Missed Connections

Best Practices : Article

Missed connectionsI’m still pretty young (by my own standards). But I can remember the days of pink “while you were out” slips, calling in for messages from pay phones and (gasp) not having email at work.

And every innovation carries with it the same promise—it will keep us more connected. In many ways, this is true. When I sit in a far away hotel room talking to my kids over Facetime (when they actually answer), it’s a remarkable display of the promise of the connected society.

But just like the characters in the recent movie Her (great premise, but too long), the technology that brings us together can also be isolating. I’m struck by how infrequently the phone rings in my office these days—but I’ll look down at it and find 20-30 text messages. Of course, that implies that I’ve put it down at all. Too often my phone is my companion in meetings, conferences or at the dinner table.

So what does any of this have to do with associations? A lot. At their essence, associations are about connectedness. Whether its connecting people or companies, associations are about creating the fabric that weaves people together. And the same technology that enables our doing so in ways we never imagined can also make us more isolated.

Here are three ideas to prevent this.

First, never forget to talk with—or better yet, meet with—your members. Nearly twenty years ago, at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, I oversaw the “CEO Visit” program. Put simply, we made sure our VPs visited every CEO in our membership once per year, in that CEOs office. It was a simple way to stay connected. Whether it’s just picking up the phone to talk to someone or making an effort to see them at a conference, it’s well worth it.

Second, adopt “in flight” rules. When I facilitate a Board meeting, I adopt what I call the “in flight” policy—that is, all Board members must put away and stow all portable electronic devices prior to meeting takeoff. It’s a sign of respect for those in the room to truly be in the room. We take breaks, and all rush to our electronics, but while we’re talking, we’re really talking. It’s remarkable how much you can get done with this simple rule.

Finally, go old school. I get several hundred emails a day. And more and more, I get tons of texts from our clients. But I can count the number of letters I get per month on one hand. I still get them—and read them—but no one sends them. Sometimes going old school is the way to reach someone. I still appreciate a handwritten thank you. I still write tons of birthday cards. Don’t forget that connecting with your members may be the cost of a stamp away.

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