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In the association world, we tend to think of our annual meeting in terms of what it delivers to the members. It is typically a crown jewel type of program—that part of our annual calendar where it’s all hands on deck because a large number of our members get a LOT of their networking and education there (two pillars of your strategic plan). And all that is certainly true, but there’s another piece that you might be missing here:

Your annual meeting defines your culture.

Well, not ALL of your culture, but part of it. Remember, your culture is the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued inside your organization. So how you run your annual meeting can have some important implications about what is valued, yet we often don’t make decisions with that in mind. That means you’re shaping your culture WITHOUT intention, and that can be a problem. As you look at your annual meeting, think about these issues:

SPAN OF CONTROL

Who makes what decisions? How do you balance staff roles and volunteer roles? What “levels” in the organization make which decisions? As things get crazy, you might end up getting loose or contradictory on these calls, and that can change your employees’ experience of what it’s like to work there.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

What parts of your meeting get the resources? Both your members and your staff will notice. Sometimes the dollar split is based on how you’ve “always done it,” and other times it’s because influential members (past and present) like it that way. But is that a conscious choice? Because it defines your culture either way.

AIR TIME

Who gets on the stage and for how long? What do they look like? How old are they? What kinds of messages are they delivering? All this matters (and has implications about what is valued), so be intentional about it.

VENUE

Sure, this is tempered by what you can afford, but even within your range, you’re making trade offs about the time it takes to get there, the price, the level of service, the part of the city/region, etc. Each trade off is going to make some people happy and others disappointed, so what criteria are you using for those trade-offs. These are not random choices, so be disciplined about it.

In the end, both employees and members will be using the annual meeting to make some judgments about you value and what you don’t. Choose wisely.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

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