I’ve been involved in many “Membership Organizations” over the years. I’m a member of multiple organizations, both personally and professionally; as a speaker & consultant, national, state and local organizations…..so many over the years that I’ve lost count! I always know how to get the maximum benefit out of each membership, and I work at it every day. I assure you I know the rules of the game…even though the rules might be different in every one of those groups.
OR DO I?
Last week challenged all that. On two separate occasions, from two different organizations, I was informed that I was (without intending to) breaking the “rules of engagement”. But, how is that possible? I’ve read every document! I’ve made sure that my actions never overstepped the boundaries as I understood they existed. In fact, I had simply been squeezing every last ounce of “benefit juice” I could to make sure I was getting VALUE from my membership. After all, isn’t that why the benefits are in place? Isn’t that what those of us in the Organization Management industry have been screaming about for years?
“Simply joining won’t make the cash register magically start to ring”, say the Membership Directors. “You have to WORK IT. You have to get involved. You have to stay ENGAGED.”
Isn’t that exactly what I’d done? Could anyone show me what rules I’d broken? By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out what I’d done…I had unintentionally broken the UNWRITTEN RULES!
In both cases (and dozens of others where this is happening right now probably in YOUR organizations), the “unwritten rules” made some sense. The problem is, there was no definite policy in place, and I stepped SQUARELY and proudly into the darkness to take advantage of what I thought was part of my membership package. Please know, dear Reader, that neither of my transgressions were illegal, immoral, unethical or in any other way “wrong”. It was just a grey area in the rules and I saw a way to benefit my business and my customers and plunged in unknowingly.
Here’s where the REAL problem began…and where many problems begin:
- Policies can’t be enforced if they’re not in WRITING. You can’t expect your members to follow rules they don’t know exist.
- Policies must be FAIR to all involved. If you’re going to allow one class of members the opportunity to do something that another class can’t, that’s actually FINE…you just have to make sure that you place that benefit inside a membership tier that members have to upgrade to in order to qualify for in order to take advantage. IN WRITING!
- Policies should actually make SENSE. If you’re developing a policy about something with which you’re not completely familiar, you really should get some help in developing it. I certainly wouldn’t write a contract without consulting an attorney; your Chamber or Association shouldn’t write a policy without first seeking out the advice of one or more members who have expertise in the area you’re intending to write policy about. And…it should be IN WRITING!
- Times change. Policies can change, too. It’s always a good idea to go over the rules that are already in place, see if some need to go away or be changed in some way, and identify any NEW items on the radar that should have WRITTEN guidelines to help manage them. If you don’t have a thorough, policy and procedure manual let this be your reminder to get it done. If you have one, it may be time to review it and revise it. Make sure ALL staff members take a look at it AND all professionals that you would consult for expertise in specific areas.
- Conflict WILL arise. Know how to handle it professionally. Fortunately, in both instances last week, I was approached by consummate professionals who reached out, addressed the issues, listened to my thoughts, and came back with answers where they were needed. While I can’t say I’ve agreed with every “ruling” I’ve gotten in such cases, when I’m treated with respect by a professional who truly wants to help me get the most out of my membership, I’ve been able to accept the new policy and move on. In other cases where it’s been handled in a less-than-professional manner (we’ve all had our moments, haven’t we?) I’ve been more inclined to rattle the cage and inevitably drive myself away from the organization over time.
There’s a TON more that could be said about the issue, but let’s leave it there for now. I’d like to hear from YOU. What challenges can you share about dealing with the “unwritten rules”? Tell us about your successes with implementing new policy. We’d love to hear from you in the space below.