Ask executives at nearly every organization, and they’ll tell you their employees are their most important asset. As an association management company that specializes in moving “stand-alone” organizations into a shared services model, it can be challenging assessing those assets for a changed operating model.
It’s easy to see why. When an association management company (AMC) acquires a new client, it’s tempting to bring in fresh faces—not just at the top, but at all levels. The logic behind this approach is that if membership is falling, event attendance is lagging, internal systems are breaking down, and products and services are getting stale, the people assigned to those roles are at least partly to blame, so why retain them?
I can think of a few reasons. First, legacy staff have accumulated institutional knowledge that can take months or even years to learn. An association that is struggling does not have the luxury of time to rebuild its knowledge base. Retaining key legacy staff can ensure that an association’s institutional memory remains in place during the transition to AMC oversight and beyond.
Second, some legacy staff possess skills and expertise that can help revitalize not only their current association but other AMC client associations as well. For example, Colleen Eubanks came to MCI USA eight years ago as the executive director for a stand-alone organization that hired us to provide management and staffing. After a decade at the helm, Colleen was ready for a new challenge, and now serves as the chief staff executive for another MCI USA client organization – but also sits two offices away from the replacement executive director now serving her original organization. At the same time, Colleen has become our “governance guru” working with a number of our clients on a consultative basis on everything from bylaws and policy development to strategic planning and counsel – a true and total value-add for our client organizations and the talents that serve them.
Third, legacy staff sometimes have personal and professional connections (both within and outside the association field) that can open doors to new opportunities. For instance, Kate O’Donnell and I went to American University together – so when she moved back into the area a decade ago, it made sense to match her with an open position we had at the time. And one of our longest tenured web development firms is led in part by a fellow AU grad that Kate and I knew in college.
For these and other reasons, MCI takes a holistic approach to integrating legacy staff – and one-third of our current association management and consulting team is comprised of professionals who joined MCI USA when their employer association became a client. When we consider partnering with an association, we ask ourselves whether our corporate values and those of the association are aligned—that is, whether we would be a good “fit” for each other. We also meet with each current staff member to determine which ones might be a good fit as well. We ask them what they do, what they’d like to be doing, what they see as their strengths and weaknesses, and whether they’d feel comfortable working in an AMC environment. We also encourage them to ask us about MCI and our vision of association management.
In essence, we look for people who have the skills, experience, and values we seek when we hire from the general population. However, by hiring legacy staff, we also gain institutional knowledge that can put us ahead of the learning curve and enable us to begin making positive changes for our association clients more quickly and easily. And by hiring the best of each of our partner associations, we’re able to “cross-pollinate” in ways that other AMCs can’t.
Fresh faces are always welcome here at MCI, as are the skills, ideas, and connections they bring. Our experience has taught us, however, that associations work best when they bring both fresh thinking and institutional knowledge to bear on the challenges they face. Why partner with an AMC that can’t offer you both?
Erin Fuller is the president of MCI USA’s association management and consulting division. She has recruited so many friends, former colleagues, and students into the company that the group is collectively known as “FOEs” for “Friends of Erin.”