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What is the Association Cortex?

Technically, the Association Cortex is the part of the brain associated with advanced information processing. Like the Association Cortex does for our brains and bodies, I hope this blog is place for thought sharing that will advance and enhance our associations so they operate at the highest level possible.

Step Away From The Computer!

July 28, 2011

Socrates penned the quote “There is no mistress more tempting than Microsoft Outlook,” or maybe it was Bill Gates, I can’t really recall.

At any rate, how many times have you scurried into the office with the intent of identifying the day’s top priorities and mapping out your day, only to get derailed by responding to that “one quick e-mail”? We all know what happens next. One e-mail turns to two, which turns to three and suddenly you’ve burned an hour and have to run to that first meeting of the day, which you’ve now left yourself totally unprepared for, all because of “one” e-mail.

Problem solved: Step Away From the Computer! In a previous post http://bit.ly/ob7waS I talked about the importance of identifying those priorities you need to accomplish versus those you want to accomplish. I recently got unexpected help from a new laptop in prioritizing my day and avoiding the early morning e-mail trap. I promised myself I was not going drop the laptop into its docking station until the day’s top five priorities were identified and plugged into the calendar. It is amazing how much more gets done each day.

Try it – Step Away from the Computer!

For more on tips on getting things done – check out David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”.

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Life Lessons from the Gym: What fitness can teach us about being more productive. (Part II)

February 14, 2011

(Part 2 of 2)

This is the second part of a post on the similarities between the mental framework that can help us be successful at the gym and in the office.

5. Get the painful stuff out of the way.
Many of us found out the hard way that the exercises we find really tough or boring (anyone up for some ab work?) are the ones we tend to give up on or skip altogether. Don’t fall into the same trap at work. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day evaluating what you need to get done versus what you want to get done. Make the former your first priority for the day. Practice this for a few weeks and you will be amazed at how much more effective you will be.

6. Lay Back and Paddle Easy.
Thought I’d skip the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” cliché and take the rowing route. We’ve all seen the guy at the race who makes his way to the front of pack in a full-on sprint and lasts no more than a few minutes until he is overtaken by the rest of the pack and ends up an average middle-of-the pack runner. You don’t want to be that guy. Those who have spent time kayaking know that laying back with a solid steady paddle stroke is a sure-fire way to cover a lot of distance. We should take the same approach to a large portion of our work life. Keep yourself fresh for the long paddle.

7. Forge Ahead, Even When You’re Just not “Feeling It”.
We’ve all had them. You get to the gym early in the morning or late in the day and, for whatever reason, you just don’t have “it” – the energy, the motivation, whatever “it” happens to be. The same holds true in our professional lives. When at the gym you can always do something different if you don’t feel like hitting the weights or cardio hard (stretching, swimming, something different from your normal routine). When you hit those roadblocks at work, take a break — do something mindless for a few minutes, get out of the office, whatever it takes to get you refreshed. If, after that, you still don’t have “it”, avoid big projects that seem insurmountable. Instead, to get back on track and stay effective and productive, focus on important but non-urgent tasks. You are paid to be effective. “Not feeling it” is not an excuse to ignore that which needs to be done.

8. Plan.
Just like you might dedicate time to honing your workout routine to help achieve your goals, you must also set aside time and focus on how you can get better at work. Be sure to plan significant blocks of time to allow you to commit to the most important tasks at hand. Usually 60-90 minute sessions are ideal — allowing for uninterrupted focus on the things you need to get done as identified above in #5.

9. Plan some more.
When scuba diving it’s the first thing you learn – plan your dive and dive your plan. When working out (for those of us with work, kids, travel,…) planning ahead and figuring out when you can get to the gym, squeeze in a run, etc., is critical to keeping healthy (and sane). If you set aside blocks of time to focus on important tasks or projects (#8), make sure you have ample time on your calendar to deal with the interruptions, unplanned meetings, and the like. If your calendar is jammed with back to back meeting and projects, without some buffer, your head is bound to spinning be the time COB rolls around. Plan most aspects of your day, in advance, keeping in mind what you need to accomplish that week. Plan, plan, plan.

The parallels between meeting our personal fitness goals professional objectives are many. I hope these “life lessons” help you focus on those things you can do to become more productive and healthy. See you in the gym!

Life Lessons from the Gym: What fitness can teach us about being more productive.

January 20, 2011

(part 1 of 2)

Like many of you, I like being outside and doing what I can stay fit; biking, kayaking, lifting weights, or running — O.K., I’m lying about enjoying running. In addition to the physical benefits, I find these activities help clear my mind and improve my ability to focus. The other day while on a run (not really), I began to think about all the parallels that my fitness activities taught me about professional life and vice versa. The same mental framework we use to power through runs and bike rides can help us at work — here are some that come to mind.

1. Don’t worry about where you are; focus on where you’re going.
One of the first things taught to inexperienced mountain bikers is to focus on what’s coming up ahead several yards ahead of the bike’s front tire. Too many novices look down at the terrain they are currently covering, leaving them unprepared for the obstacles ahead. When looking further ahead, the bike and rider become a cohesive unit, intuitively bounding over obstacles and keeping the bike on track. The same holds true in the business world. Be cognizant of the current state of your organization or division, but concentrate on what lies ahead — where you ultimately want to be.

2. Don’t take shortcuts.
How many times have you been out on a run or ride and cut a corner or turned back a few blocks (or miles) earlier than planned, only to realize once finished that you could have powered through that extra distance without much problem? Adopting that “good enough for government work” mentality can prove costly and create regret that somehow you didn’t put your best effort forward. Fight the temptation of choosing a short-term benefit that may be detrimental long-term.

3. Go the other direction.
No matter how many times you run or bike a certain route or trail, it looks completely different when you travel the same circuit in the opposite direction — the view and terrain seem poles apart and you gain a new perspective on territory you have covered many times before. The same technique can be applied in our professional lives. Whether trying to gain the perspective of others we are in conflict with at the office, or understanding the objectives of those we are negotiating contracts with, looking at things from the other side of the desk will help improve your take on the situation.

4. Change gears.
Efficient bikers understand the benefit of shifting into a lower gear and digging deep to make it up a hill. At work there are times when you have to keep your head down, dig deep and plod through. Whether it’s taking the first few steps in moving forward on the project you been dreading or finding the final inspiration to finish a project that took too long, CHANGE GEARS.

(More fitness/productivity parallels in the next installment)

Deadbeat!

January 14, 2011

O.K. So this blog thing hasn’t worked out as well as I hoped. I admit it — I am a deadbeat blogger. A New Year’s resolution of mine is to get things back on track. I promise I’ve got some good new stuff coming!

9 Tips to Ensure Affinity Program Success

October 11, 2010

In the current economy, the non-profit sector is having to fight harder than ever for membership dues, sponsorship funds and traditional sources of income. I talk to many of my association colleagues who want to start generating more non-dues revenue for their organization and often times they are not sure exactly where to start. This post addresses some of the things that should be considered when developing affinity programs. It should provide you food for thought as you look for opportunities to better serve your members and provide additional financial resources for your organization.

9 Issues to Address in Developing New Affinity Programs

1- Concept. Do you have a solid product or service you are looking to offer to your members?

2- Market Analysis. Is there a demand among your members for the product/service? Have you done the research necessary to assure a successful launch?

3- Competition. What is the competitive landscape? Are there others who offer something similar? How can you differentiate your product? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?

4- Capital Investment. What type of capital/seed money is needed to develop and launch a program? Do you need outside help to develop the program or evaluate proposals? Is there IT infrastructure that needs to be built out to accommodate the venture? What type of resources do you need effectively market the program?

5- Procurement Process. Is this type of effort that warrants a formal process with multiple proposals/bids or will you sole source it?

6- Profitability. Are the margins wide enough to allow for highly competitive pricing and still provide a revenue stream for your organization?

7- Contracts. How many and what types of agreements need to be developed? You will need contracts with your vendor, other organizations (if you are collaborating on the venture), consultants, etc.

8- Risk. Are there any inherent risks or liabilities created for your organization by undertaking the program?

9- Conflicts. Are there any legal impediments or conflicts with other endorsed vendors, major donors or business partners of your organization?

Mentoring Matters – Part 2

September 16, 2010

(Part 2 of 2)

The previous entry identified some of the key issues to address in developing the framework for a mentoring program. The next steps are to recruit mentors and train them so both the mentor and mentee get the most out of the relationship.

You know the best methods for communicating with your members, but what are some of the points to emphasize in your recruitment efforts? Your members should consider volunteering as a mentor for the following reasons:

1) The chance to help others in their profession or industry.
2) The opportunity to share knowledge and give back to their industry or trade.
3) The chance to help support the organization and show the commitment it has to its members.
4) The opportunity to network and establish broader relationships.
5) The further development of their leadership skills.
6) The ability to share their vision for the future with others.

As you begin to identify those that will serve as mentors, a critical component to ensuring the success of your program is the training of new recruits. Below are some tips to include in your mentor training session. While most of the suggestions are applicable to mentors, some will apply to mentees as well.

1) Listen. Both the mentor and mentee must understand the perspective and circumstances of their partner which may be comparable or completely dissimilar. Each should be cognizant of when to speak and keep quiet.

2) Expectations. Set them. At the outset of the initial conversation, each party should define what they hope to get out of the relationship — they should be honest and put all issues on the table, from the get-go. Setting the most basic of expectations will help establish a rapport and trust that is the foundation for a successful mentor/mentee relationship.

3) Share. Mentors should share more than their ideas, which are always valuable, but other resources too, such as; books, blogs, manuals, a listing of websites the mentor may frequent, etc. Mentors should also consider other ways to help their mentee such as making introductions to other colleagues or anything that may help the relationship to flourish.

4) Plan. It is likely that both parties are busy people. Setting regular meeting times or frequency intervals during which they will talk or meet will help significantly. Many people are subject to inertia and once a meeting or two gets cancelled or goes unscheduled a mentoring relationship can wither on the vine. Phone conversations can be just as productive as face-to-face meetings, but where practical meetings should be in person.

5) Enthusiasm. It is especially critical that mentors project a positive and enthusiastic image. Mentees are likely to be “green” and inexperienced and part of the mentor’s role is to keep the mentee engaged and eager.

6) Prime the Pump. It is often beneficial to provide mentors with a with a list of conversation starters to get their meetings/calls on track. A list of topics such as work-life balance; managing office politics; working with colleagues and professional staff; leadership training; etc., will help “break the ice.”

All of these suggestions should help you jump-start your mentoring program. For more information try the following:

United States Office of Personnel Management; Best Practices: Mentoring; http://www.opm.gov/hrd/lead/BestPractices-Mentoring.pdf

The International Mentoring Association: http://www.mentoring-association.org/

Best Practices for Mentoring Programs: http://www.emt.org/userfiles/BestPractices.pdf

Mentoring Matters

September 1, 2010

(Part 1 of 2)

Whether you’re a private sector human resources professional attempting to develop young talent or a non-profit executive looking to increase member engagement, the bottom line is that mentoring matters. Research shows that those being taught by the standard teaching methods of theory, demonstration, practice & feedback will actively put what they learn into practice 25% of the time; however, when coaching and mentoring are added to that mix the implementation increases to 90% (Joyce and Showers 1987). Mentoring is the key to incorporating “lessons learned” into daily practice.

Where to start? Program Planning.

As you begin to develop the frame-work for your organization’s mentor program there are several key factors you should keep in mind.

1 – Commitment. Do you have buy-in and a commitment from highest levels of your organization? The President, CEO, board members, etc., need to share the vision and participate where practical. Similar responsibility falls with both the mentor and mentee who need to pledge to be available for each other and respect the time and effort that each has invested in the program.

2 – Program goals and objectives. What specific goals do you have for: a) your organization; b) the mentors; and, c) the mentees? All three aspects need to be addressed.

3 – Measure success. How will you measure you success? The number of participants? The number of those that complete the program? The number of interactions between mentors and mentees? These and other factors should be evaluated.

4 – Training. Once objectives and measures are clearly defined you can begin to establish your training framework. Your program will not be successful if you opt to skip this step. The training need not be elaborate, but at a minimum you will need to cover some of the basics (see part 2).

5 – Timeline/duration. Nothing will scare off potential mentors more than an open-ended time commitment. We’re all time starved, so for the sake of your mentors, look at your goals for the program and set a realistic timetable for the mentoring relationship. While many mentoring relationships informally last a lifetime, a period of one to two years is realistic for most formal programs.

6 – Recruitment Strategy (mentors and mentees). An organization’s leadership is the natural bench for your mentor program. Board members, committee chairs (and members), and the like not only have expertise but are proven to be dedicated to the organization. Mentee recruitment is a little more tricky. Examine your member recruitment and retention plans and identify the best time to solicit those that may be in need of a mentor.

7 – Mentor-Mentee matching. This can be one of the toughest parts of program. Some of the key factors are geography (proximity); demographics (race, gender, ethnicity); areas of expertise/practice type; etc. Be willing to accept that some of your matches may not work and have a list of backups should you need to reassign a mentee.

8 – Recognition. Your mentors have willingly made one more commitment to their already busy calendars. Establish methods to recognize your volunteer mentors. Similarly, consider a certificate or some type of recognition for mentees, as they are your organization’s future leaders.

9 – Schedule “Meet Up” events for mentors and mentees. Since many associations have members that are scattered around a state, region or nation, much of the mentoring relationship will occur over the phone. Consider providing networking opportunities at your events. A small investment in a “coffee corner” or some other function will pay big dividends in the long run.

(The next installment will address some of the factors to be considered when training mentors as well as some links to mentoring resources.)