CEO Update LIVE: Advocacy and Impacting Change

State advocacy requires finding allies and good info

Panelists discuss how national associations can have impact at state, local levels

By Walt Williams

Watch the webcast recorded on June 23, 2022

Partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., means much of the lobbying action is shifting to the states. If associations want to keep up, they must cultivate local allies and find good sources of information, according to panelists at the June 23 CEO Update LIVE discussion on advocacy.

“Because it has been more challenging in recent years for advocates to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish at the federal level, they’re taking advantage of opportunities that exist in state legislatures and in localities,” said Leslie Sarasin, CEO of FMI, The Food Industry Association.

Reid Wilson, former reporter for The Hill and founder of the soon-to-be-launched Pluribus News, moderated the discussion, which featured Sarasin and News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern. The event took place a day after the government watchdog group OpenSecrets reported that spending on state and federal advocacy grew to record levels in 2021. Spending in the 19 states that OpenSecrets tracks topped $1.8 billion last year, more than any other year except 2019, once adjusted for inflation. The group has monitored spending on state lobbying since 2015.

Sarasin noted that the food industry FMI represents is regulated at the federal, state and local levels, so her group has been engaged in all three for a long time and has seen the trends.

“What I think is different now is that those (state and local) decisions are much more important and much more relevant for our everyday business. … Things are not necessarily beginning at the federal level and moving to the states the way they used to. It’s the reverse of that,” she said.

California, by virtue of its size, is a major driver of legislative trends. One example is the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, loosely modeled after the much more sweeping General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union. Other states have considered legislation based on California’s law.

“One would think that would provoke federal privacy legislation,” Chavern said. “There’s certainly talk about that now, but that’s proving to be really difficult. Essentially the state standards—particularly in the big-enough states—can become de facto federal standards because there’s no federal response.

“So yeah, there’s a lot of state-level activism but also there’s a new element of it (having) potential to become essentially national legislation originating in the states,” he said.

Even smaller states can kick off national trends. Sarasin pointed to Vermont, which in 2016 became the first state to require labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Other states soon adopted similar laws. So did federal policymakers, with a national labeling law scheduled to take effect this year.

Making friends

How can associations monitor and advocate in 50 state legislatures let alone the plethora of county and city governments?

For starters, rely on allies.

“We are fortunate in the food industry in that we have a network of state grocery organizations and state retail organizations, so a good bit of our work is done at the state level in conjunction with those state organizations,” Sarasin said. “The thing that we want to avoid at FMI is going into states and being viewed as carpetbaggers and trying to purport that we have the answers to everything. And so what we do instead is work through the local associations that have their own networks in place for state and local lobbying.

“Sometimes it involves our actually going there and engaging with them, but more times than not it is providing research (and) other types of education opportunities for our shared members, because at the end of the day, the best lobbyists in any environment are our members,” she said.
The approach of “I’m here from Washington to give my opinion on your legislation” is rarely a winner, Chavern said.

“You’ve really got to find local partners who you trust and who trust you, or are well aligned, which is often the case but not always,” he said. Associations need to “figure out the best sort of partnerships with them. What do they need from you? That could be resources. It could be messaging. It could be technology. How can we best help you win? And then what do you need in return?

“For a lot of industries, including my own, there are state associations that are well attuned to local politics and dynamics,” Chavern said. “What you have to do is invest in those relationships all the time, even when you don’t need them in that moment, because you can’t just be like ‘Oh, we have never talked before but we’re really worried about this legislation.’”

Good information

Thousands of bills are introduced in state legislatures every year. Most won’t pass nor warrant attention. National associations need a way to track that legislation to focus on the policies most likely to have an impact, according to the panelists.

“For us this has been an interesting trial and error process,” Sarasin said. “There are any number of services that are available around the country to provide information and we’ve tried a number of them. Some are better than others. The ones that we try to avoid are the ones that are just sort of data dumps—we get the information without any context or analysis or opportunity to tailor what we’re looking for.

“We have found a company that we’re very, very comfortable with. We love their customer service. We love being able to work with them. … What we do with them is we work together and identify on a regular basis what our keywords are, what are our top priorities, and they track it for us both at the state level and also in certain localities.”

Chavern said the News Media Alliance has sought out similar services and found a lot of providers lack editorial direction to weed out the useful information from the unhelpful.

“To get that sort of editorial level, you have to work closely with your state partners that are closer to the ground about what’s going on,” he said. “And also, frankly, your members saying, ‘Whoa, did you see this thing in this state?’”

CEO Update LIVE: Culture

Creating a high-performing culture starts at the top

Webcast panelists say leaders must embrace empathy, accountability

By William Ehart

Watch the webcast recorded on April 20, 2022

Creating and maintaining the right culture for your organization is essential, and it starts at the top with assessment and follow-through.

“CEOs have to look at their own behavior and start to realize, ‘If I continue to do this, I’m not going to be able to create this culture we said we all want,’” said Jamie Notter, a culture strategist and co-founder of consulting firm PROPEL.

“You assume when you’re CEO that you’re in charge, you get to do what you want. Well, OK, but there are implications to that,” he said.

Notter was part of a panel convened for the April 20 CEO Update LIVE webcast on workplace culture. The other panelists were Wylecia Wiggs Harris, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association, and Tom Bohn, chief executive of the Association for Corporate Growth. CEO Update Editor-in-Chief Lynn McNutt moderated the discussion.

As so much about work has changed during the pandemic, a culture that engages employees must respect family time and work-life balance.

“Part of the culture that we are building at AHIMA is that we are caring and empathetic,” Harris said. “The pandemic has forced us to have empathy and compassion on display. … We can be compassionate leaders and still be extraordinarily effective leaders and that’s what this world is going to require.”

She noticed in 2020 and 2021 that many staff were not taking all their vacation time: “Therefore we shut down Christmas week (or for some employees, the week after) and we are planning to do that again this year as a way of making sure that our staff had quality time with their families.”

Harris said that when she joined AHIMA as CEO in 2018, staff did not have a strong understanding of the mission and where AHIMA was going as an organization. She made building a new AHIMA culture a priority with staff, the board and members. As a result, AHIMA experienced high employee turnover, though turnover is decreasing now.

“I meet with each new class of staff quarterly,” she said. “I ask them, ‘You have options. What brought you here? And what I’ve begun to hear since the fourth quarter of last year is that it’s the culture.

“The other question I ask is, ‘Tell me what you’ve heard from me as a CEO. Is that the exact same thing that you heard from your hiring manager? Tell me what you’ve heard that’s different, because what I’m looking for is alignment in our culture.’”

Another aspect of culture is CEO accountability, Harris said. That goes hand in hand with compassionate leadership.

“We do have to lead differently and we have to be willing to be vulnerable. We don’t always get it right,” she said. “I don’t want (webcast attendees) to believe that every aspect of our culture works—I have made my share of mistakes. I’ve owned those mistakes and I expect my leaders to own their mistakes. That’s a part of creating a culture.”

Partly in response to employee feedback, AHIMA moved to fully remote work, Harris said. A survey showed clearly that staff were not ready to go back to the office. AHIMA has 125 employees.

“I’m a firm believer in ‘Don’t ask questions if you’re not prepared for the answers,’” she said. “So we are now 100% remote.”

‘Grand experiment’

ACG, which represents the private-equity investments industry, also is a fully remote-work organization. Bohn said this enables him to hire the best employees from around the country. But the group has gone even further by instituting a four-day work week.

“Families are the first priority,” he said, and making it possible for staff to meet their family needs is essential: “You get a much more committed employee who’s not just there for the salary or the title. They feel like they’re part of something a little bit more important that protects them.”

With the four-day schedule, Bohn says he trusts employees to just get the job done rather than necessarily working a 10-hour day. He credited ACG’s work with consulting firms Korn Ferry and Root, a unit of Accenture, with identifying a staff desire for the remote work and shorter work week.

“I and the team quickly realized that if we didn’t change, we were going to lose some really great talent,” Bohn said. “I am proud to say that not only did we not lose anyone that we didn’t want to lose, but we were able to grow and hire when others were struggling to do so. When I came on board, we were only 25 people and we’re now 68 staff.”

“The four-day work week came about from this grand experiment,” Bohn said. “We did it as a summer four-day work week because we were sensing a burnout. We started and we saw our productivity go up. I couldn’t believe it.”

But Bohn said the remote environment isn’t about saving money on office space. ACG spends big on periodic staff get-togethers, which includes bringing the entire staff together in person twice a year and other meetings for groups and teams.

“Yeah, there were savings, but you can’t approach it that way because there’s also a significant expense in making sure that you are bringing people together face to face, whether those are small groups or a whole team,” he said. “We spend a lot of time and focus doing that because nothing replaces that one-on-one personal connectivity that is so critically important.”

Focusing on culture is not optional, Notter said.

“You can’t afford to do nothing on it. You’ve got to be doing something,” he said.

Organizations need to be rigorous and clear about their cultures, he said. Otherwise, some may feel that CEOs’ notions of culture are just a “vague sense” of being able to hire people they like.

A culture assessment can identify patterns at an organization.

“A lot of annual surveys are more what I would call engagement focused and they’re more about, ‘Are you happy? Do you like the culture, do you like your manager?’ Finding out the sentiment—the happiness, the good, the bad—that’s important data, too. But that’s different than the culture data, from my perspective.”

Notter said an organization’s culture should evolve over time.

“You should always be realigning your culture because the world is always realigning itself,” Notter said. “Every leadership team should be meeting regularly to look at areas of culture friction.”

The pandemic, of course, is a prime example of how culture can be affected by new forces, such as the demands for remote work.

“You’re humming along, but what happens is, something changes somewhere,” Notter said. “And now there’s friction. So, it should be a regular and not dramatic thing to talk about, ‘Where’s our culture off right now?’”

Notter said a critical part of inculcating culture is letting go of people who don’t embrace the culture, even if they are high performers.

“If you tolerate behavior that is the opposite of your culture, the behavior wins,” he said.

Women’s Forum

Join CEO Update March 16 for our first Women’s Leadership Breakfast. This is a unique opportunity to discuss the changes and challenges you are facing with an exclusive group of executives who lead the nation’s most prominent associations. Former national security leader Sue Gordon will kick off a great morning of conversation and networking.

WHEN: Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
WHERE: Washington, DC

This in-person event has limited capacity and is by invitation for women who lead national associations or nonprofits (CEOs). Please contact CEO Update Editor in Chief Lynn McNutt if you’d like to attend.

Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be requested upon arrival.

Thank you to our partners Cresa, NonprofitHR, and Leading Authorities for championing women’s leadership.

CEO Update LIVE: Executive Recruiting

Demand surges for leaders on digital transformation, DEI

This is a great time to be a talented executive looking for a new job.

There is intense competition, from both the nonprofit and corporate sectors, for those who can lead on digital transformation or who have a strong track record in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Compensation is increasing, organizations are offering greater flexibility, better work-life balance and in some cases, full-time work from home—from wherever you want to live. Just don’t blow the job interview, as recruiters see even the best job candidates do.

Those are among the insights provided by three experienced association executive recruiters at the CEO Update LIVE: Recruiting webinar on Feb. 10.

On the panel were Julian Ha, head of the government, policy and associations practice at Heidrick & Struggles, Lorraine Lavet, leader of the association practice at Korn Ferry and Jim Zaniello, president and founder of Vetted Solutions. CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham moderated.

Zaniello said the so-called “Great Resignation” that is roiling the job market is now having an impact on associations. Boards are working hard to retain executives.

“Boards that are happy with the CEO they have in place are sometimes renewing contracts earlier to lock in the executive and try to incent them not to go anywhere,” he said.

At the same time, corporations are offering high salaries to attract and retain talent. Ha said he sees a lot more private-sector clients reaching into the association world.

“Organizations, not just at the CEO level but in the C-suite, are all competing for talent with Amazon and Google and others,” Ha said. “And I’ve been doing a lot of work in the crypto and blockchain space. They’re all sucking up a lot of talent and paying sometimes very, very high amounts.”

Flexible schedules

Associations often can’t compete on compensation alone. Webinar attendee Anne Forristall Luke, CEO of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, asked about “creative strategies” to attract and retain executives and other staff.

Lavet said associations can offer better work-life balance. She earlier had noted that many organizations are willing to allow 100% remote work.

One way to compete “could be the flexibility that is offered, the hours people can work to accommodate random events and personal family needs, which are elevating dramatically, particularly with the next generation of employees,” Lavet said. “Organizations that are starting to think that way are going to be the winners.”

“It’s incumbent upon leaders of associations to really impart upon their team the impact that they’re having, the positive impact,” Ha said. “It’s just that mission-driven orientation that they need to cascade throughout the organization.”

Given the competition for talent and concerns about pay equity, Lavet said she is not seeing downward pay adjustments for association staff who want to work remotely from a lower-cost area.
Zaniello said he is seeing more sign-on bonuses for new staff, partly to help maintain pay equity within an organization.

Digital transformation, DEI

Lavet said competition is greatest for certain key roles and for those who have demonstrated aptitude in digital transformation.

“I can’t think of an organization that is not working through a reinvention of their business models,” she said. “It’s not just technical people, it’s strategic-minded leaders, COOs and others who know how to lead an organization into the future.

“Human resources people who are absolutely adept at leading DEI-related activity (are in high demand), she said.

“The supply shortage is in the right competencies to take an organization into the future in the post COVID era,” she said.

The recruiters said executive candidates should be able to answer questions about how they’ve helped advance diversity.

“If the candidate him or herself is not ethnically diverse or gender diverse, there’s many things that allies (of diversity) can and should be doing,” Ha said. “I think this is an opportunity for that candidate to talk about what they’ve done to either set into place initiatives within their current role or previous roles that relate to DEI, how they’ve been able to create succession planning for direct reports who are going to be sensitive to DEI. I mean, do they have a person who is responsible for DEI matters within the organization?”

“There’s no question that associations are interested to know what has been candidates’ track records, dedicated commitment (to diversity), how they’ve gone about doing that. It’s not about a program, it’s about a way of life, a very holistic approach,” Lavet said.

Panelists noted that the demand for a diverse slate of candidates is stronger than ever. But many organizations still put together search committees with no minority representation, making candidates question the organization’s commitment to diversity.

Interview do’s and don’ts

But even with all this competition for talent, highly qualified candidates can flub the interview process and cost themselves opportunities. It happens more often than you’d think, and leaves recruiters scratching their heads.

Send thank-you notes for gosh sakes: “I’m still surprised, search committees are still surprised, and CEOs doing hiring are surprised, at how few candidates take the time to send thank-you notes,” Zaniello said. “And sometimes, literally, we’ve had search committees or hiring execs say, ‘Did you get the thank-you note (from our lead candidate)? Because I got them from every other candidate.’”

The “I’s” don’t have it: “When somebody uses the word ‘I’ throughout their interviews, and forget there’s a ‘we’ in all of that, that is usually a derailer for that individual because it’s all about team leadership and bringing people along,” Lavet said. “So anyone who goes into an interview should leave the word ‘I’ at the door for most of it.”

Any questions?: “I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker, but it certainly would help the candidate’s chances if they have well-researched questions right at the end,” Ha said. “I shake my head when I have a great candidate, and when the search committee says, ‘Here’s your chance to ask us some questions and turn the tables.’ And one person literally said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t have any questions.’ I’m like, ‘How can you not have a question?’”

Be respectful of staff: “I can’t tell you how many people behave one way when they’re with the search committee and differently with our (staff),” Lavet said. “The interview starts the moment we receive your resume, not when you walk into the room with a search committee. Every interaction with us is part of your interview, because it’s not uncommon for a search committee to say, ‘How did they treat your administrator? How were they when you requested information or a completed form?’ They want to understand that not only can you manage up but that you’re going to work well with people at all levels.”

Zoom in: “We had a candidate who left the television on behind them during the interview,” Zaniello said. “That didn’t go well for anybody.”
Lavet said with culture and fit so important for winning the job, candidates need to find ways to build rapport over Zoom.

“When you join the interview, be human, have some light-hearted conversation. It’s OK before you jump right into it. It’s not a deposition, it’s meant (for you) to build a relationship with” the search committee.

Compensation is increasing, organizations are offering greater flexibility, better work-life balance and in some cases, full-time work from home—from wherever you want to live. Just don’t blow the job interview, as recruiters see even the best job candidates do.

Those are among the insights provided by three experienced association executive recruiters at the CEO Update LIVE: Recruiting webinar on Feb. 10.

On the panel were Julian Ha, head of the government, policy and associations practice at Heidrick & Struggles, Lorraine Lavet, leader of the association practice at Korn Ferry and Jim Zaniello, president and founder of Vetted Solutions. CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham moderated.

Zaniello said the so-called “Great Resignation” that is roiling the job market is now having an impact on associations. Boards are working hard to retain executives.

“Boards that are happy with the CEO they have in place are sometimes renewing contracts earlier to lock in the executive and try to incent them not to go anywhere,” he said.

At the same time, corporations are offering high salaries to attract and retain talent. Ha said he sees a lot more private-sector clients reaching into the association world.

“Organizations, not just at the CEO level but in the C-suite, are all competing for talent with Amazon and Google and others,” Ha said. “And I’ve been doing a lot of work in the crypto and blockchain space. They’re all sucking up a lot of talent and paying sometimes very, very high amounts.”

Flexible schedules

Associations often can’t compete on compensation alone. Webinar attendee Anne Forristall Luke, CEO of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, asked about “creative strategies” to attract and retain executives and other staff.

Lavet said associations can offer better work-life balance. She earlier had noted that many organizations are willing to allow 100% remote work.

One way to compete “could be the flexibility that is offered, the hours people can work to accommodate random events and personal family needs, which are elevating dramatically, particularly with the next generation of employees,” Lavet said. “Organizations that are starting to think that way are going to be the winners.”

“It’s incumbent upon leaders of associations to really impart upon their team the impact that they’re having, the positive impact,” Ha said. “It’s just that mission-driven orientation that they need to cascade throughout the organization.”

Given the competition for talent and concerns about pay equity, Lavet said she is not seeing downward pay adjustments for association staff who want to work remotely from a lower-cost area.
Zaniello said he is seeing more sign-on bonuses for new staff, partly to help maintain pay equity within an organization.

Digital transformation, DEI

Lavet said competition is greatest for certain key roles and for those who have demonstrated aptitude in digital transformation.

“I can’t think of an organization that is not working through a reinvention of their business models,” she said. “It’s not just technical people, it’s strategic-minded leaders, COOs and others who know how to lead an organization into the future.

“Human resources people who are absolutely adept at leading DEI-related activity (are in high demand), she said.

“The supply shortage is in the right competencies to take an organization into the future in the post COVID era,” she said.

The recruiters said executive candidates should be able to answer questions about how they’ve helped advance diversity.

“If the candidate him or herself is not ethnically diverse or gender diverse, there’s many things that allies (of diversity) can and should be doing,” Ha said. “I think this is an opportunity for that candidate to talk about what they’ve done to either set into place initiatives within their current role or previous roles that relate to DEI, how they’ve been able to create succession planning for direct reports who are going to be sensitive to DEI. I mean, do they have a person who is responsible for DEI matters within the organization?”

“There’s no question that associations are interested to know what has been candidates’ track records, dedicated commitment (to diversity), how they’ve gone about doing that. It’s not about a program, it’s about a way of life, a very holistic approach,” Lavet said.

Panelists noted that the demand for a diverse slate of candidates is stronger than ever. But many organizations still put together search committees with no minority representation, making candidates question the organization’s commitment to diversity.

Interview do’s and don’ts

But even with all this competition for talent, highly qualified candidates can flub the interview process and cost themselves opportunities. It happens more often than you’d think, and leaves recruiters scratching their heads.

Send thank-you notes for gosh sakes: “I’m still surprised, search committees are still surprised, and CEOs doing hiring are surprised, at how few candidates take the time to send thank-you notes,” Zaniello said. “And sometimes, literally, we’ve had search committees or hiring execs say, ‘Did you get the thank-you note (from our lead candidate)? Because I got them from every other candidate.’”

The “I’s” don’t have it: “When somebody uses the word ‘I’ throughout their interviews, and forget there’s a ‘we’ in all of that, that is usually a derailer for that individual because it’s all about team leadership and bringing people along,” Lavet said. “So anyone who goes into an interview should leave the word ‘I’ at the door for most of it.”

Any questions?: “I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker, but it certainly would help the candidate’s chances if they have well-researched questions right at the end,” Ha said. “I shake my head when I have a great candidate, and when the search committee says, ‘Here’s your chance to ask us some questions and turn the tables.’ And one person literally said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t have any questions.’ I’m like, ‘How can you not have a question?’”

Be respectful of staff: “I can’t tell you how many people behave one way when they’re with the search committee and differently with our (staff),” Lavet said. “The interview starts the moment we receive your resume, not when you walk into the room with a search committee. Every interaction with us is part of your interview, because it’s not uncommon for a search committee to say, ‘How did they treat your administrator? How were they when you requested information or a completed form?’ They want to understand that not only can you manage up but that you’re going to work well with people at all levels.”

Zoom in: “We had a candidate who left the television on behind them during the interview,” Zaniello said. “That didn’t go well for anybody.”
Lavet said with culture and fit so important for winning the job, candidates need to find ways to build rapport over Zoom.

“When you join the interview, be human, have some light-hearted conversation. It’s OK before you jump right into it. It’s not a deposition, it’s meant (for you) to build a relationship with” the search committee.

CEO Update LIVE: Compensation

CEO Update LIVE

Pay is up but people want flexibility

Job candidates for association C-suite seek more options to work away from office

Watch the Webcast recorded on November 17, 2021

By Walt Williams

Compensation levels for top association staff are rising, but so are expectations among job candidates to work remotely, two recruitment and compensation experts said during a CEO Update webinar on executive pay. 

Recruiter Leslie Hortum of Spencer Stuart and compensation expert Charlie Quatt of Quatt Associates joined CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham on Nov. 3 for an hour-long discussion on the compensation and recruitment outlook for association C-suite positions. One common theme: The COVID-19 pandemic has left a deep mark on the association landscape, with job candidates demanding more flexibility on remote work and less emphasis on incentive pay.

 “We’re going to start seeing pressure for people to move incentive compensation to base salaries because they won’t trust any longer that the incentive compensation will be rewarded,” Quatt said.

That deemphasis on incentive pay comes after nearly two years of associations missing performance marks because of the economic headaches created by the pandemic. At the same time, the disaster had caused many workers to reevaluate their career priorities, leading to employee churn at organizations at all levels.

“People are leaving (their jobs) because this has been a time of making interesting choices about their lives: Where and how they spend their time, where they want to live, what kind of flexibility they want to have,” Hortum said. “There is an awful lot of churn. We’re turning work down all the time because we cannot keep up with demand for our services.”

Proven results

Executive compensation is rising because demand for talent is high and employees have a lot of leverage at the moment, Quatt said. At the same time, women and people of color are pushing to ensure they are not paid less than the executives who preceded them. The association C-suite has historically been very white and very male.

Organizations “are being asked to invest in two ways,” Quatt said. “They’re being asked to invest in keeping their talent and they’re also being asked to invest in making sure that people are accurately paid. And both of those can cost money.”

Many associations have boosted their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in recent years, especially since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. That focus has carried over to CEO-level job searches, with search committees demanding a demonstrable history of action, according to Hortum.

“What search committees are asking candidates is not just how do you feel about it, but what have you done about it?” she said. “How have you shifted the makeup of your board to be more inclusive? How diverse is your senior leadership team? How about one level below that? They’re getting very granular and specific: not just do you think this is a good idea, but what have you done to impact the results?” 

Work away from work

Compensation is important to job candidates, but so is an organization’s culture and mission, according to Quatt. Still, the most in-demand job perk at the moment is the ability to work remotely.

“We’re finding that the No. 1 issue is flexibility,” Quatt said. “People will accept more readily that they be at work a full week if they’re able to balance it with the personal schedules they have.”

“When people know that there’s a certain amount of flexibility, and this goes into customization of the compensation plan, that can go a long way in letting people fit their personal lives and preferences into the fact that they’re being required to come to work,” he added. 

One example Quatt cited was a client that started paying its employees a monthly stipend to offset the cost of driving to work instead of using public transportation. “In other words, we may start seeing people actually getting money for coming to work on a regular basis and not getting it if they don’t,” he said.

One benefit of flexibility is associations can draw on a much larger pool of job candidates for top positions, according to Hortum. The downside, particularly for CEOs, is how do executives build a workplace culture if they rarely see their employees in person?

 “A lot of people who fail in their jobs don’t fail because they’re not smart, hardworking people. They fail because it’s a bad culture fit,” Hortum said. “And so driving a culture that that is about inclusion and engagement and people feeling that they were aligned in the mission is really important. So how do we do that if people aren’t in the office?”

Still, there is no denying the popularity of the perk in attracting talent, she noted.

“What I have heard anecdotally is that those who are mandating back-to-office full time, people don’t want it, they’re not ready for it,” Hortum said. “Will we all feel differently a year from now? I don’t know, but right now, the mandate idea is not playing very well.”

CEO Update LIVE: Future-Proofing

CEO Update LIVE

Can you ‘future-proof’ your association?

Three CEOs say they are still learning how to adjust to the many ways the pandemic has changed office work and events

Watch the Webcast recorded on June 29, 2021

Three association CEOs joined CEO Update on June 29 for an online discussion about the future of the association business model. Clockwise, from top left: CEO Update Editor-in-Chief Lynn McNutt, News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern, American Counseling Association CEO Richard Yep, and Association for Supply Chain Management CEO Abe Eshkenazi.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of work, and as a result, association leaders are making potentially momentous decisions about the size of their physical offices, the location of their workforces and the nature of their events.

Three association CEOs joined CEO Update on June 29 for an online discussion about “future-proofing” organizations. Each of the panelists said the pandemic had an impact on their operations, ranging from moving into new, smaller offices to accelerated employee turnover. But those changes were not necessarily for the worse.

“When we say waterproofing, we don’t want the water to come in, but future-proofing doesn’t mean we don’t want the future,” said Richard Yep, CEO of the American Counseling Association. “It means we want to be enabled when things are challenging us.”

The pandemic proved to ACA that its employees didn’t necessarily need to be in its Washington, D.C., offices to be effective. The association dipped its toes into teleworking in early March 2020¬—before offices shut down nationwide¬—by having its roughly 60 staff work from home for two days, just to see if it could be done. They could, and ACA’s staff hasn’t been back in the office since.

ACA polled employees and found that roughly 70% want to continue working from home. Armed with that information, the association terminated its existing lease in Alexandria, Va., and is moving into a smaller space that will save it roughly $15,000 a month, Yep said. While there were financial penalties associated with ending a lease early, the CEO said the group “crunched the numbers” and worked with its new landlord to make things work out.

The savings “means we can direct our resources more into things that directly benefit our members,” Yep said.

Employee expectations

The Association for Supply Chain Management, based in Chicago, is still trying to figure out what its new office environment will look like, according to CEO Abe Eshkenazi. Each of the association’s departments has flexibility on who gets to work from home, but the group’s leadership isn’t pushing for a fast return.

“Our focus right now is either the office space is safe for all or is safe for none,” Eshkenazi said. “We are not going to go into a part-time office. We believe we can provide a safe environment, but it will be different than in the past and most likely it will be a shorter duration.”

Associations need to find different ways to attract and retain talent given the new office environment, he said. Some analysts have predicted a “tsunami” of employee turnover as workers seek out new job opportunities after hunkering down during the pandemic. The wave has already crashed over ASCM, which watched its normal annual turnover rate of 10% swell to 30%.

“We’ve been a great place to work for five years,” Eshkenazi said. “Our salaries are competitive, we do a market analysis on every position every three years. Even still, we’re still seeing a significant turnover. … Any organization right now that can find qualified talent is going to hire them, and they’re going to pay salaries that we just can’t compete with right now.”

One thing ASCM is struggling with is how to establish an organizational culture when a large percentage of new employees have not met their co-workers face to face. The group also is trying to figure what a telework policy looks like for different departments given some job functions more easily translate into remote work than others. The one certainty: New hires are expecting a telework policy.

“A lot of employees won’t consider a job unless it is remote right now,” Eshkenazi said. “We’re now seeing a very different requirement from the employee base in terms of what an attractive offer is to them.”

Virtual vs in-person events

Association events are also shifting. Arlington, Va.-based News Media Alliance got out of the business of in-person conferences a while back, but CEO David Chavern said he is considering resurrecting them in digital form now that the past year has shown this is a viable option.

“One of the things we found with the online world is content delivery is often better,” Chavern said.

Still, the CEO noted the downside of the all-digital experience was the lack of opportunities for networking, which is a “high-value component” of meetings. The question his association and others face is how do you deliver both components in a satisfactory way.

“When you’re doing a conference, first of all, the expectation is everything is going to be online,” he said. “Secondly, you’re going to have a bunch of people sitting in their hotel rooms watching the conference on their laptops then going down to the cocktail party afterward. These are really two different values and you got to think, ‘How am I going to deliver on the best experience for the audience?'”

A hybrid event model is touted as a possible solution, but it is not one ACA plans to pursue, according to Yep. His association has been able to reach larger audiences with virtual events, so it is instead looking at holding separate in-person and virtual events.

“There will be a virtual one where they can do continuing education (and) renew their license to practice, and another one where they can come together for hugs and networking and all the other stuff,” he said.

“That’s the direction I think we’ll go. It will be different for every association, of course.”

CEO Update LIVE: Advocacy

CEO Update LIVE

Data, stories vital for advocacy in hyperpartisan era

Clark, Timmons and Neely share strategies for targeting supporters, leveraging digital tools and when to take a stand on societal issues.

Watch the Webcast recorded on May 25, 2021

National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons (top right) joined American Council of Life Insurers CEO Susan Neely (bottom left) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark (bottom right) to discuss association advocacy in today’s politically polarized environment. The panel was moderated by CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham (top left).

Intense political polarization isn’t making association advocacy easy, but knowing where to focus your efforts, picking which cultural battles to avoid and having a solid communications strategy can help cut through the partisan clutter, according to the leaders of three of the nation’s largest business groups.

The CEOs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and American Council of Life Insurers joined CEO Update on May 25 for an online panel discussion on advocacy in the current political environment. The CEOs generally agreed that on broad policy issues like infrastructure there was room to find consensus—at least in theory.

“Therein lies the challenge we all have because it is not fashionable to operate in a bipartisan manner,” ACLI CEO Susan Neely said.

Political gridlock resulting from a lack of bipartisanship is only one challenge facing today’s association advocates. The business community is increasingly speaking out—or being pressured to take a stand on—hot-button cultural issues like voting rights and systemic racism. Then there is the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated many business and political trends already underway and helped usher in an age of digital advocacy.

The interplay between state, federal and international policy has intensified as well, Neely said. Chamber CEO Suzanne Clark agreed, adding that as a result, “the breadth of the work has really expanded in quite a remarkable way.” The good news is associations have more data than ever before to work with, and that allows them to “hyperfocus” their efforts.

“This past year we were able to do a lot of targeting around, ‘Where did a pro-business, free-enterprise jobs message really work?’ and, ‘Were there voters that we could really turn on to those messages in a big way?’” Clark said.

Clark pointed to the recent special elections in Georgia. The Chamber reached out to about a million people in Georgia suburbs “that really care about free enterprise and jobs” through phone messages and tele-town halls rather than advertising.  In a crowded media landscape and highly polarized environment, data is your ally.

“I think the opportunities to lean in to use data to find new tools and to really identify the audiences who care most about your message, and will be there for you, are probably higher and more accessible than ever,” she said.

Virtual lobbying

Data can be a two-edged sword. NAM CEO Jay Timmons said the “weaponization” of public discourse and data has been used to turn association allies into adversaries. He believes the best response lies in having a good story to tell about the real-life impacts of policy decisions. He pointed to the tax reforms passed by Congress in 2017 as an example.

“We can use real examples of investment and job creation and wage growth to be able to make our point when we have to be on the field, defensively or offensively,” Timmons said.

The pandemic has helped associations tell those kinds of stories. The panelists noted that the increased use of teleconferencing has made it easier to reach members of Congress and other decision-makers, given it takes less time to hop on Zoom than to meet in-person. Neely said that when ACLI has a “hot-button” issue before lawmakers, it may bring in 10 to 20 CEOs of member companies “on a moment’s notice.”

“They’ll jump on their planes and they’ll come in and they’ll meet, but it was oddly more powerful on Zoom to be really relevant and timely and not juggling lots of different schedules, and to have the senators’ undivided attention,” Neely said. ACLI will likely continue to use Zoom well into the future, although she added some members still prefer in-person visits.

The Chamber used the pandemic to boost its communications efforts, throwing resources into an interview series featuring guests such as Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates. The “Path Forward” series currently has more than 25 million views.

“Those were numbers that were unheard of for us before,” Clark said. “Some of that was because of the pandemic and virtual (engagement), but some of that was creating that actual franchise.”

‘Woke’ advocacy?

Battles over tax policy and regulation are the norm for associations, but increasingly businesses and their advocacy groups are taking stands on cultural issues, sometimes prompting political backlash. The most recent example came when some businesses spoke out against Republican-led voting laws in Georgia and other states that critics labeled race-based voter suppression. As a result, GOP lawmakers threatened to legislatively retaliate against “woke” corporations.

Voting rights is largely an issue business groups have avoided. “The Chamber is not the voting rights expert, and so asking us to go state by state and look at these bills and decide what was good and what was bad … was the wrong answer,” Clark said.

But the Chamber and other associations have weighed in on other cultural touchpoints, throwing support behind diversity initiatives after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and condemning the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Sometimes the CEOs themselves have spoken out ahead of the industries they represent. Timmons said he follows the advice of former Vinyl Institute CEO Dick Doyle, who told him, “You should always be one step ahead of your board but not two.”

“You have to understand what their principles and what their values are, but I also think that every single one of us … is blessed to have the platform we have been given,” Timmons said.

“It becomes difficult to try to figure out what you want to speak out on but frankly it’s a gut check. It’s a gut call,” he added. “It’s a good conversation to have with your board chair and with your executive committee. Find out what they want you to stand for, or in some cases stand against, and when your voice will be welcome in the debate.”

CEO Update LIVE: Expanding Membership

CEO Update LIVE

Groups try new ways to reach members

CompTIA targets career changers, AAAE serves “blue shirts;” Online discussion groups and one-click advocacy campaigns can work

Watch the Webcast recorded on March 9, 2021

A visit to a nearby airport served as a lightbulb moment for the American Association of Airport Executives.

“We got this great insight back from some of the folks at the airport, who said … ‘We didn’t know you did all of this stuff. We thought AAAE … was really for the white shirts in our organization, the professionals, the executives, not necessarily the blue shirts in our organization, the maintenance folks, the technicians,’” AAAE CEO Todd Hauptli said.

As a result, the Alexandria, Va.-based association “started looking more broadly at the kinds of products and services that we could offer, and that helped us grow the membership base,” Hauptli said.

Associations are rethinking the pool of potential members and are revamping old ways of reaching them, especially since the pandemic upended the old ways of doing things one year ago.

Three CEOs shared approaches that have worked for them during the March 9 CEO Update LIVE webcast on expanding membership during the pandemic and into the future.

In addition to Hauptli, panelists included Ann Battrell, CEO of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association). CEO Update Editor-in-Chief Lynn McNutt moderated the webinar.

When dental hygienists were furloughed or laid off early in the pandemic, “they were coming to us for clear and direct information,” Battrell said. “We saw very quickly we had to give them an opportunity to have a voice.”

Chicago-based ADHA conducted advocacy campaigns in which people could “communicate with their governors in one simple click,” Battrell said. At the same time, the association offered some discounts on dues. ADHA brought in 2,200 new members in a three-month period.

“What we found was that that discount had to be tied to an advocacy campaign,” Battrell said. “And it was a … two-for-one kind of thing, so they joined immediately on the spot when they found value.”

Before COVID-19, the individuals who came to CompTIA for education and certification were mostly those who were certain about pursuing a tech career, Thibodeaux said.

But pandemic-related job losses have caused more people from other fields to consider careers in technology, which has created a new category of potential consumers of CompTIA’s offerings.

“We want to make sure we’re reaching them where they are with the messaging that they need. We have to educate them,” Thibodeaux said. “We need to understand them better. And we need to make sure that we’re using the right platforms, tools and technologies and approaches to find these people.”

CompTIA, which is based outside Chicago, did a “total review” of its digital marketing strategy, including paid searches.

“When we (used) the phrase ‘I hate my job,’ we actually found a pretty big influx of people,” Thibodeaux said.

After Zoom fatigue quickly se<>t in a year ago, CompTIA decided to give people places to discuss the “things that were most interesting to them,” Thibodeaux said.

The association launched “technology interest groups,” which are online forums centered on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, drones, blockchain and advancing women in technology.

CompTIA has about 2,000 business members, as well as professional members and more than 200,000 registered users. The group’s existing communities and councils always drew executives and people in sales and marketing. But the interest groups allowed the association “to reach down to a different se<>t of people within the organizations,” including in engineering and product development, Thibodeaux said.

For such online forums to work, they need leaders with industry stature and a large network, he said.

“If you find the right person … then their credibility brings along some of the other people. Their energy brings along the excitement and discussion.”

CompTIA closely moderates each group and requires all participants to sign a code of conduct, which outlines good behavior and includes precautions against saying anything that might violate antitrust laws aimed at keeping the marketplace competitive.

Tips for planning in-person, virtual events

The hygienists’ group is planning an in-person annual conference for June in Phoenix, with a virtual conference 10 days later. Battrell emphasized that traveling to the venue to assess safety protocols was critical to making the decision.

“At the end of the meeting, they said to me, ‘Is there any one thing we could do to help your board feel safe in the city of Phoenix?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you need to do a video. You need to speak to my board. I can talk to them all day long, but they need a video to see what you have done in the city, in the convention center and in the hotels,’” Battrell said.

The video showing health and safety measures “made all the difference for the board to say, ‘We are ready to go,’” she said.

Hauptli is hoping about 1,000 people will attend AAAE’s annual conference and exposition in July in Las Vegas, although he said it may be fall before face-to-face meetings really make a comeback. AAAE is also offering a virtual attendance option for the conference.

Thibodeaux expects events will initially return in hybrid form, with small, regional, in-person components. CompTIA was holding virtual events before the pandemic. His tips for successful virtual meetings include:

—Spread events over several days. “It’s actually easier for them to schedule for that than trying to block out an entire day,” he said.

—Cap sessions at 30 to 45 minutes;

—Limit panelists to two or three panelists per session, and ask them to skip slideshow presentations and get right to the discussion with Q&A.

“I think that’s much more engaging and creates much more of a back and forth between the individuals,” Thibodeaux said;

—Designate an online place where people can pick up reports and other materials that panelists shared.

Battrell said one of the best things from ADHA’s virtual meeting was a corporate-sponsored lounge.

“People would leave a … session and go into the lounge and start engaging in conversations there. So we got immediate feedback on the whole virtual event in the lounge,” she said.

CEO Update LIVE: Executive Recruiting (2021)

CEO Update LIVE

Recruiters on landing a top executive job now

Be prepared to talk about how you responded to the pandemic and racial justice movement; don’t rely on notes in a video call

Watch the Webcast recorded on February 18, 2021

By Kathryn Walson

Boards are more comfortable with virtual interviews than they were six or nine months ago, but CEO candidates still face the challenge of forming a connection with people through a computer screen.

“You have to keep your energy up. You have to really lean in. You have to be crisp. You have to answer the questions. You have to figure out how to build rapport with people in this medium when you can’t sit across the table,” said Lorraine Lavet, association sector leader at executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Lavet participated in the CEO Update LIVE Feb. 18 webcast on executive recruiting. Also on the panel: Jim Zaniello, president and founder of Vetted Solutions, and Julian Ha, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles. CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham moderated.

Graham noted that new vacancy announcements tracked by CEO Update are running about the same so far in 2021 as they were in the years before the pandemic.

Zaniello said boards of directors are seeing the need to operate under a new business model and are looking for innovative and entrepreneurial talent in their C-suite. At the same time, he said talented executives are more comfortable making a move—now that they’ve put a plan in place for their organizations—and more willing to be recruited for a new opportunity.

One particularly desirable skill? “I do think search committees light up when CEOs are talking about how they used last year to transform everything they do with the lens of technology, and technology at a level that’s never been seen before,” Zaniello said.

But the hiring process continues to be affected by the pandemic. Ha said that because he may not have met a candidate face to face before, he is doing even deeper vetting and more referencing than ever.

“We’ve really doubled, tripled down in some cases, in terms of both formal and quiet referencing,” he said.

Previously, recruiters had to get “all the stars to align” for seven or eight members of a search committee to meet in person, Ha said, but now they all just “jump on another Zoom” call. As a result, some searches are closing more quickly, but in other cases associations are interviewing more candidates or requesting more rounds of interviews.

The recruiters cautioned candidates to remember the basics—such as wearing pants even in a virtual interview—and how to project through a screen. Lavet said some people get stuck on reading notes, which they probably wouldn’t do in an in-person meeting.

“They sound very scripted. In debriefs, we hear that from the client that, ‘We want someone at a CEO level who is extemporaneous, who can just answer the question because it’s organic for them,’” Lavet said.

One issue that has come up more frequently during the pandemic has been relocating for a job. While some professional societies are flexible about where a CEO lives, trade groups often require a CEO to be based at the headquarters, Ha said.

Lavet said she has had a couple of situations where candidates were ready to move, but at the last minute spouses changed their minds because of a COVID-19 outbreak or the in-person versus virtual instruction situation at a new school.

“Really give some thought with your families. Is this really a good time for relocation? I would be upfront about that,” she said. “Some organizations are more patient in terms of the timing of the relocation. So you should ask about that. Do I have to relocate right away? Or can I be virtual, at least for a period of time, and relocate in six months?”

DEI LEADERSHIP

Candidates today must be ready to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. Ha said clients have started bringing up DEI before he does.

Ha recommends reflecting on how you led your organization through 2020’s upheaval, including the pandemic and racial justice movement: “What did you do to address these issues and move the needle in the right direction?” he said.

DEI leadership must come from the top, Lavet said. Boards want to know how CEO candidates have incorporated DEI into how they approach the entire enterprise, including strategic planning, board succession, organizational culture and decision making at every level, she said.

Lavet responded to a question from the webcast audience about how a candidate, who is a person of color, can confirm that an organization is being genuine in its commitment to diversity. Lavet said it is very important to ask direct questions in an authentic and engaging way. She said the second round of interviews is probably the time to start having this conversation.

“Be really sure they’re going to support you. Because when you join the organization, you’re going to want to make some changes, and you don’t want to be going uphill,” Lavet said.

‘OPEN THE BOOKS’

It’s more important than ever for organizations to be transparent about their finances with CEO candidates, Zaniello said. He recommends candidates ask for projections going out 12 to 18 months and sometimes two years beyond the current budget.

“If you want to recruit top talent, you’ve got to completely open the books,” Zaniello said. “If an organization is experiencing challenging financial times, so are a lot of other organizations, and I think you can still bring incredible top talent who might be excited about helping to turn that around, just so long as they understand the dynamics that they’re walking into.”

Candidates want to avoid a situation where they are told one thing about the group’s finances and find out something else once they start, Lavet said. Just because it’s a big, well-known organization doesn’t mean it has been run well.

Ha said some associations under financial pressure have gotten creative when making offers: “They say, ‘Look, we’ve opened our books. You know where we are. We can only afford X. But hopefully under your leadership … we’ll all share in the upside.’” 

CEO Update LIVE: Diversity In Association Hiring

CEO Update LIVE

Advice on achieving diversity

Panelists stressed the importance of cultivating pipeline of diverse candidates through ties with identity organizations and fostering welcoming atmosphere.

By William Ehart

The push for diversity in hiring—and inclusion in the workplace—has never been stronger. How can associations live up to the moment?

A panel of experts gathered for a CEO Update LIVE webcast Aug. 19 said there has been a sea change in attitudes among hiring organizations but that a pipeline of diverse talent must be built and a welcoming environment fostered. (Watch a recording of the webcast.)

Michelle Mason, CEO of the Chicago-based Association Forum, said diversity in hiring without an inclusive atmosphere for staff is futile.

“I can’t see one without the other, they’re both critical to be effective,” Mason said. “We know that now everyone wants to hire black and brown candidates. We must first ask how can we help them be successful.”

The other two panelists were recruiters Julian Ha, head of the association practice at Heidrick & Struggles, and Jim Zaniello, president of Vetted Solutions.

Ha said that proper onboarding can help create a sense of belonging. He drew the analogy of a party, where diversity means minority candidates get invited, inclusion means they are asked to join a table or to dance, and belonging means they can dance like no one is watching. 

“If (the organization) is not thoughtful about the inclusion and belonging pieces, then you’ll find that, unfortunately, the party will soon be devoid of black, brown and (Asian-American and Pacific Islander) participants because they’re just not being included in the opportunities or projects for advancement.”

Mentorship is an important way to help diverse staff succeed—but so is sponsorship, Ha said.

“Mentors can be folks in your current organization or they can be external. It’s really anyone you feel you have a good relationship with, whom you can confide in to get advice on career or how to handle a situation. But sponsors are equally important,” he said.

“I think organizations need to be thoughtful around how to create that culture for sponsors. Sponsors are folks who will go to bat for you, to get you that project, to get you staffed on something, to get you visible so that you’re prepared for that next level of advancement. They’re the ones who will be saying good things when you’re not in the room,” Ha said.

Questions for candidates

Minority job applicants should evaluate the environment at potential employers.

“It’s fair for candidates to ask whether the organization has a diversity and inclusion plan, to see that, and to have a conversation around it,” Zaniello said. “And to look at how broad it is. Is it a document that primarily addresses the internal organization versus the profession it serves? But candidates very much should engage prospective employers in conversations around culture and their D&I work.”

Mason said jobseekers can take advantage of resources such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor to gauge the work atmosphere of an employer.

“Network with current employees if you’re able to,” she said. “Understand what the culture is like. Hear firsthand.”

Hiring organizations—including those who hire recruitment firms—should be mindful that candidates will have these questions, Ha said.

“Clients should try to be thoughtful about the interview panel and the makeup of that panel,” he said. Because if (our firm is) presenting diverse candidates, and all they are meeting are nondiverse folks, what’s signal is that sending?”

Prioritizing metrics

Yardsticks are critical for employers to understand the progress they are making, Mason said.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” she said. “Diversity and inclusion are processes just like other HR processes, and there need to be accountable measures associated with them,” Mason said.

And associations seeking a diverse and inclusive workforce should make that a strategic imperative.

“It should be systematic and always linked to the strategic plan, and visible in the plan as a priority,” she said.

Zaniello said accountability should extend throughout the management team.

“If an organization does hire a diversity, equity and inclusion officer or staff person, those metrics shouldn’t just be theirs, they should be for the head of human resources, the CEO, and quite frankly, they should be part of the evaluation measures for anyone who leads a team within the organization,” Zaniello said.

The issue with achieving diversity is not a lack of diverse candidates, Mason said.

“We know that the talent exists; we need to be very intentional in our pursuit of the talent. There is no shortage,” she said.

“We’re focusing on hiring practices, (but) we have to start before we realize we have a position available,” Mason said. “That starts with culture, and that starts with attraction. So for associations it’s very important to build relationships with identity-based organizations and historically Black colleges.

“That can come in the form of participating in career fairs, internship programs, leadership development programs, as well as fellowship programs,” she said. “A great pipeline would be the ASAE (Diversity Executive Leadership Program).”