Who’s in Charge of Talent Development at Your Association?

In the strategic goals of just about every association, you’ll find something about educating members and industry professionals. But what about educating their own staff? Isn’t internal talent development a strategic concern for associations too? 

Top association challenge: finding and keeping talent

Two conversations (this one and this one) on the ASAE Collaborate community provide anecdotal evidence that talent development is a top concern for association executives—and a few studies confirm the same.

Associations Now pulled an interesting finding from PNP Staffing’s 2018 Association Salaries and Staffing Trends Report: “Chief among the concerns cited by associations is competition for top talent, and what associations see as a ‘skills gap’—the lack of capable candidates who meet the requirements to fill available positions.” As a result, 57% of respondents are attempting to improve staff training and professional development.

The environmental factor with the greatest impact on members, according to participants in an Association Laboratory survey for its Looking Forward 2019: An Environmental Scanning Whitepaper for the Association Industry, is “difficulty identifying, recruiting, or retaining qualified staff.” This was also the factor with the greatest impact in 2018.

Even a poll conducted during a digitalNow conference keynote by Hal Gregersen, executive director at the MIT Leadership Center, had a similar response. When asked what associations need to think differently about, 45% of the audience said “talent recruitment and development,” while another 45% said “strategic priorities.”

talent development

Who’s in charge of talent development in your association?

Association executives agree on the pressing need for talent development, but is this talk backed up by action? Here’s one problem: only one in five associations employs a full-time staffer dedicated wholly to human resources, according to ASAE. If no one’s focused on talent development, how will it ever happen?

It’s sadly ironic. Associations market their educational programs by stressing the need for lifelong learning and closing the skills gap in their industry or profession. Yet how much attention does your C-suite pay to the looming skills gap in your association?

The skills that got your association here aren’t going to get it where you need to go. Jobs and workplace needs are changing as quickly in the association management industry as they are in other professions. Someone must focus on talent development so your staff has the skills they need to manage for today and build for tomorrow. 

Millennials and Generation Z expect their employers to provide professional development opportunities. A Gallup research report found that growth and development opportunities were important factors in a job search for 87% of Millennials. A Deloitte survey of Millennials and Gen Z said, “Many respondents are questioning whether they have the capabilities to compete in Industry 4.0, and they are increasingly looking to their employers to give them the skills they need to succeed.”

In the competition for talent in the association marketplace, you must have a plan for talent development—and someone must have the authority and accountability to put that plan into action.

Ideas for formal and informal talent development

As with any new initiative, if you don’t have the expertise on staff, bring in a consultant to help you identify the skills your staff needs now and will need in the future. As you do with technology requirements, prioritize these skills into “needs” and “wish list.” Assess where your staff comes up short, i.e., the skills gap you need to fill.

Develop a plan—and a budget—to help your association acquire these skills through hiring and/or training (reskilling). Look for both formal and informal training opportunities. 

You’re already familiar with formal training: online courses and other e-learning programs, as well as conferences and other in-person educational events. Get more ROI from these educational investments by developing a plan with the learner for sharing take-aways with fellow staff.

Informal learning opportunities are only limited by your creativity. Build a culture of learning at your association by taking a team approach to talent development. 

•    Start a book club.
•    Organize brown bag lunches with outside speakers—members, industry experts, futurists, economists, authors, etc.
•    Watch webinars, videos, and online educational events together in the conference room.

An ASAE article encourages associations to promote peer learning—employees sharing knowledge with each other. For example, set aside ten minutes at each staff meeting for one person to share their expertise. The “expert” will benefit too: teaching something helps to deepen the teacher’s knowledge. ASAE suggests preserving knowledge sharing by asking participants to put their information in writing, or recording presentations so staff can watch or listen to them later.

Look outside your association for help. Could you partner with another association on skills development? What about member organizations? 

talent development

What are associations teaching their staff?

During the recent digitalNow conference, many association executives on stage spoke of new competencies they were cultivating on staff. 

•    Business skills for IT staff and IT skills for business departments.

•    Agile development practices.

•    Data analytics: Knowing what to collect and how it can help you make decisions and spot trends.

•    Project management: The National Council of Architectural Registration recently hired a project manager but also gave everyone project management training.

•    Product management: The American Society of Anesthesiologists added a product manager role to create an advocate for the user and a connection between the business department owner and IT.

•    Financial literacy: The Association for Intelligent Information Management teaches everyone to read a P&L. “It gives them ownership,” said Peggy Winton, AIIM’s executive director.

•    Basic principles of adult learning: Tracy Petrillo, chief learning officer at the Construction Specifications Institute, said association professional development teams need to look at competencies beyond meeting planning. 

To prepare for your future, you need “diverse intelligence” on staff, said digitalNow keynote Dr. Radhika Dirks, CEO and co-founder of Xlabs. Association staff need to know what’s possible, if not now, then soon: “Yes, there’s technology that can help us do that.”

But the big question remains, who owns talent development at your association? Who has the time and bandwidth to ensure talent development is continuously happening? This charge is critical for moving your association forward and must be the focus of someone on staff or outsourced to a firm that specializes in HR and talent management services. A random, casual approach isn’t going to cut it, not in this competitive marketplace for association talent. 

skills gap
association career
professional development
Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to receive our blog posts and updatesSubscribe