it means terminating our employment relationship with him.

—Stacy Tetschner, CAE, executive vice president and CEO, National Speakers Association, Tempe, Arizona. Email: [email protected]

Our organization provides professional development and continuing education for our members. Much of what we provide is focused on client and customer relationships. By having staff participate in some of those courses, we remind ourselves regularly of who our clients are and challenge ourselves to find ways to improve how we serve them. It is also something we discuss regularly in leadership staff meetings.

—Don Klein, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Nashville, Tennessee. Email: [email protected]

I make sure that my staff always puts members first by modeling that behavior myself. If necessary, I will rearrange my day or my plans to accommodate a member's request for service or information. And I share with my staff (we are a small-staff association of four full-time individuals) from the beginning of their employment and frequently thereafter that members are the reason we have jobs and serving them is our most important task. We often discuss the importance of putting members first in staff meetings, and I invite suggestions from them as to how we can improve upon what we are already doing. I interact with members at every opportunity and the number of compliments my staff receive indicates to me that my staff is following through with putting members first.

—Margaret S. Bauer, CAE, executive director, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

If you could assign one book as required reading for your entire staff, what would it be?

I would choose A Complaint Is a Gift by Janelle Barlow and Claus Møller. No one really likes to receive a complaint. Association staff should resist the knee-jerk tendency to "write off" those who complain and instead learn to focus on the essential truth that may be lurking beneath the surface of a complaint, as well as the opportunity to turn an unhappy member or customer into an ambassador.

—Melanie L. Herman, executive director, Nonprofit Risk Management Center, Leesburg, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

More Reading Suggestions

Check out "Summer Reading Recommendations" for quick reviews of six new books prime for association executives' reading lists.

Also, see the Acronym blog's May 2010 "Leadership Inspiration" series, in which several association executives shared their favorite leadership thinkers, many of whom have also written great books on leadership.

I would recommend everyone read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. So often we listen to our board or the loudest or most passionate members to help guide the direction of the association. Lessons gained from the book help us to dig below the surface and focus on the real answers. Those answers are based upon data, investigation, analysis, and thought—often well beyond what lies at the surface.

—Jeffrey D. Morgan, CAE, president and CEO, National Investor Relations Institute, Vienna, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

I don't know of anyone who hasn't enjoyed Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. Using the enjoyable mice characters of Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw, Johnson shows how we all adapt to change differently and how some don't adapt at all. We tend to get caught up in our own mazes and need to be able to learn to adapt and work together in finding our "cheese." We can better address member needs by learning to adapt and deal with the inevitable change in our lives and work.

—John Alfano, CAE, president and CEO, AOPHA: The Advocate of Not-For-Profit Services for Older Ohioans, Columbus, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Many might feel this is old school, but some of his teachings from 1937 still hold true. Carnegie believed that financial success was 15 percent knowledge and 85 percent "ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people." He teaches these skills through underlying principles of dealing with people so that they feel important and appreciated. We must see the situation from others' point of view before we can begin to influence them to our way of thinking. In association relationships, listening is vital to the process of winning over a member to champion an idea to get board acceptance.

—Charles A. McGrath, CAE, executive director, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, Herndon, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

CEO to CEO: How do you know it's time to move on?

This month's exclusive CEO to CEO video response features Reina Mora-Blackwelder, executive director of Independent Electrical Contractors, Florida West Coast Chapter, sharing her views on knowing when it's time to leave your organization. During the middle of every month, we'll feature a new CEO to CEO video response, so check back next month. You can watch previous videos by accessing the video tab.