Exploring the Stigma of Sigma and What it Means to you as an Association Executive

August 21, 2008 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

First there was TQM, then there was Six Sigma, only to be followed by generations of confused people trying to understand what it all means and how it relates to what we do within associations. 

The language of the business world has done much over the years to often de-simplify those things which should be the common sense focus of our organizations on both an internal and external level.  Authors, speakers, philosophers, gurus, academics, consultants… they all have a vested interest in creating and cultivating the next pseudo-mystical business strategy spin-find which converts basic human principles into a high brow, seemingly out-of-reach, technical science. 

When one boils down the basic principles that are addressed by most new age business theories, one might wonder if there is actually anything new or if that latest buzzworthy business trend is yet another overly complex re-mixed cover of the same old tune.

Take behavioral economics for example.  Scholars, economists and nobel prize winners devoted years to drawing the conclusion that people, regardless of intellectual capacity, more often than not make decisions based upon impulsive emotion rather than available facts.

Think about it… smoking, drinking, gambling, speeding, political scandal, illicit affairs, American Idol, Louis Vitton handbags, the institution of celebrity, white collar crime, vacation homes, time-shares, imported luxury cars, the sub-prime mortgage market, the sub-prime mortgage market collapse… people are not drawn or deterred by the practical implications of their behavior because, more often than not, they are too busy smoldering in that heated moment, however fleeting, or temporary the emotional fulfillment.  We either know or should know the practical consequences, yet that sticky human imperfection of emotion drives us there anyway.

Emotion drives value and price.  

I don’t blame anyone in particular because all that I’ve mentioned above has been made necessary by the human need for emotional ownership and mastery over one’s destiny.

In my mind, the reality is effective business strategy is about one thing, and one thing only… PEOPLE.  Not only the people who consume, but also the people who govern… the people who lead… and the people who create. 

In an overly simplistic way, business and organizational success just may be a result of people doing a great job working together toward a well-defined mutual purpose.  

Likewise, business and organizational breakdown may equally be the result of a breakdown or series of breakdowns between people, even in light of economic job security and the need to produce results, brought about by the complex and unpredictable nature of human beings.  This might explain why corporate mergers or acquisitions seldom live up to their hype.     

Consider this, what if the universal mission of all associations and business organizations, social responsibility aside, was PEOPLE.

It doesn’t matter if it was my idea, their idea or your idea… we would make our decisions based upon that which will help our member/customer.  Incentives would be built around helping our members/customers.  Complex business processes would be built around that which creates the most useful experience for our members.  Budgets would be developed to maximize our relationship with our people.    

In subscribing to the theory of behavioral economics, I would argue that people are the product because products, alone, don’t generate revenue… it’s the people who join, purchase or subscribe to them that does, regardless of whether you are dealing in tangibles or intangibles.  Rather than conform a product to target segments of people… why not start with the people and build the products or services around them.

Programs, services, benefits, products, experiences… all would be created only because our members/customers asked directly for it or we were able to infer such from a close examination of our members/customers in their natural setting. 

It seems so simple, but why doesn’t it work more often in practice?  The answer is the same as the solution… PEOPLE.

The Ultimate Association Strategy?  Keep your membership as the driving force for everything you do… serve the masses and provide opportunities for the nurturing of narrower previously disenfranchised niche interests, always keeping in mind that if members and customers disappear… so do we… and it won’t matter how snazzy that big fancy scientific business strategy was.  Create opportunities, at all levels, for members to invest themselves in your association not just on a financial level, but most importantly on a personal and emotional level. 

The Ultimate Association Executive Strategy?  If you want to succeed as a leader or executive in the association realm or any other field… master the art of people on all sides of the equation…and the rest will feel more like a downhill battle.  Understand the truth that people lead and act from where they stand, basing their behavior on the collection of skills, good/bad experiences, insecurities, fears, successes/failures, responsibilities and relationships they have accumulated to present day.


Entry filed under: Human Imperfection, Managing Change, Organizational Management. Tags: , , , , .

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