Adopt the CEO Lens

24 Sep 2021 5:18 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

Thinking like a chief executive and other C-suite staff isn’t only for CEO and CAE aspirants. Applying an expansive view to the work you do now is a great way to add value and realize professional fulfillment.

 The helicopter view, cultural cultivation, and digital-inclusive decision making are three key threads among the many woven through the newest edition of ASAE Professional Practices in Association Management, a handbook for the field and critical CAE candidate reading. The book’s narrative assumes an executive lens, which isn’t a bad way to think about the work you do now and could be critically important to the roles you want in the future.

As in other fields, the association management body of knowledge is codified through a regularly recurring job task analysis, which underpins the CAE content outline, updated literature, learning programs, and other resources. Professional Practices in Association Management is a key installment in the field’s literature. ASAE published the fourth edition in February 2021.

Edited by Susan S. Radwan, CAE, Professional Practices covers topics ranging from boards and governance to digital communication strategy to membership and engagement. All the while, the 65 contributing authors reinforce executive responsibilities as mission stewards, risk managers, idea brokers, and myriad other roles. Here are three executive-mindset messages from the book, among many.

Take the Helicopter View

A systems-thinking perspective is necessary both for successfully navigating the CAE exam and for executive management. As Radwan writes early in the book, “systems thinking can be likened to holding a ‘helicopter view’ of a situation or decision”—that is, high enough to comprehend what is at ground level, understand interrelationships, and see the destination, but not so high as to lose touch with reality. Chief staff executives ask questions such as these:

  • How does this moment affect our strategic positioning, our branding, our alignment with mission, and our alignment with the strategic plan?
  • How does our response to this moment align with the desired culture of the organization?
  • What unintended consequences will occur in reaction to this decision?

Likewise, taking a helicopter view encompasses foresight, or the discipline of learning about and preparing for alternative futures and their implications. Writes Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, “By building future literacy through the duty of foresight (and the intentional learning it requires), [chief staff executives] can minimize the fear of the future that might otherwise leave their boards in paralysis.”

The 'helicopter view' is high enough to comprehend what is at ground level, understand interrelationships, and see the destination, but not so high as to lose touch with reality.

Cultivate Healthy Culture

Winning culture starts at the top, because good governance is crucial to organizational health and performance, as documented in ASAE Research Foundation studies. As Beth Gazley, Ph.D., a principal researcher on those studies, writes, “Good board structure supports good board culture, but only with a healthy culture does the right structure emerge.”

Similarly, a clearly envisioned and embraced culture is vital at every level. Authors encourage zeroing in on the cultural elements that drive desired performance. As Trevor Mitchell, MBA, CDP, CAE, writes, “Culture and performance need one another to be successful. You could have the best vision and strategy for the organization, along with clearly articulated milestones and measurements. Yet if you don’t have the culture to support this direction and demand the desired performance, you will most likely stall out. At best, you will have incremental success.”

As other authors emphasize, organizational culture must be strategically aligned and pivot-ready, and the talent you hire also must be culturally aligned. Further, in 2021, organizations cannot be their best if they do not embrace and engage diverse perspectives and inclusivity—not merely as tasks but as part of their very fabric.

Make Digital-Inclusive Decisions

“Digital first” is hardly a foreign concept today, but it bears emphasis, because technology, digital approaches, and business strategy and decisions are inseparable. Writes Prabhash Shrestha, MS, PMP, CAE, “The association’s long-term sustainable value to customers, members, and nonmembers alike will be created only by unifying business, operation, and technology strategies to cocreate exponential value. As such, technology must be part of every association’s business strategy.”

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