Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do Association Members Ignore Your Signs Too?

So here's the lesson for today kids. (and the link for those who can't see the embedded video).

This video is hilarious!  It is a recording of a woman who called in to a radio show to tell folks that on three separate occasions she has hit deer on the highway immediately after seeing a deer crossing sign.  She wanted to complain that the transportation department keeps putting up "deer crossing" signs on busy highways instead of in rural areas and less trafficked roads since those roads would be much safer for deer to cross.

Yes.  Let that sink in for a minute.  (By the way, this is a true story.  There is a follow up video where she calls back into the show and says once the reasons for those signs were explained to her it "made so much more sense.")

But doesn't this phone call remind you of conversations you have with your board members or your staff about your members and what they need?  To this woman it seemed perfectly reasonable to assume the "signs" drove the behavior and if the signs were moved, the deer would follow them. Now, obviously humans (with few exceptions) are not animals. But we often use similar thinking patterns when discussing member behavior that we want to influence or change.

Members organically move in the association system.  When they aren't buying the right books, attending the right conferences or participating in the "right" social media circles, sometimes the association answer is to "move the sign."  Market more. E-mail more. Focus group more. Badger more. When really, the answer may not be "move the sign."  Unlike the deer who don't know what the signs mean, humans do know and are simply choosing to ignore them.  The result is the same.  The members stay where they are irrespective of where the signs go.

So now what?  Well, now you may have to take some time to figure out where the members are going and why.  And you might need to flip your thinking and redirect association "traffic" around them right where they are, instead of the other way around.  Would it be more convenient for the drivers if the deer would pick another road to cross?  Well, of course. But deer want to cross where they want to cross.  And your members do too, regardless of the resulting inconvenience to you and your programs.

The next time you are in a staff meeting and someone mentions "changing member behavior" with more marketing, or trying to redirect the members into areas you think they should be in as opposed to the areas they seem to naturally drift into you might need to ask yourselves whether the "sign" is the symptom or the cure.


  1. Brilliant and hilarious! What a succinct and illustrative example. I am filing this away for the next time I find myself enduring a conversation where people are bemoaning the location of the signs...

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by and for the comment...the video cracked me up but really did make me think....

    Take care!

  3. This happens a lot and it's due to lack of leadership.

  4. Hi Lana - thanks for the read and the comment. I am sure that you are correct in some instances, but I'm not so sure "lack of leadership" applies in all cases. You can lead a horse to water but you can't beat him until he drinks.

    There is a symbiotic relationship between any leader and those who choose to follow. Sometimes adjustments on both sides are necessary to achieve the optimal outcome.

    Take care and thanks again!


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