The Fragile Economics of Vital Association Resources

October 22, 2008 at 5:58 am 2 comments

The principles of economics can be applied to so many facets of life.  I must confess that I’m a graduate of the hard-knocks school of economics as the mere word conjures painful memories of my college days at the University of Kentucky where I began and ended my formal institutional economics studies.  Economics is a language in and of itself; however, when you add a professor full of admirable enthusiasm and intellect yet challenged by his own mastery of the English language, economics can be a bewildering road for a young college student.

Despite that rough start, I have grown to love my education in economics from an experiential standpoint over the past fifteen years since that first formal encounter.  Aside from my wife’s Uncle being an economist and professor, I’ve discovered that economics is as much behavioral as it is financial… perhaps more so as the world economic crisis is proving these days.  Behavioral economics is a field that I believe we all, as association executives, should explore in the context of our associations.  All of which brings me to the point of this posting.

There may still be an antiquated misconception out there in some circles of management thought that if an association pays its hierarchy of staff, however towering or flat, a package of salary and fringe benefits that they somehow undergo a transmorgifying elevation to superhuman status in which their productivity and mastery of workload and work culture remains constant and of high quality regardless of how we expand, stretch, twist, push, pull, pinch, stretch, sigmafy or pivot our delegatory expectations of them. 

The simple fact is human beings succumb to both the supply/demand principles of economics as well as the emotional volatility of behavioral economics in navigating work roles and responsibilities.  The greater the demands we place upon our staff, the more limited the supply of quality and positive emotion, both of which impact workload and culture.  Conversely, the more we focus and manage the demands placed upon our human capital, the better the odds that we will create an even balance of positivity and productivity. 

Put another way, you simply cannot overload and drown your people in their workload and expect a consistently high quality result no matter how much they are paid.  People are human and they have their limits.  The key is to either find the right balance of workload and mix of talent or to open the floodgates, dial back those expectations and prepare for crisis communication. 

Finally, just as the threat of the dreaded influenza begins to creep back into our association workplace as the frozen days of winter approach, so too does the contagious risk of poor morale, output and negative work culture via the equally infectous epidemic of stress in the workplace.

So, as we move forward into the lean days of economic downturn and recessionary thought, let’s try not to think in terms of doubling up responsbilities as budget line items tighten and expenses hit the chopping block.  Rather, forge a downturn strategy, adjust and prioritize the level of workload, expend some of that hard-earned capital with your board and keep your precious human resources functioning in a high quality, productive and emotionally healthy manner.  Continue advancing that mission at a marathon pace. 

If none of the above made any sense whatosever, here’s a final thought/scenario which may be more relatable.  Imagine you had to travel to a weeklong board meeting in Borneo and due to airline restrictions could only bring one carry-on suitcase.  No matter how you slice it or dice it, you are still contrained to that one tiny wardrobe-on-wheels wonder.  Can you create some additional capacity by being creative and ingenious?  of course…. can you pack the exact same amount of clothes and chattels that you would have given your much larger wardrobe-on-wheels wonder?  well, you might try but you are sure to reach capacity and in the process you may pack the suitcase so tight that it either won’t close or that worn-out zipper will finally crumble under the pressure and permanently head off it’s zippery track rendering your loyal travel companion useless and destined for the place de-zippered suitcases go when the tragically zig when they were supposed to zag (of course, it doesn’t typically happen when you are had home packing to leave… somehow the suitcase gods reserve this special catastrophic event for when you are frantically re-packing that suitcase in your hotel room to either get to the meeting or airport on time). 

Whether you stretch or shrink staff, even the most ingenious team will not be able to maintain the previously expected capacity.  Be mindful of the fragile economics of association staff and management and keep moving forward in a positive direction.  SM               



Entry filed under: Human Imperfection, Organizational Management, people.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Random T.  |  April 22, 2009 at 12:00 am

    After reading through this article, I feel that I really need more info. Can you suggest some more resources please?

    • 2. Stuart Meyer  |  April 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm

      I would suggest reading more about behavioral economics which sheds light on the role of emotion in human motivation and decision-making. The ideas I advance in this posting is a convergence of experience and thought sprinkled with human economic principles.


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