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Advice for the new CEO - Part 2

Advice for the New Association Leader: Part 2


Simon Forrester sets out further guidance for those stepping into their first association leadership role.


You think it’s time to make some changes, but where to start? And what do you need to get in place first? Our panel of 30+ association leaders has been there and got the T-shirt (or the scars, or indeed both) – their guidance is summarised below.


Don’t Rush In

  • Don’t try to change the world on day one – give yourself time to soak it all in, make some lists. New brooms demoralise staff, and you don’t know your predecessors’ strengths (yet)

  • Understand and manage expectations – it’s a marathon, not a sprint

  • Consolidate what is good and only change when you know you are ready. Small clear focused steps are better than large jumps that overstretch or under-deliver

  • The more changes you make now, the more long-term work – so plan for it first

  • Establish your own working pattern – or it will be set for you

  • Build in reflection / thinking time – or the day will fill up with other stuff, and the ‘light bulb’ moments will never come


Hire Smart

  • Take your time recruiting new staff and be involved in every recruitment process

  • Your Senior Management Team are vital in delivering the Board’s vision

  • Ensure your Board hires smart too – don’t let them bring in friends/timewasters or single-issue protestors, create a process to identify the best and nurture their talent. You need a healthy mix with a single vision


Understand the Landscape

  • Know who ALL your stakeholders are and keep in contact as frequently as possible – make yourself do this if it’s not a forte

  • Who are your most active members and influencers? Their issues should help shape your direction

  • Attend every meeting you can (and there will be lots) at least once to evaluate the role and relevance of it to your objectives and those of the organisation.

  • Associations tend to embrace change more slowly, given the need to bring the membership with you – consultation (via conversation) is key, and members will appreciate the effort


Make Friends with your President

  • The Chair/CEO relationship is vital for success; foster and grow it for the good of the Association

  • Chairs change all too frequently, so put work into identifying and nurturing the stars of tomorrow. This work will pay off when they get to the top

  • Be transparent

  • Understand the Board, and realise that they have day jobs, and individual wants/needs/drivers

  • Collaborate and form alliances – these will pay off when you need some support


When You’re Ready for Change

  • Aim to nudge the Board in the direction you want to go in

  • Bring the staff team with you – involve them in the strategic planning process at a relevant level. Make sure they have bought into it

  • Make sure the Association’s core values are shared by the team and Board alike

  • Before you change make sure you can – review your memorandum and articles, change and simplify if required.

  • Communicate. Ensure your marcomms plan is sound.

  • Associations often revert to history and precedent – be wary that your proposed changes may upset people for often arcane or downright ridiculous reasons. Don’t let them stop you, but have some ‘heavy hitters’ backing you up first.

  • Barriers are opportunities to work to find a solution.

  • After the change be prepared to ‘kill your darlings’ – if something doesn’t work; stop, regroup, plan and change direction


It’s the Membership, Stupid

  • Everything you do should be to further the interests of the membership

  • Is this task furthering the strategic priorities or vision? If not, drop it.

  • Have key performance indicators that demonstrate direction towards the strategic goal

  • Pursue delivery excellence, and reward it accordingly

  • Remember you are only nominally in charge; your members own the association, not you!


And in summary:


Five First actions in the first 100 days

  1. Don’t Panic!

  2. Become a Knowledge Sponge

  3. Make Lots of Friends

  4. Business Plan ready for Strategy Review

  5. Have 2-3 ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’ Successes.


About the Author

Simon Forrester MBA MIAM is the Chief Executive of the National Association of Jewellers. He began his career in the NHS, and in the mid-1990s moved to a senior management role in a professional body. An association manager by profession, Simon has worked in a variety of industry sectors - most recently public health pest management. He joined the NAJ team in January 2018 where he oversees the strategic direction of the association, business planning and monitoring, provides leadership to the team, managing its day-to-day functions, and develops NAJ’s profile with key stakeholders. Simon has an MBA from Birmingham City University, and in 2016 was voted Chief Executive of the Year by the Association of Association Executives.

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