“Think of today’s economic crisis
as a legitimate opportunity to
shed old habits, create positive
changes and foster a str...
W                                E’RE WELL INTO 2009, and
                                 chamber leaders are being chal-...
Draw on experts to help members truly understand what
                        is happening with the economy and how to tak...
Fortunately, chamber executives are well-seasoned at squeezing
the most value out of lean budgets, and that skill will be ...
This can be a great time to excel by giving ‘concierge-
                         level’ customer service and concentrating...
If you use “Ambassadors” or other volunteers to support your
  Do the math, calculate the real    members at events as a w...
represents to its membership and community. Kara J. Kelley,
                                     president and chief execu...
community are feeling the economic crisis on behalf of their        today. Think of today’s economic crisis as a legitimat...
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Seize The Day Acce Chamber Executive Magazine Spring 2009


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Leadership fundamentals to keep chambers on pace until the good times return

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Seize The Day Acce Chamber Executive Magazine Spring 2009

  1. 1. Seize
  2. 2. “Think of today’s economic crisis as a legitimate opportunity to shed old habits, create positive changes and foster a strong, prosperous growth.” the Day! Leadership fundamentals to keep chambers on pace until good times return By Joan Cozart, M.Ed., Ed.S., and Joe Cozart, Sr., CAM Chamber Executive Spring 2009 7
  3. 3. W E’RE WELL INTO 2009, and chamber leaders are being chal- lenged in ways that most of us leading communities and companies never imagined! Now more than ever, chambers are being forced to examine their core mission and evaluate their operations to ensure survival and, more importantly, their ability to drive their communities’ eco- nomic engines back to prosperity. Mike Neal, CCE, CCD, president and chief executive officer of the Tulsa (OK) Metro Chamber, says, “Together, In addition to being clear on what is happening economically in the local region, it is important to connect with members in as many ways as possible. “One of the most important actions we can take is to carefully listen to our members as they struggle to make sense of these turbulent times. It’s entirely possible that they will indicate a need that we, as chambers, can assist them with,” says Kate King, president and chief executive officer of the Napa (CA) Chamber of Commerce. She suggests that leveraging the talent and expertise in your community by “drawing on experts to help members truly understand what is happening with the economy and how to take a long-term view to avoid panic” is a way to connect all of the community stakeholders so that a focused chamber executives, staff and Board members must recom- mit to focus on key priorities that are central to the organiza- individual, company and collective response is created. tion and its mission. Review expenditures for efficiency and Coast to coast, chambers are taking some very specific actions manage budgets with prudence. In tough economic times, within their communities. The Vallejo (CA) Chamber of Com- we must all remember that investments by our members are merce is “working with local government to ensure that they to be valued.” are not placing any additional stresses on local, small businesses Everywhere you look—politics, social media, advertising— through onerous taxation or regulation,” says Rick Wells, CAE, we are being reminded that today’s leadership imperative is IOM, president and chief executive officer. to re-connect with the people, things and activities that have In the middle of the country, the Columbia (MO) Chamber fundamentally driven generations of economic success in this of Commerce has volunteer leadership committed to economic country. And, of course, driving economic success by connect- development. According to Don Laird, CCE, president, the ing people across myriad topics is the foundation upon which Chamber is “working in cooperation with the local economic chambers of commerce have been built. The very fabric of development organization, the University of Missouri, the city, the chamber of commerce culture is stitched together by the the county, and the angel investment firm (Centennial Investors, human connections that are made. which has invested over $1 million in the past year in start-ups in Chambers around the world now have the responsibility to be the mid-Missouri region) which the Chamber founded to help local proactive brain-trusts in the emerging economic recovery. Each business.” Laird believes his region will be ready for the national business-led community and economic development organiza- economic turnaround when it appears. tion has an opportunity to emerge as a leading, stabilizing, On the east coast, Mike Supranowicz, president of the driving force in these times of economic turbulence… even Berkshire (MA) Chamber of Commerce, says his Chamber has expanding the cadre of committed business leaders from among “participated in several joint White House and U.S. Chamber those who previously may have been unaware of the chamber’s of Commerce phone conference calls and contacted all of our full value to the community or region. local banking chief executive officers to fully understand the impact of this economic crisis on our members.” His Chamber CONNECT THE COMMUNITY also finds that building alliances may be one of the best ways to As chamber leaders craft and fine-tune their plans for pro- ensure that programs meet member and community needs. pelling their memberships and communities toward economic success, they need to keep in mind that “every community is GET CREATIVE! different,” according to Shane Moody, IOM, CCE, president Harness the power of the diverse brainwaves of the people and chief executive officer of the Destin Area (FL) Chamber associated with your Chamber; bring teams together to cre- of Commerce. He cautions that “Boards and chamber leaders atively invent relevant new products and services as they are need to know exactly what is occurring in their communities needed now. The best ideas are collaboratively built by integrat- and then face it directly and positively.” ing and expanding on those of other people. 8 Chamber Executive Spring 2009
  4. 4. Draw on experts to help members truly understand what is happening with the economy and how to take a long- term view to avoid panic. —Kate King One innovative chamber, the Gilbert (AZ) Chamber of tives are well-seasoned at squeezing the most value out of lean Commerce, has introduced several new programs and services budgets, and that skill will be honed to a razor sharp edge in specifically targeted to help its small business members. It today’s environment. is partnering with the town of Gilbert to provide a 10-week Many chambers have already begun paring down their bud- entrepreneurial training course aimed at businesses with gets based on anticipated or actual decreases in available funds. two years of experience. The Chamber received federal grant By re-thinking the way things are always done in every job money to help with the program, so it was able to keep costs function and committing to evaluating everything with a fresh, very affordable for members. Additionally, the Gilbert Cham- new and open perspective, you’ll probably discover ways to save ber has created an alliance with an organization called “Club money without negatively impacting service delivery. In fact, E-Network” (the letter “E” stands for “Entrepreneur”). The sometimes the new leaner approaches increase the true value alliance “allows members to have more interaction online. to members. Albert Einstein once said that “the significant It provides daily videoed interviews with successful entrepre- problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking neurs plus a monthly networking event as part of their cham- ber membership,” says Kathy Langdon, CCE, president and chief executive officer. The Greater San Antonio (TX) Chamber of Commerce has two new, key offerings focused squarely on supporting its membership in this struggling economy. First, it held its 2009 annual Economic Outlook Conference in January with a theme of riding the changing economic tides. According to Becky Bridges, vice president, image & communications, the program included a keynote address by the head of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank as well as another speaker from a Fortune 500 energy company based in San Antonio. “We feel that the Chamber needs to take a lead on helping our business leaders really understand how to plan and sustain San Antonio’s relatively stable economy, particularly in the areas of finance and energy,” Bridges says. Secondly, the Chamber is beginning a new initiative that includes a significantly beefed-up economic trending and fore- casting project. They have enlisted one of the state’s leading economic advisors to help develop a program and materials which are based on indexes used to advise global companies, and these will be available exclusively to Chamber members. MAXIMIZE INTERNAL OPERATING EFFICIENCY “Keep hosting and holding events and continue promoting the opportunity to do business in your community!” This is the suggestion of Miles Burdine, president and chief executive officer of the Kingsport Area (TN) Chamber of Commerce. However, Burdine adds that everything must be scrutinized in light of its true value to your membership so that no money or time is wasted; the margin for financial error is narrower now than it has been in decades. Fortunately, chamber execu- Chamber Executive Spring 2009 9
  5. 5. Fortunately, chamber executives are well-seasoned at squeezing the most value out of lean budgets, and that skill will be honed to a razor sharp edge in today’s environment. that created them.” Innovative thinking has never been more relevant than it is today. The following is a list of ideas that some chambers have already implemented. Use them to jump-start your Chamber’s internal economic engine where it makes sense. Review any leases or contracts for products or services the chamber uses. Evaluate phone service (both land-line and mobile), copy machines, food services, automobile leases, printing contracts… anything that hits the budget. Many of these leases or contracts may have been in place for a long time and newer, better, financially beneficial options could be available. Consider reducing the frequency with which regular publi- cations are produced. Does a newsletter really need to go out monthly, or could it be distributed quarterly? Decide whether a hard-copy publication is truly needed or could be produced online only. Remember to communicate any changes to the members carefully so that the message stays positive and on-point. If meetings or events are normally held off-site, discuss the possibility and economic impact of bringing those meet- ings on-site or to a location which is free and allows flexibil- ity with refreshments (if being offered). BYOL/D (bring your own lunch or dinner) might not be a viable option for some chambers, but it could become a model that works if properly evaluated and communicated. Stretch calendars for annual programs that don’t produce a healthy financial return. Continuing to offer annual programs that are valuable to membership is important; however, stretching the time between events from 12 to 14 months can save money without appearing to cut important offerings from the calendar. Don’t forget to send out promotional reminders and “save the date” reminders early! Make a list of the number of groups and sub-groups the chamber is “managing” and consider whether the staff time they take is worth the value produced for members. Many standing groups and sub-groups exist because they seemed like a good idea at the time, but they haven’t been re-evaluated since. The time spent on a single group may not seem to be “costing” individual staff members much from a time per- spective, but when trying to do more with less, every minute counts. If a group exists and is perceived to add/have value, discuss the possibility of changing the way it is managed so that it requires less staff time. Let the people who are pas- sionate about the existence of groups and sub-groups take more ownership if it is appropriate. Any idea that is feasible and has someone else willing to execute it, is an idea worthy of consideration. 10 Chamber Executive Spring 2009
  6. 6. This can be a great time to excel by giving ‘concierge- level’ customer service and concentrating on delivering true value. —Dave Kilby Chamber staff often find themselves working on tasks or ness climate, however, the sheer number of people in the room causes that are near and dear to a member or volunteer’s heart, may not be the ultimate driving indicator of success. Take advan- but don’t really belong with the chamber. It is hard to say “no” tage of the lighter numbers to increase the quality of personal to truly worthy causes no matter what the state of the economy, interaction the chamber staff has with individual attendees. By but being able to turn projects down respectfully is a skill that increasing the personal contacts made during an event, an oppor- is crucial now more than ever. If outside causes are requiring tunity for more personal post-event follow-up is created. staff time, hold a sincere and honest discussion with the Board Consider what Wikipedia calls “coopetition”—collaborat- Chair and the staff to make it clear that the chamber’s precious ing with the competition. Now is the time to form strategic resources cannot be spent on initiatives and tasks that are unre- alliances, sharing the costs as well as the labor, with organi- lated to the chamber’s mission. zations that have similar goals. Focus on the benefit to mem- One pre-dominant measure of success for chamber events has bers and the community. A plethora of non-profits, including always been the number of people in attendance. In today’s busi- chambers, may exist in a relatively small geography. Instead of asking individuals to pay a separate membership fee to each organization, look for ways to sponsor joint member- ships so that everyone wins. ADD VALUE TO MEMBERSHIP As the pool of available membership dollars gets shallower in many markets, how you provide value to your members becomes increasingly critical. Building on this idea, Dave Kilby, president and chief executive officer of the Western Associa- tion of Chamber Executives (WACE), says, “this can be a great time to excel by giving ‘concierge level’ customer service and concentrating on delivering true value.” The specifics of “concierge level” customer service vary by geography and membership demographics, but by definition this phrase means going above and beyond what you normally do for individual members, not just groups of members. Make a concerted effort to personally contact customers and all of your publics, offering whatever help you can for any unique chal- lenges their business might be facing. Stay in touch with the individuals who make up your membership and create custom- ized offerings to meet their needs. “Chambers often underestimate the value of what/whom they know and how this knowledge can lead to exceptional case work,” says Mick Fleming, president, ACCE. In regions that are hardest hit by unemployment, look for ways to connect out-of-work individuals with less abundant jobs. Remind job seekers and employers alike that hiring (to fill open or changing positions) continues, even as overall job sta- tistics drop. Consider whether the individuals in your area need to re-tool their skills for shifting economic forces and partner with educational institutions to offer training. 12 Chamber Executive Spring 2009
  7. 7. If you use “Ambassadors” or other volunteers to support your Do the math, calculate the real members at events as a way to supplement your professional staff, bring them together to reinvigorate them and re-vision their financial benefit and value of roles. This is an opportunity to leverage the talent and energy of your “Ambassadors” by motivating them with truly substan- membership, and then shout it tive counselor work and providing them with the recognition they deserve. Or you may want to create a program to encourage from the rooftops! members buying from members and include specialized discount programs in support of member-to-member business. Not all of these ideas may be suitable for every chamber, but they can form a foundation for brainstorming the creative ideas to meet your own Chamber’s specialized needs. Although it may be counter-intuitive in times when chamber budgets are being cut, at least one chamber executive believes that now is the time to engage, and even invest, in the commu- nity at large. “By holding events in conjunction with worthy non- profit causes and sharing the revenue with that organization, you can increase participation, community and member good-will and make a real difference,” says Lenny Caro, chief executive officer, Bronx (NY) Chamber of Commerce. Too often, chambers are ineffective in promoting their own value and good ideas. Now is the time for shameless self promotion, not because it benefits the staff, but because it is essential to communicate the positive force each chamber 14 Chamber Executive Spring 2009
  8. 8. represents to its membership and community. Kara J. Kelley, president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas (NV) Chamber of Commerce, suggests that “the chamber of com- merce value proposition needs to be communicated in real cost-benefit terms so members see that chamber member- ship can be an essential element to the survival and success of their business.” In other words, do the math, calculate the real financial benefit and value of membership, and then shout it from the rooftops! WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER The economic crisis is everywhere. Candace LaForge, GCCE, APR, president of the Newnan-Coweta (GA) Cham- ber, Inc., notes, “The truth is, no matter what the economy brings, we’re all in this together, and supporting one another through membership simply makes good business sense.” This seems to be the overwhelming message from chamber leaders across the United States as they bravely step forward, try new things, and struggle to keep their chamber missions moving forward. But the movement is not just limited to America. Leaders from chambers around the world that are part of the ACCE 16 Chamber Executive Spring 2009
  9. 9. community are feeling the economic crisis on behalf of their today. Think of today’s economic crisis as a legitimate oppor- members as well. In the West Indies, the Anguilla Chamber of tunity to shed old habits, create positive changes and foster a Commerce and Industry (ACOCI) hosts a weekly radio show strong, prosperous growth. Returning to the fundamentals, bringing together the country’s thought leaders to discuss ways focusing on the organizational mission, and staying true to ACOCI members can successfully navigate the turbulent eco- that mission is the challenge that lies before every chamber nomic waters affecting them. The show is hosted by Calvin Bar- leader; and it is one that will lead to success. As Ghandi once tlett, ACOCI’s executive director, whose vision is to continue to said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Seize the build on the strategies that led to winning the World Chamber day; your time is now! Federation’s Developing Country Chamber award in 2007. Wil Pineau, CCE, the chief executive officer of the Cay- Joan Cozart, M.Ed., Ed.S., and Joe Cozart, Sr., CAM, are princi- man Islands Chamber of Commerce, recognized the need for pals of OpX Group and are “Preferred Service Providers” of the organization-wide planning to prepare for the economic issues ACCE for membership development, operations improvement, coming in 2009 and beyond. He brought his Council (Board) and strategic planning board & staff retreats. They are often and entire staff together in mid-2008 for the first Strategic called upon as ACCE national, regional, and state conference Planning Retreat in the Chamber’s history. As a result of that facilitators/speakers and serve as faculty of the U.S. Cham- retreat, the Cayman Islands Chamber is prepared to support ber Institute for Organizational Management and “sustaining the country and member businesses no matter what economic members” of the Western Association of Chamber Executives challenges may lie ahead. (W.A.C.E.). OpX Group is skilled and experienced in multiple It will take everyone associated with the chamber world research methodologies and facilitation techniques, which it pulling together to generate the strength of economic recov- uses to conduct community-based, results-oriented strategic ery that is required. The alliance and collaboration of chamber planning retreats that emphasize alignment, execution and the leaders, community leaders and volunteers is producing the ability to help chambers of commerce “break through to the next creative, innovative foundation of ideas required to turn the level.” The Cozarts can be reached at (850) 267-2045 or info@ economy around. The status-quo is not an option for anyone 18 Chamber Executive Spring 2009