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by Kevin Helm, CAE, KCSAE President

I’m glad to begin my tenure as your 43rd KCSAE president.  In this role I’m afforded the opportunity to serve this group and help ensure KCSAE maintains a healthy and sustainable environment while fulfilling our vision to be your primary resource for education, professional development and sharing of best practices within the greater Kansas City association management community. I would like to share something very important to me – what I believe is the most important part of a successful association.

As an executive director, I’m bombarded with suggestions on how to run a successful association.  I receive a lot of email from technology companies suggesting if I would only invest in their technology solution, I could grow our membership by 30% or more.  If I followed the latest Harvard Business Review or Fast Company suggestion, there’s always a new and better strategy to accomplish a task.  But while these are critical areas for running a successful association, they aren’t the most important.

Three areas are historically cited as key categories in which to invest for organizational success: technology, processes, and people (culture). I’ve learned this lesson over many years… the most important area for success lies with the people running your association. Why? Every part of our association boils down to people.  And how you attract and retain the people who fit your culture and are needed to drive your association forward is one of the critical functions of an organization.

So, how do you find and develop the right people for your organization? It begins with hiring the right person that will thrive in your environment.

Craig Groeschel, author of the Leadership Podcast, offers these tips when hiring:

  1. Begin with the end in mind (think Steven Covey)
    • When you are writing a job description, be clear about what type of person you want – don’t just list duties, list the characteristics the person needs to have. Tie the individual to your culture and company goals.
  1. Be ruthlessly selective.
    • The best time to fire someone is before you hire them. Making no hire is better than making a bad hire.  Wrong hires early make it more difficult to make great hires later. Never hire someone out of desperation, and be careful when you find yourself talking yourself into hiring a candidate.  When you’re exhausted and just looking for help, you’re vulnerable to making a bad hire.
  1. Develop an internal system or plan
    • Don’t bring in a person for interviews unless you’re 70% sure they could be a good fit on your team. A good practice for interview questions is to have them fall under four main categories: skill, value, behavior, and character. Most companies only focus on skill and character.  If you find someone who is crazy talented but has a vastly different set of values or behaviors, they’re not a great fit.  You can train skills, but you can’t train passion.
  1. Once you hire, then train, release, and learn.
    • Training is absolutely critical. You must give new hires books and resources to read, clarify expectations, and provide resources for them to become successful. Show them how to set goals, stay accountable, look at performance metrics, and stay healthy.
    • Give them slightly more responsibility than they expect, and plenty of regular feedback.

While having a hiring process in place that focuses on interviewing the right people in the right way, you may still miss out on great talent.  So, how do you spot the talent that others miss?  Craig suggests:

  • Trust your first impressions
    • Often something as subtle as a handshake or an impressive first interview will give you a gut feeling about someone – trust it when that happens.
  • Don’t trust your first impressions
    • Your first impression of someone could be negative, but many people have way more than what they show you at first glance. Sometimes they are nervous, but the presence of nerves doesn’t equal the absence of potential.  Ask them these questions:
      • What do you love about that?
      • You are obviously good at this. What makes you good?
      • Where did that talent come from?

With these questions you’ll discover the story behind the success and the story before the success.  You can push past your initial impressions and hear more about their motivation, values, and drive.

  • Look for initiative
    • Find the leaders who refuse to wait for permission to make something happen. They bring ideas to the table, and even if the ideas aren’t amazing, at least they have some.
  • Look for unquenchable passion
    • The best leaders have deep and immovable resolve. They care.

“Most leaders are trying to figure out the right strategy.  The best leaders are obsessed with empowering the right people.”

Once you’ve hired them, then develop them into leaders.  When you delegate tasks, you create followers, but when you delegate authority, you create leaders.  If you empower the right people, there is no limit to what your organization can accomplish. But if you don’t empower the right people, you are the limiting factor in your organization! The strength of your organization is not a reflection of what you control. It’s a reflection of who you empower and trust.

Be diligent in who and how you hire and only hire the absolute best fit for your organization.  Investing in this activity will impact your organization in the most meaningful way.  When you hire the right people, you can then empower them as leaders and enjoy the satisfaction of your flourishing association.

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