Serving the ACE!

ACE 2017 3

By Craig Johns

I am feeling NRGized this week after delving into topics such as the future is human, one team, disruption, relevance and mission control as the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) served up at an ACE at their annual conference in Sydney.

Check out the first segment from my highlights from #ACESYD17 below, including key learnings and insights that can help you in your organisation or business. (Photos courtesy of AuSAE & Oneill Photographics)

Held at the brand new International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney, we were led by the colorful, entertaining and insightful MC Andrew Klein from Spike Presentations, as the conference delivered world-leading content over the two days.

Highlighting the conference were keynote presentations by Craig Davis, the vision behind the most innovative parcel delivery company in the world, Sendle; Kitty Chiller, the 2016 Australian Olympic Team Chef de Mission, providing “lessons on leadership“; Liana Downey, Executive Director at Liana Downey & Associates (strategic advisers to governments and non-profits), inspiring us to take on Mission Control; and Naomi Simson, founding Director of RedBalloon and celebrity Shark Tank specialist, taking us on a roller-coaster ride into her life as mum, CEO and celebrity.


The Future Looks Human

Craig Davis kicked off #ACESYD17, providing an overview of the “age of acceleration of everything” and then stepped it up by sharing his three steps to success:

  • Train Your Attention (Focus)
  • Learn to Appreciate Failure (Learn)
  • Go on a Journey from Ego to Empathy to Compassion (Serve)

He spoke about the importance of attention, noting that it is the world’s most scarce resource. Craig shared research that, on average, attention spans have reduced from 12 to 8 seconds, since 2007. His approach to human failure is that it cultivates resilience and the learning from failure that leads to our successes. Craig finished off by taking  us through the Sendle journey and how it developed by accident as TuShare required a more efficient delivery service.

“Be present. Don’t leave the best part of you at home when going to work.”




Kitty Chiller, Australia’s 1st ever female Olympic Games Chef de Mission, gave us an in-depth insight into the life behind an Australian Olympic Games Team. Not one to take a backwards step, Kitty discussed the reasons behind the “One Team” approach and how every decision was based on “will this make the boat go faster”. She spoke about the importance of embracing the challenge, but doing it with sincerity.

Kitty provided advice for leaders on coping under pressure. She stayed true to her motto “best planned, best prepared, best performed” as she motivated herself and inspired the entire Olympic team through one of the toughest Olympics in history. Kitty talked about the importance of an extensive roadshow to develop trust and buy-in to the “One Team” approach. All the Australian Olympic Team Management staff where required to write a one-page plan, when they commenced their role, outlining what their role was in making a difference to the “One Team” performance. This approach was designed to gain value, feel valued as making a a difference to the team, and ensure everyone feels part of the team.

“Take responsibility for your own potential.”

MICHAEL JOHNSON Olympic Gold Medalist


Mission Control 

Liana Downey is determined to help leaders change the world. Liana spoke about the “Power of Focus” and that it requires a lot of courage to control it. She gave a great presentation on how to control your companies mission and what to be aware of that can side-track the organisation. 

Mission creep (trying to do too much) is an all too common problem facing organisations. Missions usually get out of control because of:

  • Chasing funding
  • Start with a symptom, rather than the root cause (ask the right questions)
  • Difficulty in saying NO!
  • Lots of stakeholders

Liana’s 7 key steps to Mission Control are:

  1. Get the FACTS – environment, sector, clients
  2. Set your GOAL – clear (7 year old proof), describes an end-state, ensure its spine-tingling (energises & galvanises staff), distinguish between goal & strategy
  3. Identify your OPTIONS – i.e.: profit option tree
  4. Identify what WORKS – experts, research, learn from your experiences, impact must be tied to results
  5. Look INWARDS – what are your organisations strengths
  6. Find your SWEET SPOT
  7. Tell your STORY – know where you are going (goal), how will you get there (strategy) and why will it work

3-month plan vs. 10 year? – 3-month as people will leave the room knowing what they will achieve and can see its within their reach.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be something to someone.”



Shark Tank

Naomi Simson reminded us of the importance of remembering what it felt like to serve your first customer. It’s that moment of trust and the greatest impact you are likely to have on that customer!

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Naomi has developed the extremely successful RedBalloon company. The model is based on growth through relationships, with word-of-mouth being their most powerful promotional tool. She talked about the importance of reading customer feedback “How people talk about you” and improving the quality of the product and service when required.

“Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world. Love what you do or don’t do it.”


Naomi reiterated the importance of people understanding the difference between managers and leaders, and to run an effective show, all staff are required to fulfill their role. “Everyone brings their right talent’s for the boat to perform”

  • Manager – nurture the uniqueness of the individual to perform
  • Leader – unite everyone for the same cause

Some of the other key take homes were:

  • “People thing” – fixing people is the biggest challenge
  • Is your organisation in the right flow? 
  • Keep working – its not set & forget
  • Do we give guarantees that are just words? (what is the commitment to the members?)
  • “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. Bill Gates
  • Listening posts to get a balanced and fair view of consumers. (both positive & negative)
  • Ensure your organisation has relevance during times of disruption
  • Keep relationships close has the best effect on disrupters
  • Look after the well-being of employees as it translates to the customer
  • If you are rushing to their importance, you are not getting to your importance
  • You can never earn more time
  • Own your own parameters

“A brand is a promise. It creates expectations, that the product has to deliver.”


The second segment from #ACE2017 is now available! click here…

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

Unleash the Niche

By Craig Johns

What can your members not do without?

No organisation can be everything to everyone, no matter how big or small. Being able to narrow the focus of your target market, known as creating a ‘niche’, is key to success. By understanding what your consumers can’t do without and servicing that requirement, you will be a step ahead of the competition.

What is your place in the industry?

Niches do not exist, but are created by identifying needs, wants and requirements that are limited in the marketplace, and can be satisfied by developing, delivering and implementing products, programs and services that satisfy them. Having a strong identity and a clear understanding of who you are to the consumers, is very important.

What is your market?

Knowing what market you providing for allows you to specifically tailor content and services that connect with your consumers. People like to have exclusivity and know they are receiving special service. They want to feel cared about and being able to specifically make a connection with them should be a priority. If you don’t know whom you want to do business with, you can’t make contact.

What makes it different?

Do you know why your market stands out from the rest and what are the behavioural characteristics of your consumers? Understanding what makes it different allows you to create a stronger brand and identity to ensure you recruit and retain your consumers effectively.

Steps to success

  1. Create a list of who you want to attract and work with.
  2. Focus on what products, programs and services you are going to provide, based on your skill-sets, achievements, lessons learnt and style.
  3. Determine how your consumers see, understand and interact with their world.
  4. Synthesize your niche through ensuring it fits your long-term vision, it is desirable to your consumers, it is carefully planned, it’s one of a kind and has evolutionary elements
  5. Look at whether you niche meets the criteria of all aspects in step four and evaluate its viability.
  6. The one step that is most often forgotten or misunderstood is testing the niche with the market.
  7. Unleash the niche, into the market place.

 The Pressure Test

Once you have effectively implemented your niche and established your identity it’s important to regularly check its relevance in the marketplace. By asking key questions, you will be able to do a temperature test on whether it’s still ‘hot property’ or not.

  • Are your target consumers who you thought they were?
  • Do you stand up to the pressure test with your consumers?
  • Is it constantly evolving and moving ahead of the competition?
  • Are you offering what the consumers really want?
  • Do you have a connection, passion and focused energy with regards your niche?

Be one step ahead!

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

Ask a Question!


By Craig Johns

Are you asking the right questions and how are you interpreting the answers?

Asking the right questions provides a powerful tool for a leader, manager or coach. The following piece provides an insight into how questioning impacts both the person asking and those answering the question, through a coach/athlete relationship. It is applicable to all industries and aspects of life.

“There is more learning in the question itself, than the answer.” 

Andrew Weremy

Utilizing questioning as a coach can provide a greater insight into the athlete in how they learn, understand and perform. Questioning encourages athletes to think for themselves and increases their involvement, responsibility, creativity, motivation and interest in learning.

A positive benefit of questioning is that it promotes increased levels of communication (2-way communication) between athlete and coach. Enhanced communication then leads to developing mutual respect and trust between athlete and coach. This “helps the coach understand the athlete better through enhanced communication, which could lead to recognizing the athletes emotional, social and life variables that are/were affecting performance.” [ITU2]

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” 

Albert Einstein

Questioning “helps athletes become more autonomous and continue to learn and explore when the coach isn’t there.” [ITU2] The athlete will learn to problem solve more effectively, have “confidence in their ability to analyze situations” [ITU2] and improve their decision making ability under pressure in a competition.

There are various types of questioning including closed (‘Yes’ or ‘No’, provides limited information), open (requires explaining in-depth) and leading (contains information the person asking wants to hear in the question) questions. Open questioning provides greater opportunities for understanding and learning due to the more detailed response. Questioning can also be classified further into [ITU2]

• Knowledge (attending to and remembering facts)
• Understanding (Interpreting meaning, translating into the athletes own words)
• Application (using information and solving problems by applying information in new and different ways)
• Analysis (Breaking things into parts: examining relationships; asking why)
• Synthesis (Create something new; construct; design)
• Evaluation (judging, assigning value, justifying opinions)

It has been found that “using bandwidth feedback with questioning maintains communication with athlete, allows the coach to gain a greater understanding of what the athlete is concentrating on and encourages athlete autonomy for their learning.” Bandwidth feedback sets an acceptable zone of performance and only provides feedback when the athlete falls below or excels above. Another way to create more effective results from questioning involves the use of a pause or waiting time to allow them to think before answering.

“Sometimes quiet people really do have a lot to say. They’re just being careful about who they open up to.”

Susan Gale

Reference – [ITU2] ITU Competitive Coaching Level II Coaches Manual pg 170, 171, 172


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

Complexity is Your Enemy

Complexity Coach

By Craig Johns

Why do we fall down the trap of thinking and making things more complex than they should be?

KISS – Keep it simple stupid is a great acronym too seldom used. We often make everything very complex, leaving both ourselves and those we are talking to confused and unsure.

As Albert Einstein once said:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

A common trap people fall into is thinking that it is the people were are talking too’s fault for why they don’t understand, rather than placing the emphasis back on ourselves, as the one (s) presenting the concept or information.

Being able to deliver a compelling message to our employees, investors or athletes comes down to your ability to make it understandable to the audience you are speaking or writing to. It is common for a CEO, manager or coach to send their employees or athletes off with a task and for them to return as a failure, in the their eyes. This is not because the employee or athlete wasn’t capable of doing it, but because they didn’t understand what was being asked or provided to them.

It is important that the CEO, manager or coach are able to analyze a situation and determine whether the message they are presenting is actually being understood.  If you can’t explain it in less than 20% of the words you used, then it is probably too complex and you don’t understand your subject matter well enough. The ability of an employee or athlete to understand what the CEO, manager or coach message is, can have a major affect on the trust and support they will provide.

Richard Branson summed complexity up with the following:

“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simpler.”

How do you check if your message is being understood and whether you understand your message well enough?

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

Enhance the Experience

Membership - Experience

By Craig Johns

Are organisations actually making a difference to their members?

Organisations flourish by adequately resourcing their activities to meet member requirements. However, they often make decisions based on on how membership will benefit the organisation, rather than focusing on the actual member/s. They focus on aspects such as how many members should they target, what benefits they can leverage off their partners to provide to members and how much they should increase the membership fees.

But is that really what organisations should be focusing on?

Achieving organisational success is dependent on two key things:

  1. effectively resourcing its activities, and
  2. providing something to a member that makes a difference to their lives

Now, if organisational success is based on resources and members, then every new decision, policy, change, program and service must consider the effect on both aspects.

Are resources or members the most important consideration?

The answer is simple. Without members, there is no organisation! If the organisation doesn’t provide relevance or value to a person, they are highly unlikely to become or remain a member.

So how can organisations ensure that members are front and centre on every decision made?

Developing a key focal point based on the members, which every decision and every change is challenged against, is critical in achieving organisation success. If the decision or change doesn’t positively effect the key focal point, then the organisation should reconsider what they are about to implement.

A focal point that I commonly use with organisations is:


Let’s use tennis as an example. Anyone can play tennis as long as they have a racquet, ball and either a wall or someone to play against. To enhance their experience they would need to subscribe, create or join a learning platform, group, club, program and/or organisation. They may consider joining a tennis club or group to receive coaching, to socialise with like minded people, and to have opportunities to play and compete against other tennis players. They might subscribe to an online tennis magazine. They could join a state/regional or national tennis organisation.

The person interested in tennis will assess whether joining will enhance their experience by helping them learn more, improve their performance, meet and play other people, provide access to courts, make it more enjoyable, etc… before signing up. If the learning platform, group, club, program and/or organisation doesn’t enhance their experience, they are unlikely to join or retain their membership.

It is therefore vitally important that every decision is cross-checked with “does it enhance the experience of the players” first, before checking whether the organisation has the resource capability to manage, deliver or support it effectively.

You might be asking “What key elements are required to ensure that membership provides value and relevance?”

Current and potential members like to (some or all of the follow):

  • belong and feel part of a community
  • share knowledge and experiences
  • learn and understand
  • improve and achieve
  • support and feel like someone cares
  • have access and opportunities

MaccaX provide a great introductory video that clearly shows their relevance and value to their members.

Online Triathlon Training Plans from MaccaX on Vimeo.


What is your organisation going to base its decisions on?