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6 Association Management Tips from Steve Jobs

Written by Christina Green | on October 5, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Association management tips from Steve Jobs

It's hard to believe it's been half a decade since Steve Jobs' passing. Many of us early adopters still remember his live announcement/unveiling of the iPhone and the immediate, burning desire to own one.

His legacy is still felt around the world every time someone looks at an iPhone.

The kind of leadership that Steve Jobs practiced not only inspires admiration, but motivates action. He understood what it took to run a successful organization and helped create a brand that people are deeply loyal to. Associations can learn a lot from Steve Jobs and his vision to create an enjoyable user experience and brand culture.

In recognition to Steve Jobs' contribution to technology, business, and organizational management, we've gathered some of Jobs' most influential advice and explained how associations can use it.

6 Pieces of Association Management Advice from Steven Jobs

Tip #1) Don't Forget Your Own Expertise Innovation Comes from Within

You should pay attention to your members and your staff. Crowdsource, send out surveys and polls, and talk to your members directly about what type of content and benefits they're interested in. Just don't ask for your members' opinions at the expense of your own expertise. Jobs once said:

"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

This is true in the association space as well. For instance, your members may know that they have a problem advancing their career, but not know how to fix it. You could be the one to show them exactly the type of skills training they need to get ahead. Why? Because you are an expert in your field with valuable contributions.

You have a wealth of industry knowledge and experience that can drive innovation, so if you have ideas for new benefits or content, don't just set them aside. Talk them over with your team. Discuss the possibilities with your volunteers and send out a survey asking members if your idea could be useful to them. Your thoughts could bring about major change or a powerful new benefit that your members love.

Tip #2) Be Different

"I want to put a ding in the universe."

Jobs wasn't shooting for "fine" or "good." He wanted to do something extraordinary.

This is great advice for an association leader as well. You are on a valuable mission in a time that's tough on membership organizations. Don't be satisfied with doing well. Do something different. Make people notice. If it works, you're well beyond fine. Even if it doesn't, you've done it in a way no one else has.

Tip #3) Keep Going

There's a cartoon that shows a character digging in a mine, chipping away at a very long tunnel. From the cross-section view, the "reader" can see he only has a few more inches until he unearths a magnificent gem. But he decides, instead, to turn around. He's dug an exhausting distance and has found nothing. It's just not worth his time. Yet the audience knows how close he is to his dream when he walks away.

Jobs witnessed a lot of the same in Silicon Valley, and the situation is no different in the association space.

"I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."

Sometimes the challenge in innovation isn't in coming up with the innovative thought but sticking with it and building support. Give your programs, benefits, and long-term strategies the time they need to work. Consistently evaluate your progress with surveys and polls, as well as tracking activity in your membership management and online community software. If any of your efforts don't produce the results you want, don't get discouraged. Look at your data, make improvements, and try again.

Tip #4) Say No

"I'm as proud of many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things."

Steve Jobs knew that one of the keys to success is prioritizing. You likely have a laundry list of things you'd like to do, but there aren't enough hours in the day to do them all right. Tackle big projects first, putting the majority of your resources into tasks that will prepare your association and its members for the future. Less impactful tasks should come after the essentials are finished.

There's also the unsettling fact that not every idea thrown around in your association is gold. There are some things you shouldn't do, some benefits your members won't like, and some policies that should never be implemented. Use your resources, including activity data on your members and known industry trends, to weed out poor suggestions and focus the projects that are most likely to succeed.

Tip #5) Love What You Do

Associations have missions and because of this they attract people who love what they do and the cause they work for. But when times get tough, that mission can sometimes be hard to remember. Employee turnover, problems attracting millennials, and upgrading benefits to fit today's technology can put so much pressure on your association that your mission slips onto the back burner.

When this happens, take a moment to refocus. You joined your association for a reason, and you're managing it in the best way possible, all for the sake of your mission. Remember your purpose and find the joy in your work.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

Tip #6) Keep It Simple

Complex soap operas are entertaining, but that's usually where the allure of complexity stops. For everything else, including your benefits, most of your audience will appreciate a clean and simple approach.

Members don't want a complex online community or an e-commerce experience.  They don't want to dig through your website menus to find what they're looking for. They want a seamless, enjoyable member experience.

The problem is that simplicity isn't always easy. There's too much information to squeeze into your educational courses, too many pages in your website, too many members to contact. The only way to achieve it is by making it a priority.

Ask yourself questions, such as whether or not you're including any unnecessary information or steps in your membership and benefits processes. Make a smooth member experience a priority when managing your association.

"That's been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."

Association Management Best Practices Takeaway

It's hard to believe it's been 5 years since the world lost Steve Jobs, a man who left an incredible "dent in the universe," just like he set out to do. What most of us remember is his casual look in jeans, a mock turtleneck or t-shirt, and a wisdom we wish most leaders possessed. But it's important to remember that he had his trials too. He was, at one point, fired from Apple.

Leadership and organizational management isn't a straight incline. It isn't a corporate ladder with one rung in front of another. There are hills and valleys and challenges to meet. As we pay tribute to the legend, let's also remember the man and what he can teach us.

What will your association's "ding in the universe" be?

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Topics: Associations, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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