Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Attendance and Associations

Times are tough in higher education.  Of course, times are always tough in higher education but many institutions are cutting expenses like never before.  And, when administrators look to cut expenses, they often discover maintenance and professional development.

Maintenance draws attention because failure to maintain only becomes evident when the failure becomes critical.  Most don’t care about bridge maintenance until the bridge collapses.  A manager’s ability to keep up with maintenance isn’t the subject of many awards or headlines.  “Things still work” doesn’t jump off the screen or gather many clicks.  For the manager who can find a way to make maintenance work sexy, write the book: there are many of us waiting to read it.

But, I would like to discuss the latter topic, professional development.

Most organizations maintain a portion of their budget to fund the professional development of their staff.  This pays dividends both in increased employee morale and the increased skill set of that same staff.  But again, professional development can be cut with little immediate effect.  Loss of professional development dollars only becomes evident when staff leave.  Skillset stagnation may never become evident.  Projects take a bit longer, some decisions are made poorly, and processes may never evolve.  None of these scream for immediate attention and are well hidden.

And in the arena of professional development, nothing gets cut faster than participation in professional associations.

Administrators, as a whole, prefer funding for training classes in IT.  Tying training dollars to a defined skill set definitely makes for an easier management argument.  Does the organization need a new skill? Pick an employee and fund training for the new skill.  Test the employee’s skill when they return.  Rinse and repeat.

An organization can measure the value of training in the contents of the training, and the applicability of those contents to the needs of the organization.  The employee occupies a relatively passive role in the evaluation process.  We can evaluate the effect of the training independent of the employee.

The value of participation in a professional association is harder to define.

I participate in two separate associations: ACUTA (www.acuta.org) and  BICSI (www.bicsi.org).  I’ve attended events held by a few others.  I’ve found them infinitely more professionally rewarding than training.  But this truism holds.

You get out of a trade association, what you put in.

Most associations hold training events, seminars, annual conferences and the like and a number of people (yours truly included) work very hard to populate those events with engaging speakers and training opportunities.  I’ve seen many great speeches and walked away inspired and educated. But, the true value of those associations lie in the membership and without becoming actively engaged, that value will never truly be realized.

Many attend association events, eat the appetizers on the showroom floor, attend the speakers and go home.  They have only scratched the surface of what is available for their membership dues.  Speakers and vendor interaction make up the most documented reasons for attendance of association events.  Compared to defined training events, association events often come up short from an administrative perspective.  The image of employees going off to vacation on the company dime haunts many a manager.

But for those who engage with other members, volunteer on committees, participate in association outreach (listserv, social media, and so on) the association becomes a pivotal professional and personal resource. 
  • Considering a new product/consultant/technology, avoid sales literature and consult other association members.
  • Stuck on a problem, avoid sales literature and consult other association members.
  • After reading an article on what your peers are doing, reach out through the association to see how a solution performed in the field. 

I’ve done all of these multiple times and the University of Florida (UF) has benefited from it.  In addition, I have shared some of our pioneering efforts at UF with other schools.  We all move forward when we help each other.

Look for your trade associations.  Join them.  Participate.  You’ll be amazed at the benefits.    Someone out there is ready to help solve your problems, and someone out there is waiting for you..

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