Mar. 7, 2012 - Seven Snowy Lessons in Association Management
Picture this: by Friday at 5 PM the snow is falling—huge, wet, sodden glops of it. It’s the kind of snow that happens in the spring when the weather is warming up, the ground has thawed, and folks see snowdrops budding at the corners of their yards. Then the temperature begins to drop and the sky responds with a half-frozen thunderstorm which quickly ices roads, clings to tree limbs, and coats power lines with thick, glistening coats of frozen white.
It might have been easy driving when people started home from work, but by the time they reached home they knew Northern Michigan was in for a long weekend.
By 10 PM the lights went off and the TV was silent. Early bedtime at my house, a night interrupted by the crack of tree limbs breaking under the weight of the snow and ice.
By morning, the house was cold and there was no coffee. The bagels were icy and the butter hard. The driveway was buried under a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow. Lucy the Wheaten Terrier didn’t get far from the house—she couldn’t even make the 25 yards to her favorite tree trunk.
It was a long weekend: the driveway wasn’t cleared for two days and the electricity wasn’t restored until a day after that. Time to do a lot of thinking, eat a lot of peanut butter, and quickly learn to sacrifice style for practicality. But the association manager in me never is quiet.
Well, I thought, before my cell phone dies, I’d better call the power company in case they don’t know I have no electricity. Using my handy dandy cell phone browser I went to the electric company website and found—ta da! The ‘Outage Emergency Line’ information is buried deep in pages of text about how responsive Cherryland Electric is in the case of an emergency. There’s the number! Down at the bottom of page 2!
Lesson 1: Prioritize your website design around what the user will want and need, and not about what you want to tell them. (Sorta reminded me of the websites I’ve visited that give all kinds of information about the organization’s Code of Ethics without telling the reader how to find a remedy for an immediate problem.)
Anyway, I found the number and called. Of course the line was busy. What good is one phone number to service 35,000 irate customers?
Lesson 2: Maintain adequate resources to provide effective services.
So I thought, “Well, this is the age of social media. I’ll visit the company Facebook page and Twitter sites.” Found those, despite a rapidly dying battery, only to read the messages from the 35,000 customers: “Please update your outage reports”, and “When can we expect heat, our house is very cold?”, and “My mother is on oxygen, please help.”
Lesson 3: Social Media means communication in real time. The new technologies are worthless if used incorrectly. If you host a social media application, keep it current.
Then my cell phone said, “No signal.” No heat, no lights, no phone, no internet, no driveway.
In the bottom of the storage closet I found a battery-operated radio and it still worked. But where the heck could I find news about the storm? Interestingly enough, nowhere. News, I found, is relegated to a only few minutes, and no station had the capacity to provide in-depth local information. I did find that there were several community shelters available if I needed them—and if I could get out of my driveway and/or phone for snowmobile rescue.
Lesson 4: Plan for a disaster, because one will someday happen. Have a central information point. Make sure that everyone knows where to go for information when it’s needed, especially in an emergency. Technology makes it possible to provide prompt information services…so make sure you incorporate communication programs into your regular operations.
And Lesson 5: Make sure your support services are what the consumer/member really needs. Shelters don’t do much good if I can’t get down my driveway (just as education and other opportunities in a trade association need to be relevant to the member’s business success).
My rescue procedures began after two days of isolation: at 5 AM Sunday morning I realized that I could see lights shining on my frozen front lawn. “Either the electricity is back on, or the moon is very bright,” I thought.
Not so! These were the headlamps of the snowplow stuck in my driveway as he tried to remove two days of heavy accumulation. Too little, too late, and foolishly applied in the early morning dark. He was joined by another snowplow and, some hours later by a front-end loader. Soon, they were all stuck in my driveway and I was still a prisoner.
Lesson 6: Apply solutions quickly, using adequate resources to get the job done. (I know, I know: this is especially difficult in an organization run by a committee. It’s always more comfortable for volunteers to have another meeting, a survey, or a vote and further study. “Everybody needs to be on the same page” Is the common excuse for inaction.)
And of course, the faulty execution of a solution leads to the inevitable:
Lesson 7: Maintain reserves. Emergency measures will always be more costly than anticipated. Take the case of my snowplow guy: his initial timing mistake lead to three vehicles embedded in my front lawn, increased expenses for him, and—I’m assuming—a similarly inflated invoice to me. Whether or not I protest his extra charges isn’t the point: somebody has to bear unexpected costs. It’s just good business to be prepared.
Well, this weather disaster all over now—the ice is melting; the lavender and yellow snowdrops have re-emerged; and my driveway is passable, even if it’s a soggy, rutted, muddy mess. I’ve stocked up again on batteries and peanut butter, because what we know in Northern Michigan is this: weather emergencies can yet happen.
It’s still early in March.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Seven Snowy Lessons in Association Management : Off Stage