Struggling with Competing Priorities as an Association Professional?
Align your organization's priorities with the career stages of your membership
by Mary Ellen Brennan, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
As an association professional, do you ever feel like you are facing a laundry list of competing priorities? Are you searching for a new approach to reach your current and future members?
Many associations face the same challenges. Legacy programs require resources but may be providing less value over time. Current leadership is generating new ideas that further stretch finite staff resources. This leads to the challenge of deciding what to focus on, and perhaps what to purposefully abandon, to serve members’ needs.
Taking a look at your products and services through the lens of how they support members at various stages of their career provides a basis for associations to align their activities more closely with members’ needs. Has your association clearly defined the needs of your members at various stages of their careers? Do you know what the association can do to help them to advance within their profession?
Using a simple model of career growth across all professions, associations can define what is needed at each level of the career.
- Careers usually start with a student or intern phase. It is at this stage where an association should reach out and connect with a potential life-long member, perhaps providing resources to help them become employed and more importantly, to assist with the successful transition into the workplace.
- The second career stage occurs during the first years of employment, characterized by working under the close guidance of a more senior professional and executing routine tasks. Associations can support this stage by offering learning and skill-building in areas not covered by the academic curriculum.
- Somewhere between the second and third stage, the early-career professional may seek certification. Most associations are prepared to support that goal through their education programs.
- In the third career stage, professionals begin to work more independently and supervise others. During this stage, associations might offer management and leadership training and opportunities.
- In the fourth stage, professionals apply their experience and knowledge managing across the organization. These professionals could utilize education related to strategic planning and thinking, as well as emerging issues in the profession.
- Finally, many associations are developing programs and volunteer opportunities for professionals in a 5th stage of pre- or early-retirement. Associations can harness the desire of this group to give back to their profession and pass the leadership torch to others.
These are just a few suggestions for how to align education with needs at various career stages. Other possibilities will emerge from the specific needs of each profession.
Some of the benefits or opportunities that result from a clear understanding of members’ needs at each stage include:
- Member Engagement and Retention: Associations can position the career stage information as an additional service to members, increasing the value of membership.
- Outreach: Once an association knows more about its members at all levels of their career, the story about what their members do and how to join them becomes easy to tell.
- Volunteer Re-engagement: Associations realize that there is great value in the leadership opportunities presented by volunteer service and can re-engage their members with the win/win proposition of volunteer service.
A career stage program is a great way to re-energize your education offerings through alignment with member needs at various career levels. The information gleaned provides a valuable service to members seeking to move up the career ladder. It also results in increased engagement of members and volunteers, as well as potential entrants to the profession. Overall, a career stage program provides new focus for associations struggling with multiple, competing priorities.
About the author:
Mary Ellen Brennan, SPHR, SHRM-SCP works with associations developing career stage programs, as well as career and job search programs for members. She consults on HR operations and strategy with particular expertise in the areas of talent management and acquisition, organizational culture, performance management and work/life programs. www.mebrennan.com