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by Debra Persinger, PhD, CAE, KCSAE Treasurer

I decided to tackle the association management trifecta topics of technology, change management, and ethics. I realized that I wouldn’t have to invest any effort; I could just use artificial intelligence to whip up an article, call it my own, and ship it for publication. I could manage change on the fast track by embracing cutting edge changes in technology but I’d be lacking in the ethics department. There’s a song about two out of three not being bad but without professional integrity resulting from ethical decision making, everything else fades to gray.

I’ll share an abridged version of a case study in managing change while deploying ethics and professional judgement. It was time for the association to update the strategic plan. The consultants were hired and worked with the chief staff executive to plot out the process. The board members were involved at every step of the process, narrowed down topics on which to focus, engaged in group work, and produced all of the content to be assembled into the summary goals, strategies, and affiliated metrics. Then things took an unexpected turn. When it came time to adopt the final work product, the board decided they didn’t like the strategic plan. The progressive plan – that they devised – wasn’t progressive enough. The challenge to salvage a lot of great work by many people and requiring many resources was clearly an exercise in change management. Navigating scenarios wherein people are resistant to change is the norm for us as association management professionals but what do we do when people want more change and on a larger scale?  This is where the professional judgement and ethical decision making came in to play. Some options proposed included:

  1. Getting a second opinion from other consultants to validate (or not) the original work product;
  2. Using the same work product and having a graphic designer make it all look different;
  3. Starting over entirely, hoping for something more progressive and doubling the resource expenditure; or
  4. Pretending to revise the plan but delivering the same content for approval by the board.

Option 4 would have been clearly unwise and in my opinion, unethical.  In the end, the association went with a variation on the theme and a hybrid of 1, 2, and 3. But the thing about ethics is that ethical decisions are not always black and white. We make ethical decisions for myriad reasons, e.g., fear of getting into trouble, desire to go to heaven, setting an example for others. But at the end of the day, we should do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. As leaders, we must give people room to make mistakes – with the obligation to learn from the mistake. And when we reflect and determine that it is us who has made a mistake or an error in judgement, we hope that others will afford us the same measure of grace and opportunity as we do our best to lead our associations to perform with integrity, transparency, and ethics permeating all of our decisions.

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