Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Come Original - Whole Self Membership

To come original it ain't nothin' strange
you got to represent you to come full range an'
full range of emotion full range of styles
when you come to town you'll have them comin' for miles and
come original, you've got to come original
all entertainers
hear why......311 (link to video)

I just finished a webinar entitled "Beer and BBQ IS a Membership Strategy" and part of the point I was trying to make today is associations need to start concentrating on "Whole Self Membership."  We've got "occupational" membership or "professional membership" down.  But that is only one side of any given members personality or experience and it isn't enough anymore. Positioning for the future means adapting to changing expectations.

It used to be easier to wear three different faces and safer to hide certain aspects of ourselves from the various groups we interacted with.  We usually had a "family" face, a "work" face and the one we reserved for the "friends" face. The "work" face was the default setting in our interactions with our associations. Sometimes the "friends" face got to show itself in the association setting, but usually not very quickly and not without a long lead time to "build up to it." Associations got used to providing membership experiences that accommodated the "work" face and expected members to interact with each other on that more "removed" level.

However, the world is fragmenting on an ever-increasing pace. Social interactions are becoming more complex via new exposure to new voices online (I'm thinking of you Google+).  Occupations are breaking down and becoming increasingly specialized on more granular, incremental levels.  As a result, people are beginning to discover that we aren't equipped with enough psychological resources to keep up with all the different "faces" we think we "should" be showing at any given time.  Instead, counter-intuitively, as the world breaks itself into smaller and smaller units, we are becoming more psychologically integrated.  We are less inclined to share just parts of ourselves with all of these different constituencies. We are more likely to want to express as much of ourselves as possible regardless of setting so we "feel whole" in a world gone to pieces.

The trick now is to accommodate "whole self members."  Members who want to gather in smaller, more informal groups to brainstorm and problem solve for our associations. Members who want to connect with not only peers who share their profession, but peers who share their other interests as well.  Members who are tired of the song and dance and want to let their hair down a bit.  Who want to be accepted for who they are, what they listen to or wear and who they love.  It is up to associations to recognize this shift and adjust to it. We need to more carefully profile our members interests outside of their "defined" professional capacity so we can more easily connect like minds.  We need to broaden our interactions to ensure those subcultures that form are able to find each other, but are also able to interact with different groups so we cross-pollinate ideas.  That is the kind of loyalty that will outlast any program or service you could possibly devise.

We have to let go of some of the control we used to have, especially with crucial conversations that center on problem solving or on delivering innovative solutions to wicked problems.  Those discussions can be productive in carefully controlled, hosted environments, but with less frequency than is required for the pace of change we currently face.  If given the choice to go to a hotel room and sit in rounds of ten with that crappy, watered down iced tea, or go to someone's house and brainstorm over a pizza and a glass of beer with Rush, Pink Floyd or some other awesome band on the stereo - hands down, I know which setting I will be more creative in. Hard questions are asked and sometimes brilliant solutions are devised when people drop the careful social choreography and bring their whole selves to the table.

Most importantly, we have to appeal to our members to get hyper-local in a globalized way. We have to balance that bridge between intimacy and vision in ways we have never had to before. We have to develop trust faster, genuinely honor authenticity and give members the power to interact in far less formal settings than we are used to.  (If you don't have someone on your board with a piercing, you better find one and fast).

Whole Self Membership. How about it?

Come original, you got to come original....all entertainers come original.....


  1. Hey Shelly, that's a cool notion articulated in a very creative way. I'm curious....did the music derive from the idea, or visa-versa??

  2. Barry - that is a great question...most of these posts find me in a chicken and the egg situation as to what emerges from this case, I want to say the concept emerged first and I selected the song, however it is true that I rekindled my love for this song when I heard it on a playlist a few weeks who can know for sure! :D

  3. Oh, Shelly, I love this idea! It's too stressful and soul-deadening to bring only your work self to work and to your association, plus as you point out, you hinder the expressive and creative side of your brain. I had a hard time adjusting to the association workplace because I spent most of my 20's and 30's working as a restaurant manager -- a career that allowed me to bring my whole self to work, in fact, I believe that contributed to my success as a leader. I hope the breaking down of walls in the digital world helps people become more comfortable being who they really are wherever they are.

  4. Deirdre - Thanks for stopping by and for the comment...I think you are right and the digital environment plays a big role in the move to be more authentic....just too many walls and not enough time to scale them anymore so let's knock them down instead....

  5. Shelly, I completely agree with Deirdre on this. But I love this idea as well because I think it really caters to recruiting younger generations as well. As a member of Gen Y, I want to be my own self when networking, and I like to be creative as well. With more forward thinking like this, I believe it could actually help to create a comfortable atmosphere where generations intermix and everyone acts as their whole self to solve problems together!

  6. Interesting stuff, Shelly, and worthy of conversation over beer and bbq, for sure! (Or maybe a "think tank" type session that defies the typical session rules? Hmm, just a thought.) I will say, I've been pretty darn lucky that I've been "out" my entire professional career, without any obvious ramifications. I've been able to be my whole self, when I choose. Choosing is the hard part, as well as knowing what to lead with - I've never worn the rainbow flag to work on my forehead, but I'm happy to attend a drag race with a colleague! (Bein oneself is like trail mix - not letting the peanuts or raisins hog the limelight.) We try to create opportunities at DelCor for clients and staff to convene around interests like cooking, and it is always a good time. I'm now interested to see how membership organizations can do the same. Thanks for the post and making us think (and be).

  7. Meredith and Bill -

    Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such great comments. I appreciate it so much. And yes, we may not wear flags on our foreheads, but we ought to be able to fly them whenever we want (nod to Joe Gerstandt)....:D



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