Returning the Serve

By Craig Johns

I’m back with the second segment from the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) ACE 2017 Conference. Following on from a review of the keynote presentations from Craig Davis (The Future Looks Human), Kitty Chiller (Lessons on Leadership), Liana Downey (Mission Control) and Naomi Simson (Hope is not a Strategy), it’s time to provide you an insight into the excellent presentations on engagement, career development, change management, relevance, membership and high performing teams.

If you missed out on the first segment click here, then read on and be inspired…

18403996_125628924657295_3834196770572220168_oMember Engagement is an Art

Bill Moore, the new CEO of Fitness Australia, spoke about member engagement as an art, not a science. He shared an intimate insight into how the organisation had lost engagement with its members and how Fitness Australia have turned it around with a new engagement strategy. The strategy focused on Fitness Australia being more human and reliable. Other components included: project based eDM’s; virtual shareable content; revamped brand-consumer engagement; more on-roads; new & expanded services; e-journals and learning opportunities; and a higher level of perceived value. Bill spoke about his view on the engagement strategy process, noting that the market isn’t liner and that we need to place more emphasis on Nowcasting vs Forecasting. The last part of the session focused on getting the right team, with the following having an effect on team results:

  1. absence of trust (be vulnerable)
  2. fear of conflict (preserving artificial harmony stifles productive conflict)
  3. lack of commitment (lack of buy-in prevents sticking to decisions)
  4. avoidance of accountability (avoiding personal discomfort prevents accountability)
  5. inattention to results (individual goals prevents team results)

“Default thinking leaves no room for creative thinking”

BILL MOORE Fitness Australia


3R’s Driving Your Career

Nigel Harris, CEO of Mater Foundation, enlightened delegates with the 3R’s to support career progression. The career pathway isn’t always as clear as it seems. The 3R’s:

  1. Relevance – As a leader you need to matter, “Find it, build it, frame it”.  “Unfreeze yourself” by being an agile leader who stays relevant. Be a student, “read, listen and engage”. Understand your markets & customers, their needs and challenges, and anticipate them. Be innovative, creative and take care of yourself (mental, physical and emotional).
  2. Relationships – How do you see or be seen in a relationship? Be authentic and respond to how people look and turn to us. Be patient as some form fast, but know that many don’t. “Organisations cannot rule by consensus”, although know that leaders by themselves achieve very little. Master the soft skills.
  3. Results – Remember you are here to accomplish, so state clearly what success looks like. Listen between the lines and the full stop.

Nigel added a second set of 3R’s: Resilience (never give up as you will get knocked down); Respect (keep your eye on the task, not yourself); and Reflection (step back and observe).


Change Management Through Disruption 

Kellie Northwood used her experience as CEO of the Australian Catalogue Association to bring to life her ideas on managing change through industry disruption. She spoke about it being a brave new “Phigital” world.  

Kellie mentioned that many Brands are now becoming publishers. Many top brands are increasing their reach and ROI when embracing off-line (print) publications to support their online (digital) campaigns.  She revealed that combing print with digital media campaigns was seeing substantial increased value and ROI (50% lift). The likes of Zoella and David Jones are using this strategy to great effect, with David Jones turning advertising into a revenue-generating business. 


Remain Relevant

Lee White, CEO of Chartered Accountants ANZ brought to life the importance of remaining relevant in a competitive environment. Lee used the recent example of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand unifying as one entity and the change management process involved to gain the crucial votes. He felt that the successful unification of both organisations has allowed Chartered Accountants to remain relevant in a rapidly changing society.

Lee spoke of the following Global Trends affecting relevancy in a competitive environment:

  • Globalisation – business across borders (talent retention)
  • Demographics – age, culture (retention of an older workforce)
  • Technology – digital transformation (pace is relentless)
  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P) economy – work & skill expertise changing (Air BnB, Uber)

He went on to describe the future of work, talking about the importance of adapting to strive and thrive, using technology to create or destroy, the change from job-4-life to a job-4-now, understanding when to be a specialist vs. a generalist, and the creation of new business models. Lee talked about inclusiveness being the important ingredient to success; the power of inclusiveness for team engagement, collaboration and innovation; and the multi-dimensional components of inclusiveness.


Give Membership a Sporting Chance

David Friend, Managing Director of Shared Services Solution International, assisted delegates with a few try’s as he encouraged us to give our membership growth a sporting chance. David has seen enormous success in supporting high profile sporting clubs and organisations to developing thriving membership growth and retention.

He explained what membership is:

  • engagement and attachment of a member
  • sense of belonging to an elite group and being a part of a tight extended family
  • proud of being a part of a community (closeness)
  • fun & enjoyment of being a part of it
  • experiencing the emotional ups and downs (emotional attachment)

David spoke about the importance of internal culture in developing a thriving membership organisation. Total organisational involvement is crucial to success, ensuring that membership is part of the organisations DNA and that everyone plays a part.

He then went onto describe the four key elements of membership being:

  1. New members (marketing strategy)
  2. Lapsed members (lapsed strategy to re-engage the 25-30% drop-off annually)
  3. Retaining members (outstanding customer service)
  4. Targeted prospects (build a database)

David feels strongly that the bigger the database, the bigger the membership. He then stressed the importance of knowing “what you can offer that no one else can”. David discussed that acquisition and retention is all about members wanting:

  • to feel special, loved and cared for
  • recognition from the organisation
  • to feel engaged and part of the family

Members feel happy when they are kept up-to-date (communication) and have a personal approach (speak directly to them, unique member #’s, recognition of # years as a member). They feel sad when there is poor communication (calls & emails aren’t returned) and/or have a bad renewal experience (communication & package).

David explained that retention increases as the length of time as a member increases. Membership churn is ~25%, nationally, each year. There is a drop off of ~33% in year one, 18% in year two, 9% in year 3 and 7% in year 4. The key driver to improve retention is customer service.


High-Performing Teams

David Malone, CEO of the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association , explained that building high performing teams is more science than art. He mentioned that most of the experience and expertise in high performing teams was from research in the fields of military and sport. David has spent quite a lot of time studying research that delves into business and corporate teams (see references below) and how the science behind the literature can improve your teams. 

Statistics to explain what is happening in the real world when it comes to organisations and teams: 

  • 72% of organisations believe team performance has an extremely positive impact on overall performance. (Source: Brandon Hall Group Survey)
  • Yet over half of these same organisations have no strategy, and make no investment, in developing teams. (Source: Brandon Hall)
  • 64% of employees spend at least a third of their working day in a team setting. (Source: Bianchard Consulting Survey)
  • The average team achieves on average only 63% of their strategic objectives. (Source: Harvard Business Review)

Articles by Dr Alex “Sandy” Pentland and Rich Karlgaard suggest that the three key components to high-performing teams are:

  1. Equal contributions (proposition) from all team members
  2. High energy levels obtained from both the environment and people involved 
  3. No prescribed team leader (no one naturally takes over and works its self out as it goes along)

Other components from the research include:

  • Frequent short breaks (usually used to gather further information or evidence)
  • Informal interactions
  • Minimal props or distractions (limit what is on the table. i.e.: laptops, phones)
  • 5-9x members (less if the team consists of introverts)
  • Some level of conflict (creative abrasion) 

David described that the critical macro factors of high-performing teams where trust, accountability, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The key was to only influence (change) one factor at a time. He concluded the presentation with an overview of some challenges that are faced in creating high-performing teams:

  • Energy levels (better in the morning)
  • Environment (meeting room vs. walking meeting vs. a change in venue)
  • Generally its better to have one less person than you think is the ideal number of members in the team
  • Shorten the position descriptions to 1/2 to 3/4 of a page.


  1. Dr. Alex “Sandy” Pentland. The New Science of Building Great Teams. Harvard Business Review (webinar)
  2. Rich Karlgaard & Michael Malone. Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organisations. Harper Collins Australia, 2015

Final Note

Thanks to Graham Richardson from the Art of Mentoring who challenged me to dig deep, find the root cause and come up with some effective solutions, during an Executive Coaching session. I highly recommended Graham, and his team, for your executive coaching and mentoring needs.


I was very fortunately to attend a delicious VIP dinner hosted by the ICC team and AuSAE, with a 5-star array of divine food that just melted in your mouth. 

Helen Bambry and the team at Tourism NZ also hosted a wonderful networking breakfast, with Air New Zealand and a number of Tourism, Events and Conference providers from New Zealand.


… and that is a wrap for #ACESYD17. See you in 29-30 May 2018!

(Photos courtesy of Oneill Photographics)


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Are you looking for more insights and ideas? Then read the following inspiring and thought-provoking articles by Craig Johns:

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