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Moving from “colleague” to “boss” requires particular attention

By Andrew McNair, CAIB, CAE

I wrote my final assignment for CAE 500 (the final course is CSAE’s Certified Association Executive® Program) back in April of 2013, just shy of two years after changing roles within the association I have now been employed by for 8 ½ years.  The transition I made was from Marketing / Professional Development Coordinator to Chief Executive Officer.  A change like that isn’t just a change of roles or titles, but a change from colleague to supervisor/boss, or perhaps better put, from employee to employer with colleagues that I had already worked with for anywhere from 2-4 years. 

The title of my final assignment was ‘Creating Change through Positive Human Resource Management’.  I’m sure most of you have either heard, or have quite likely experienced the fact that change doesn’t always come easy, nor do we as humans often embrace or accept change without some level of resistance.  But we do know that change is inevitable and almost always positive in the end...if implemented properly.  I often hear from other association managers or office managers in general, that human resources is their number one challenge, or least favorite responsibility.  My hope is that this article might result in you gaining at least one idea or thought that will make human resource management, or change within your office, just that little bit easier. 

I mentioned above that human resource management can be a challenge, as can change.  So why would I have chosen to combine those two topics into one, for the final assignment of a course that was the end of completing a designation program?  Honestly…because it was something that I had already lived and was continuing to live and learn from.  Change is constant, so you need to constantly work at finding ways to make it happen.  If you simply ‘make change’ without thinking it through, or without implementing it strategically or methodically, you will quite likely find yourself frustrated and/or in a state of failure. 

When I transitioned from employee to employer (or colleague to boss) within the same organization with the same staff in the office, everyone involved was faced with change…and I was faced with both opportunity and challenge.  The opportunity was to make changes to how things were run; not because things had been run poorly (in fact they had been run very well), but because I have a different management style than my predecessor.  The challenge was to make the changes that I wanted to make without completely upsetting the turnip truck!  One staff member had been employed in the same role for nearly 18 years…longer than I had been with the organization.  The other staff was relatively new, but there long enough to be comfortable in their role as it was before I took the reins.  So why would I come in one day and say, ‘OK, now we’re doing things this way…completely different than how they were done yesterday’?   I wouldn’t.  But I would certainly start to make my plan.

Having already been employed with the association for four years and having been quite involved in many of the changes that took place over the time that I was in an ‘employee’ role, I had somewhat of an advantage when it came to looking to make my own changes.  I had already been able to think about what could be done better, where efficiencies could be found, and how I could take the association to the next level.  For this reason it made my initial SWOT analysis that much easier to conduct.  My assignment identified two items needing change in order to move the association forward in a more productive way: involving staff more in the review process when considering making changes that affect either their workflow or workload, and, developing and implementing more formal annual performance reviews.  The feeling was that by implementing these two ideas it would create a more engaged staff and as a result a more engaged association membership, both imperative for any association to succeed. 

Conducting a SWOT analysis to determine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats surrounding the two items I wanted to change, I was able to identify ways in which to create the change.  Another strategy I used was to talk to colleagues from other associations about how they dealt with these two items.  As cliché as it sounds…there is very seldom any good reason to reinvent the wheel.  By talking to others who have been through similar circumstances or who may have some insight into what you’re trying to accomplish, you will almost always find some good intelligence that is sure to help your situation.  Sounds simple and obvious, I know, but it’s a good reminder as we often try to get things done alone, in silos.

Since transitioning into my current role our association has implemented entirely new association management software (AMS).  Many of you may have been through this already, currently thinking about it, or at the very least are familiar with AMS and how much of a challenge it can be to transition to a new system.  Once I had decided on the vendor I would use and started the process of developing some of the custom pieces we needed to ‘bolt onto’ the off the shelf AMS, I directly involved staff who would be the ultimate end users of the system. As much as I knew about what we needed, I also knew that I wouldn’t be the one using the system day-to-day.  It was important, therefore, that they had a say in how things would work.  By involving staff in this change, they have taken ownership of the project and system and know the ins and outs of how it works and why it works the way it does.  By involving staff at this level, it also nearly eliminates the need for me to be involved in training on a new system since they learned it as they helped develop it.  Empower staff, and they will feel empowered.  Any change you may be thinking of making that will in any way affect staff directly or indirectly, should involve them.  They need to be part of making change or they will most certainly resist it. 

The other item of the two I mentioned I had looked to change or implement was more formal annual reviews with staff.  This seems like a ‘no brainer’ to most human resource managers, however it can often be an overlooked or under-valued process that should be taking place in any workplace.  Human resource managers need to sit down with each staff member individually to talk about the good and the bad in an open, respectful environment.  This is of benefit to both parties.  Going forward, both sides know where they stand and how they can improve.  Sitting down with staff annually provides the opportunity to discuss what went well and what could be improved on when implementing change.  Feedback on how change went over the year and asking for their input will only create goodwill. 

A lot of what you’ve just read may seem like common sense and pretty simple stuff.  In my experience however, and to use a cliché…common sense isn’t always that common!  Human resource management means managing people…people like to feel important and needed.  A lot of this boils down into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where some of the very simple things that humans require are cited including:  self-esteem; confidence; achievement; respect of others; and respect by others.  Involve your people and your people will help you take your association to new levels.