by Sandra Trice Gray
See the complete list of articles by Sandra Gray.
Cut costs without sacrificing quality customer service.
When I recently conducted an informal survey among colleagues to find out how their organizations are "doing more with less," what I discovered is that many of them aren’t. Most are doing less with less.
Many of today’s associations, faced with the challenge of maintaining quality services after sometimes hefty reductions of resources, are doing a better job of planning and prioritizing. Here are some examples of current efforts by associations to get their services in line with existing resources.
Focusing on essentials. Several associations are focusing on a few essential goals that are central to the association’s mission. For some this means offering fewer-but higher-value-services.
Planning collaboratively and strategically. People at many organizations I spoke with emphasized the importance of strategic planning to address the best use of limited resources. Some are teaming up with other organizations in planning efforts to decrease duplication, with each organization maintaining a clear focus internally and externally. This type of collaboration provides opportunities to combine resources and capabilities. Other organizations are pooling their internal administrative, receptionist, accounting, and bulk purchasing functions.
Using technology. Voice mail is replacing the need for many full-time receptionists. Association professionals are wearing beepers and using portable phones to improve their response time. More meetings are being convened by video conferences or telephone conference calls to save time and money.
Changing rules, behaviors, and habits with regard to how work gets done. Board meetings and retreats are being streamlined, often allowing directors and trustees to arrive and return home the same day, with break time scheduled for making necessary calls back to the office. Some groups are reducing the size of boards so that they can react more quickly and are delegating more authority to committees.
Making use of alternative hiring arrangements. Many associations are hiring talent as needed and saving staff positions for areas where continuity is essential. (One chief executive officer I spoke with decided not to replace a retiring $100,000 salaried employee and to use the resources to hire talent as needed.) General functions such as accounting are frequently outsourced. Some organizations are hiring more part-time employees and interns as well as retired people, whose experience often enables them to serve as mentors to staff.
Instituting flexible work options. Employers are viewing the variety of work options available in today’s business environment as a strategy for attracting and securing necessary talent. For example, more and more employers are authorizing employees to work at home. Job-sharing — where on positions is filled by two people with different skills-is also becoming an increasing reality. Some employees are opting to work a shorter week to spend more time with families, start a business, or teach at a nearby university.
Better focusing, planning, and streamlining of association efforts, coupled with innovative work arrangements that help boost employee morale, are helping organizations maintain high marks for quality service at lower costs.
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