Chamber Executive Article Archive

Apologies to Star Fleet

Mick Fleming

I have a confession to make to my chairman. This year I accepted more invitations from individual chambers to facilitate planning retreats than allowed under my leadership’s verbal order issued more than five years ago.

ACCE’s officers don’t say much about how I manage others, but eventually they had to speak up about how I managed me. They saw before I did that I have trouble saying “no” to an invitation from a member to help with board planning efforts.

“You like that stuff too much, Fleming,” was the rough translation. I copped to that charge. I can’t help it. I’m an unreformed social studies teacher! What do you expect?

For a few years, I followed the directive, recognizing that there are a lot more of you than there are of me (I’m quick with math). Anyway, I’m sorry, Boss. I went over the limit last year…and I loved it!

I can hear many of you wondering, “What’s the appeal? I work with these board characters every day. They’re not that exciting.” I love to “hold forth” at state conferences but it’s revealing to work with the volunteer leaders and staffers in just one town or region. The big draw is not what I get to teach, but what I get to learn.

Aside from the enjoyment of being “out there,” I’ve found that I and my V.P. and oft-times surrogate, Ian Scott, have genuine ACCE advancement motivations for work with one chamber. As Captain Kirk revises Mr. Spock’s pure logic statement to the contrary, “Sometimes, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.” Truth is, if we don’t get out there and work with a few of you individually, ACCE will get it wrong when we try to address the needs of all of you.

Whether I’m in Raleigh, Billings, or Philly, I ask similar questions when I facilitate chamber planning retreats. The answers from the boards and staffs enlighten me about their towns, passions, jobs, governance models, and organizational cultures.

How would I understand how hard it is to drive consensus without hearing the diverse responses to my wacky inquiries? How could I possibly understand that “feeding the monster” with fresh revenue is absolutely critical if a chamber is to have resources to achieve its mission?

Most importantly, I would never completely understand why and how people do this work if I were to address ACCE members only in conference settings.

I also learn from questions asked: “Are we weird?” “Do chambers actually make money off that crazy idea?” “Why is poverty the chamber’s issue to solve?” “Is it really necessary to change the way we charge people for membership?” “When other chambers endorse candidates, what backlash do they encounter?”

The reaction from volunteer leaders to benchmarking data, which Ian and I present at the start of every retreat, is also enlightening. In many cases, boards and even staff don’t realize that someone is gathering and analyzing numbers to help chambers manage and make decisions. When my team launched the Chamber Dynamic Benchmarking (DCB) tool, we got the ability to share real-time graphics on all key data points. And, we get to compare apples to apples, using specific, even custom-selected, peer organizations.

The questions about the data tell me that too many mid-sized chambers are winging it when they evaluate their year-over-year performance. The questions also tell me that volunteers don’t know why their chambers are trying to grow, or even if they are growing. Many chambers aren’t sure whether they are successful or not. The knowledge gleaned from questions empowers my team to build participation and increase ease of use. (If you haven’t used DCB, you’re ignoring a powerful free membership benefit.)

These sessions with individual chambers also bestow the gifts of humility and empathy. Seeing you in your element is critical. The ways you act and speak around your members and investors is actually quite different than it is around your peers at an ACCE Convention. For me to feel your pain/joy and do my job, I need to see how much your volunteers (the owners of the enterprise) influence your work and affect your life.

I’m not making excuses for my disobedience. Writing this helped me (and my family) understand that my motivation to get “out there” is sensible, provided I firmly resist my urge to accept every request. I still need to live within the spirit of the limitations placed on me by the ACCE Board, but their aspirations for ACCE can be realized only if we sometimes explore new chambers, seek out new methods and practices, and boldly go where no staff has gone before.

Onward. Or, Live Long and Prosper.

Mick Fleming is president of ACCE.

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