Can You Afford to be a Bystander?

In case you stopped following the comment thread on my "Myth of Control" post, there was an interesting addition lately. Randy, an association CEO, posted a lengthy and interesting comment. I point to it for a couple of reasons. First, YES there are CEOs who read and respond to blogs (other than Virgil)! But second I wanted to point to this quote.

So from the guy in the corner office who sometimes is called a skeptic, you need to tell me the problem you can solve. And it needs to be my association's problem not a generic one, e.g. promotion of an idea that the WEB 2.0 technology applications may produce more membership but for some associations that is not a needed solution. But an idea that says that through electronic networking the current membership can be tied tighter to your association (makes you more sticky) may be a solution for an association.

It reminds me of a point David Gammel makes all the time: you don't have to run to the CEO or Board and say "We need to start a blog!" Instead you can say "I have an easy way to get fresh content out to members…and it's free. Let's try a small test."

Randy's point is that CEOs may not be convinced with arguments about the high-level importance of value of social media. As Randy points out, the "you’ll get more members" may not be the compelling argument for a given association. He was pointing out how valuable the "stickiness" factor would be. You need to show how the social media will provide a specific solution for that specific association. It's a nice reminder (particularly for theoretical guys like me) to make things real.

Of course, he also goes on to say:

So where do I stand. My approach as the CEO is that we can't and don't want to be bystanders so we are experimenting. Nothing big, flashy or over-hyped. Trying a bunch of things that are related to mission and seeing if anything works and means anything to our members.

In the end if it is a solution it is usually worth the risk.

Understanding the danger of being bystanders is key, as is recognizing the value of experimenting. You have to do things BEFORE you know that they will work. Otherwise you are a bystander. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a bystander. The world is full of them, and plenty of organizations survived for decades being primarily bystanders. But if you ask me, being a bystander isn't as safe as it used to be. Organizationally, you used to be able to let a small number of others take the risks, and then you could jump on the bandwagon later. Today that is changing. By the time you jump on the bandwagon, everyone else has moved on.

Lisa Junker quoted either Ben Martin, Jeff De Cagna or Kevin Holland in her post on Acronym that communicators need to be futurists. I'm not sure that we ALL don't need to be futurists now. We ALL need to better sense trends that emerge—like, for instance, the trend where the people do it themselves, rather than the central authority controlling and executing. If you're not sensing like that (and experimenting), you'll be a bystander, and if you stay in that place, you might not be able to catch up. The organizational capacity to sense and experiment is critical, and I don't think it is on enough radar screens.

Let's Talk About Workplace Culture


  1. 04.03.2008 at 9:06 am

    I agree. I’ve said that the SAFE route is not the same as RISK FREE. For example, hiring for achievement is SAFE, but you may be missing a boatload of potential in the process.
    As a boutique management consultant, I feel this everyday. No one gets fired for hiring McKinsey. It’s a safe move, but it’s not risk free, as you may be passing on a plate full of potential for a portion of good enough.
    On another point, the systemic question becomes how do organizational performance management systems treat risk taking?
    I’ll be inclined not to take risks if it’s going to cost me my job come appraisal time.
    We have to stop relying on “measuring performance” and move to “judging effectiveness”. They are two different things. One requires a calculator, the other, a brain.
    Michelle Malay Carter

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