Four Questions With a Pro: An Interview with Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP

4 Questions With An Association Engagement Expert

Holly Duckworth’s new book, Ctrl+Alt+Believe: Reboot Your Association For Success moves associations through a process to clarify association beliefs, evaluate control, and create new alternate solutions. Her premise is that to innovate and thrive, association executives and boards of directors must balance the desire to honor their history and innovate simultaneously.

1. What is an association belief? How can we identify them and use them in our associations?

A belief is an acceptance of truth for your organization. Often this comes from history, sometimes bylaws and more often than not the stories that have been told year over year. Beliefs have a hidden power that truly inform our leadership experience. If you believe you have troublesome, demanding or hard personalities in your boardroom you will get more of that. If you see, feel and express energy that your boardroom has perfect strategic leaders dedicated to your heart centered vision – that is what you will attract to your organization. It is important to recognize the association’s collective beliefs and when necessary consciously shift them to be positive and flexible.

2. A theme in the book is that Boards unconsciously fear change, causing problems in their organization. “Organizations die of fear,” as you write. Is there something about the structure of boards that encourages this fear? How can we overcome fear?

Fear of change in organizations has a micro and macro component. Micro meaning that each individual board member will naturally have a little tentativeness leading an organization. The macro comes from their collective fear. Being part of a board/organization forces people to look at their strengths, weaknesses and what they contribute, and then ultimately creating an unknown or new future together. Until we embrace that individual and collective fear as a positive catalyst for change we may experience stagnant organizations.

3. You recommend that the organization spend time distilling its mission statement into six words. Why is this valuable and how can it help the board be more strategic?

You can determine the success of any organization by asking its leaders what the vision/mission of the organization is. In most cases nobody in the room can answer that question. Yet, organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars writing vision/mission statements to carve on marble walls or place on stationary that is never used beyond the moment the period is put at the end of the sentence. Most vision/mission statements are paragraphs-long and full of meaningless jargon that does not link anywhere else in the organization.

I use the 6-word model as a guideline to direct leaders to shorten the vision/mission statement to something that inspires. It needs to be a statement you and your leadership can memorize with your heads and with your hearts, meaning you can each articulate what the vision/mission means to them in their own words.

Note, I also choose intentionally to use vision/mission together. We can debate all day long what a vision is, what a mission is and if you need one or both. What I know is 100% true is it doesn’t matter if nobody is reading and using the vision/mission each and every day as a guiding and inspiring principle.

4. One suggestion you have for organizations to shake off the dust is to beta-test new ideas. To make them successful (or identify them as unsuccessful), what kind of structure should a beta test have? Should you set distinct time limits on them? Definitions for success? When do you pull the plug?

I find it fascinating that corporate America uses the term “beta” on projects all the time. Software companies like Microsoft, Apple and other developers intentionally put out products when they are not quite finished to get customer feedback on them. If this concept is good enough for corporate American why can’t associations borrow the concept?

Identify an aspect of your association that needs attention, and define the dollars and volunteer hours to devote to it. As an example, instead of making the decision to retire the annual golf tournament forever, we might “beta test” a mini-golf tournament for a year. At the end of the project, assess if it worked, did it not work, do we do it again.

In a beta project – you set a deadline to “pull the plug” at the beginning rather than the typical association outlook that assumes a project goes on forever. Assume the project has an end and “re-plug” in the beta project only if/when it works in a way that exceeds the needs and desires of your members.

Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, Spirit Strategist is CEO of Leadership Solutions International

Follow her @hduckworth and on Linked In at   Her book is available at Amazon and Interested in booking Holly to speak or facilitate your next conference or event? Contact Kinsley staff today for booking information.