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When it comes to a certification program, perception is important! If the program is not seen as being meaningful and valuable to those seeking certification and to the industry in general, it probably won’t be successful. The value of the program extends beyond its content; how it is administered is also a factor. Having assisted in managing several certification programs over the years my focus is often on program administration: guiding candidates through the certification application process, maintaining files and serving as a resource for anyone with questions about the program. Here are some of the practices I have found most helpful when it comes to program administration.

Facilitation of a consistent experience for candidates is a primary goal. From application through certification achievement, the intent is that everyone has access to the same information, follows the same steps and completes all the required paperwork. How? One word: routine! Following an established routine has proved indispensable. Not only does it help ensure a uniform experience for those going through the certification program, it makes it much easier for staff to be certain that all necessary steps have been completed.

One side note about routines, though. As a program administrator one should not be afraid to modify the procedure to make it work better. In my experience, something might seem perfect in the development stage, but once in practice some adjustments may be needed. Keep an open mind, listen to feedback and make adjustments when necessary.

Closely related to following an established routine is documentation and record maintenance. When it comes to managing a certification program I’ve found that the details are crucial. Keeping notes and consistently maintaining a step-by-step application checklist in real time have been worthwhile practices. This is especially true if there is any variance from the routine or if any unusual circumstances occur. It is true that note taking and checklist maintenance are not the most exciting tasks and may be easily overlooked. Yet, time and time again they have proved to be incredibly beneficial, especially in the long term. If questions or issues arise later the notes will be there to provide answers.

Serving as a reliable resource for anyone with questions about the program is also important. To accomplish this my focus is on consistent and responsive communication. Keeping the application process moving along by turning around forms quickly, promptly communicating any delays in the process and responding to individuals’ questions or requests as soon as possible are just some of the ways effective communication contributes to program quality. It is also helpful to remember that communication extends beyond those seeking certification. Making sure that all interested parties are informed about the certification program is beneficial, so regular, proactive communication with a larger audience (e.g., colleagues, the general industry) should never be neglected.

How a program is administered matters. Having a cohesive administration strategy goes a long way toward delivery of a high-quality program that is viewed by all parties as valuable to their own experience. Perception is important and in the end, even the smallest details and tasks matter!

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in Certification Management 154 0
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decisions

We are evaluating marketing automation software and have listed our desired specifications in a spreadsheet with attributes like “must have” and “nice to have.” This sheet helps us easily compare features and see which platforms are lacking our requirements. Plus, after doing 4-6 demos, it helps organize what could be an overwhelming process.

However, choosing a new software platform or AMS or deciding whether to implement a proposed program initiative on behalf of our clients goes beyond a specified list of features.

Using only a spreadsheet to compare features seems sterile and robotic until we ask ourselves nine questions from our project decision matrix document. The questions demonstrate that we actually think about our clients’ missions and goals when making impactful decisions.

When your leadership is considering a new “toy,” be certain it fits in with your goals, objectives and mission. Ensure that you will be able to sustain the initiative beyond the initial excitement and implementation.

When considering a new initiative, ask your team the following nine questions:
1. What are we trying to accomplish?
2. Does this help reach our goals and further our mission?
3. What does success mean for this initiative?
4. What is the desired timeline for this project?
5. What does our resource pool look like?
6. How will feedback be provided by the client?
7. What is the long-term effect of this project?
8. Is this plan sustainable?
9. What are the major risks of the initiative?

These questions deliberate the process to give your organization and board the time to think about the initiative.

Questions like “What does success look like?” are painfully obvious. Yet, how many projects have you implemented where you have not planned to measure when you have achieved success?

Creating a presence on a trendy social media network where your members may or may not visit might be easy to do. Asking yourself, “Does this help our goals and further our mission?” may at least help you decide if it is worth the resources to maintain.

You might be surprised at how these questions could either green light or sideline a project depending on how well vetted, or thought-through it is.

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in Strategic Planning 141 0
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Win win

Have you ever thought about hosting a joint convention with another association to advance your industry? If the answer is yes, I want to share some lessons learned from a recent experience with two trade associations that operate in related industries.

A joint meeting is a great way to create new touch points for a large group of people at one time. It fits within the mission of most associations who advocate for their members and promote new business opportunity. Your members can save money by not having to travel to two separate meetings during the year and these companies can maximize their exposure, and sometimes invest more, due to a greater expected ROI.

It’s not that easy however, because merging two associations will have its challenges. Primarily in how both cultures fit together. Think of a joint meeting more like a business merger or acquisition instead of a meeting - the culture fit is key to operationalize the experience. Your goal should be to deliver on all of the most important aspects of your association meeting, while also fitting the experience into a larger joint program. The cultures match is paramount to achieve success, so the organizers should have a good idea about what events will fit with the norms of each group.

Here are some other things to think about.

Eliminate complexities. Culture matters.
The simpler the better in terms of program format. Remember, this is a new experience for all members. They are not going to your convention this year, they’re attending a joint event (new experience). Don’t fall into the trap of trying to re-create your convention entirely. Both associations must compromise on the format to reduce overall uncertainty of the members. If things get too complex, members will feel like they don’t have enough information and will turn off if they see others engaged who are more familiar with the process. Think strategically about the format of the meeting and how you want members to interact. It won’t work to just take each individual association meeting, merge them together, and wait for the positive reviews to roll in.

Double the networking time
Associations should give members enough opportunities to meet each other at a joint convention. Members want to see their customers, old friends and colleagues first, then branch out to meet new people from the other association. The program should have double the opportunities to network than what you’re used to. This additional time will give members a chance to make their normal rounds and not feel pressured to meet new people at every opportunity. The best connections are made through friends and word of mouth, so give them a chance to talk.

More people overall also means that your members will lose out on those spontaneous runs-ins with old friends and colleagues. This will create a feeling that ‘the meeting is too big.’ Try to create a good balance in your program with large networking events and smaller more focused receptions or meet ups. Often times, we think our normal format can simply accommodate more people with a bigger space. The fact is – people are not always willing to break the ice. Make it easy for your members to feel connected to the larger group. The need to have a place and not feel like an outsider. Matchmaking events can work well in this area, but note it will involve more staff time and support to coordinate a good effort. A poorly planned matchmaking event can have greater negative ramifications than not doing it at all.

Limit the amount of separate meetings.
While each association plans their own business meeting, as well as Board and Committee meetings depending on the rotation, try to limit the one-offs which will make members choose. These events for only one group can create an environment where members of each association are attending their own events instead of actively participating in the joint programming. It’s almost like having two groups in the same space but living in their own silos. The more opportunities there are to choose, the more people will notice non-participation from the other side and think it’s a symptom of the people not wanting to be engaged. For example, host your new member and first timer events together. Another idea is to have staff from each group work together on the other’s events. The association staff can help introduce members to each other and promote a positive dialog about collaboration that helps all attending. 

Maximize your keynote speakers.
The educational program is probably the easiest part of the joint meeting, especially if the groups have similar interests, but don’t overlook its importance. Selecting a very high-profile speaker will create a unique excitement that’s not the norm. Selecting two or three really good speakers has its advantages also if you plan to do breakout sessions or deeper dives. Don’t hire more than three speakers though, or your members will feel like they are missing out. Inspiration and business leadership are two qualities to look for. Don’t get too technical or specific on content because it won’t apply to all attendees.

Control your costs, but don’t go cheap.
Make sure people get the most important parts of your convention experience, then compromise on other aspects. The members are paying the same rates to attend the joint meeting, so when they see double the amount of people, they will naturally think the convention will make double the profit. Meeting planners know this is not the case. Large groups incur additional costs for security, F&B and more, so be conscious of how everything is presented. If your members are used to plated dinners, don’t go with only reception style meals because its makes more sense for a larger group. Also, don’t have each association order their own food, make it consistent.

This is one of the hardest parts about merging cultures for a joint meeting to decide how revenues and expenses are matched. That being said, a joint meeting is a great time to try new things and innovate, so don’t be afraid to try something new where it makes sense. After you meet your basic needs, be creative in how other aspects of the event are presented.

Have fun. Be a Champion.
In the end, your members want to feel like you have their back. They appreciate responsiveness, honesty and the feeling that you have their well-being at heart. Have fun at the event and be a champion on-site for your organization. Offer help to all attendees, promote a positive and collaborative mindset, and introduce people to one another. The little things are noticed.

Joint meeting organizers have a very important role to play in supporting volunteer leaders who have been involved in planning for many years. Let them help you spread the word about what’s really important at the meeting – advancing your industry and creating new business opportunities.

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 strategic planning

Many organizations create their five-year strategic plan and set it in stone, no matter the changes happening that may not fit within that plan. This could limit growth and create stagnancy. To make sure that doesn’t happen, check in on your plan routinely to make sure it is still moving you forward, not keeping you where you are.

A twist on the strategic planning meeting
We recently held a strategic planning meeting for a client who was asking “what’s next?" They have had great growth and developed a very successful stand-alone annual meeting. They had checked all of the boxes of their plan and are now free to explore other priorities that can create more exposure and growth for the organization.

This group does not have members, but the process we followed could certainly be adapted to a membership-based association. To ensure a wide range of opinions and input, all board and committee members were invited to attend the meeting along with representatives from partner organizations. A survey was sent to all invitees to get a sense of priorities for the annual meeting, communication with committee members (or members in general), and working with affiliated organizations. A copy of the survey results was sent to all the attendees prior to the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the Treasurer worked with the organization's investment firm to come up with scenarios for the group to consider. Scenarios included spending additional dollars above current operating costs and made assumptions at aggressive investing versus more conservative investing. A copy of the strategy report was sent to all attendees to consider prior to the meeting and while discussing the priorities of the organization.

Topic areas to discuss during the planning session were developed and facilitators for each topic were selected. Facilitators were provided materials about their specific topic and some questions to consider as they facilitated their specific “workshop." These questions, along with the high-level survey results, financials, and a previous strategic planning report were sent to all attendees prior to the meeting.

Breakout sessions helped form priorities
The meeting started with a history of the organization. Since this association doesn’t have members, it was nice for those who hadn’t been as involved as others to hear about how they had grown and changed since inception.

Attendees were assigned to participate in one of the workshops during each of the four breakout sessions Participants were divided so that they all participated in each workshop and the same people wouldn’t always be in the same group. The first group in each workshop started at a fairly high level – essentially laying the ground work for the groups that followed. During each breakout group, the facilitators gave a brief recap of what happened in the group(s) prior and started to drill down into talking about creating new programs, policies, etc. At the end of day 1, the facilitators reported on the themes that came from their discussions. From those reports, staff identified 15 items that could be prioritized by the group.

On day 2, the treasurer gave a financial overview, helping attendees understand how adding programs or technology, etc. would impact the overall health of the organization’s finances. The 15 priorities were shown to the attendees and they voted on whether they were high, medium, or low priority (we asked that they choose 5 high, 5 medium and 5 low so that all were not high) and were weighted. Once the votes were all in, we reorganized the list and decided to dive in to the top five priorities.
After the planning session, the Executive Committee looked at the priorities and defined the scope of each. Three workgroups were developed to define infrastructure, administration and funding needed. As the workgroups move through their processes, they will be able to refer to the work that was done during the planning session and the financial overview to help guide their decisions and bring recommendations to the board.

This process has created stronger engagement in the organization and has started to define the “what’s next." Checking in on the progress of the workgroups and implementation of any new programs will be important in making sure that the “what’s next” is truly addressing the priorities of the organization and moving it forward.

 

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Collaboration

As we enter into the month of October, the color pink is everywhere. Television, radio, newspapers, billboards, magazines, walks, fundraisers, retail merchandise… the list goes on in efforts to promote National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Talk about collaboration! This health care campaign was formed to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment and has become a global sensation with a phenomenal collaborative effort.

Collaboration inspires a sense of community and the opportunity for people to learn from each other. While the collaborative activity of promoting National Breast Cancer Awareness is huge on a global scale, collaborative activity at the workplace, on a much smaller scale, mobilizes teams in various capacities to come together and reach common goals.

The AMPED team recently put collaborative efforts to the test when Hurricane Irma was slated for a direct hit in the Ft. Lauderdale area. One of our newest clients was having a large annual conference in this area, just two weeks after the hurricane was to hit. Decisions had to be made about keeping the conference in Ft. Lauderdale as planned, not knowing what damage may ensue, or moving the entire event to a new location in a different area of the country. Through this process, we learned the value of collaboration, both internally and externally with various teams. Below are a few thoughts on effective collaboration that resonated with me as we worked together to produce a successful outcome for our client:

1. Collaboration will expand your community and your opportunities to connect with people for new ideas. When we were considering moving to a new location, our CEO happened to be at a conference with hospitality industry leaders including CEO’s from convention and visitor bureaus across the United States. After discussing our situation with industry peers, many CEO’s offered their advice, assistance and resources to help us through the process of potentially moving the conference to a new location. Ideas were presented that we never knew existed.

2. Collaboration allows you to expand your experiences and knowledge. Our team had not been through a situation like this before. Through many forms of collaboration, each one of us was able to establish new areas of “expertise” that can now be applied to future circumstances.

3. Collaborations provide a built-in sounding board and a system of checks and balances. This experience provided many opportunities for our team to bounce ideas off of one another, blend complementary strengths and recognize areas where we could improve. It made us a stronger team.

In the end, our collaborative partners made the decision to stay at the Florida destination, as originally planned. And the conference experienced a record number of attendees! Collaborative efforts made this possible.

 

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