Leadership

Tech and the End of Command and Control

By / Dec 10, 2012 (AbleStock.com/Thinkstock)

Last week’s ASAE Technology Conference showed that executives need to rethink what, exactly, they’re in charge of.

What we’re switching to is more like a hospital mindset. We’ve got to have somebody available to help all the time.

Last week’s ASAE Technology Conference & Expo generated plenty of conversation on a variety of topics. But for me the discussions seemed to coalesce around one theme: Control.

Or, rather, your lack of it.

From the cloud to BYOD to big data, many of the key concerns for association leaders involve the evolution of tech beyond the walls of your offices: You’re no longer fully in charge of your servers, your hardware, and the information you need to best understand your membership. Understandably, this change is going to generate some friction, and I witnessed that most clearly during last Thursday’s Town Hall Meeting. The event’s moderator, ASAE CIO Reggie Henry, CAE, invited attendees to participate in a real-time poll on a variety of issues. Among the questions was “Do you use a personal cloud?”—that is, do you use tools like Dropbox to help manage day-to-day work-related tasks? The response was decisive: Three-fourths of attendees said they did.  Even assuming a skewed sample—this was the association community’s tech-savvy crowd, after all—there’s little doubt that the personal cloud era is rapidly approaching.

One attendee questioned the need for this shift, asking why employees couldn’t consult with their IT departments to set up file transfers via in-house FTP.

And lo did the sound of groans and laughter reverberate within the walls of the Washington Convention Center’s capacious Hall E.

If you want to get something done, one attendee responded, you’re going to use the easiest and most effective tool you have available. (And lo did the sound of applause and cheers, etc.) A similar note was struck during a Learning Lab that day, “How Technology Is Changing Work, and Vice Versa.” Discussing the rise of BYOD policies, 24/7 member demands, and virtual communication tools, the two discussion leaders—National Quality Forum’s Daniel Scheeler and Spark Consulting’s Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE—explained that the association workspace is a much different creature than it used to be, thanks to technology.

“What we’re switching to is more like a hospital mindset,” Engel said. “We’ve got to have somebody available to help all the time.” Members have grown comfortable having their needs satisfied in real-time by online retailers, and the association world is under pressure to provide the same experience or risk dissatisfaction.

This marks a profound change for association leadership: The way you handle HR issues, budgets, and scheduling need to shift to respond to the new ways members and staff and behaving. How much have you had to change the way you manage in response to these shifts? And how do you deliver that message to staff and members who may be uncomfortable with change?

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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