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2020 ISA Leadership Workshop Roundup

Each fall, ISA looks forward to welcoming component leaders for Leadership Workshop. It is the time for component executives, presidents and Board members to visit ISA offices, meet staff and spend time together sharing experiences and solutions to their challenges. With COVID-19, we realized that this meeting needed to transition to a virtual format.

The benefit of this change was immediately obvious; we could broaden the discussion to include more component leaders. Instead of two representatives from each of ISA’s 67 components, we could create opportunities for Certification Liaisons, members of the Council of Representatives (CoR) and additional Board members. Indeed, we increased from around 90 registrants in 2019 to 210 in the 2020 event.

Knowing our audience, we could then consider the goals for the program. These included having discussions around how component boards can function better; sharing information about how the ISA Board operates and our strategic directions; connecting attendees to staff and each other; and, of course, talking about the challenges of 2020 and how to move into the future. Indeed, it had been a year like none before, and Leadership Workshop provided an opportunity for our component network to find both solace in their shared experiences and inspiration from one another’s successes.

Focusing on building stronger organizations
Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE, CPF, acted as the keynote facilitator for two mornings. Aplebaum is the CEO and strategy catalyst for Vista Cova LLC and specializing in strategic planning, member engagement and governance design for non-profit associations. He guided the attendees through a vision exercise asking questions like:

  • Do you have clear ideas about who your organization serves, why you exist, and how you serve them better than anyone else?
  • If we were here in 12 months, what would we want our members and stakeholders to say about our organization?
  • Looking at that one-year vision, what changes, additions or sunsetting is needed in the organization’s focus and activity?
  • To make the next year possible (even probable), what shifts are needed to our governance and volunteer system to get the work done?
  • Where does the value our organization creates align to the Ends Statements of ISA?

Apelbaum went on to talk about the need to create cultures of innovation – especially during this time. That includes looking at the effect on your fiscal health and mission when innovation doesn’t occur, removing the “sacred cows” within the organization, having methods of experimenting with new programs and measuring their success, and incorporating your community of members within the innovation process. In fact, he stressed how important listening is for governance; he considers it a core competency where leaders have identified what audiences (members, attendees, staff, sponsors, volunteers, etc.) they need to bring into the discussion and they understand those groups’ experiences.

The final discussion on the first day focused on Board culture and operations. Aplebaum talking about creating a culture that includes responsible transparency, knowing when to listen to understand (versus respond), seeking to recognize the strengths of each member’s point of view and experience, and clarity about responsibilities among staff, Board and volunteers. He also encouraged organizations to develop key indicators and measurement tools for the Board – not the organization – to better understand the experience of leaders and how they can improve their decision-making process. Additionally, he added that there are some qualities of awesome board members that organizations should look for like willingness to keep commitments, ability to speak their minds, an understanding of how to be strategically engaged but operationally distant, and possessing a high level of integrity. These types of things should be put into the job description so that candidates have clarity about what personal attributes they need to bring to the table.

Finally, there was an overview of different models of governance, and President Anne Beard discussed how the ISA Board uses Policy Governance® (also called the Carver model) to define the organizational purpose (Ends). For more information, read this list of the current ISA Ends statements.

Networking and connections
The relationships built through sharing and socializing is a critical part of the Leadership Workshop, and during a typical in-person event these would be extended into after-meeting dinners and social events. We understood that our virtual platform and our schedule needed to reinforce this type of connectivity. We chose Whova whose chat feature included automated icebreaker questions and allowed attendees to create discussion threads on anything they wanted – whether professional or personal. It also allowed groups to create meet-ups events and invite others to enjoy a drink, a game of trivia or a karaoke battle to keep the fun going between sessions.

Staff focused on creating multiple networking and breakout sessions to encourage open discussion within a myriad of groupings. Alongside meetings for component executives, CoR, certification liaisons and component board members, we held regional breakouts for Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. This is something new but vital as ISA expands internationally and wants to foster stronger regional communities.

There were several sessions of topical breakouts on the hot issues in association management, including membership, virtual meetings, in-person events, sponsorships, diversity and inclusion, volunteer management, promoting ISA credentials and strategic planning.

The 2021 Leadership Workshop will be held virtually from 24-27 August.

Read more from Lowell Aplebaum:

CEO Insights: Board Relationship Dashboard
Beyond Board Orientation
Leading during a Pandemic: Setting Strategy, Virtually
Associations 2021: Building New Norms
Transformation in the Time of COVID
2020 Leadership Workshop: My Experience

2020 Leadership Workshop: My Experience

Bas Poutsma, KPB (The Netherlands) component president

I attended the ISA Leadership Workshop for the third time. In earlier years, we went with more persons from our board. ISA always arranges a good hotel, and we can wander around a new city, see colleagues and revitalise our motivation with new ideas. We consider this a (partial) holiday trip since we are all voluntary board members and from a foreign country. For me the strength of the event is talking to colleagues from other countries, hearing how they do things and trying to bring home good ideas for the future.

Unfortunately, the event was moved to a virtual platform (due to travel and meeting restrictions around COVID-19). The motivation to join was not high among our board. I am the president and was the only KPB leader to join. Since it took only two days without traveling (and no visiting pubs in the evening), I thought it would be easy. Instead, I was surprised these two virtual days of learning were very tiring. And while my expectations were not high, it was very good, and I picked up some very useful ideas.

The sharing of idea during the breakout rooms were particularly useful. We are currently examining our organisations’ planning process. We hope to utilize the idea of a 3-5 year strategic plan with concrete milestones for each Board member. It also helped to consider if we need to work on our mission and vision. I realized that our mission needs to be updated, and we do not have a vision at all. Finally, we liked the idea of sending a “thank you” note to our volunteers in order to keep them connected to the organisation for a longer time.

All ideas were noted and discussed in our board. Unfortunately we have, as many organisations with volunteers, a shortage of board members to fulfill the goals of the organization, and it seems recruiting new volunteers and board members is becoming even harder.

What I learned from these ISA-meetings is that there are a lot of components with different board structures, many of them with a paid executive. We as a fully voluntary board can learn a lot from some of these well-organised chapters (especially those in North America). But, at the same time, some “young” chapters can learn from us too.

Also, I learned that there is an ISA Hispanic Committee. It is my hope we can start something similar for Europe with the goal being to network and share each other ideas, successes and failures. We share the European continent, and it saves travel time to visit one another. But I do look forward to returning to an in-person Leadership Workshop and having discussions and adventures together.