Solutions for Staffing Associations

After rounds of team interviews for the role of Director of Education and Events at the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), chief operating officer Colleen Eubanks thought they found their match. They did the background check, called references, and made an offer. The candidate accepted, and the start date was set.

But the Friday before starting the position, the new hire was swayed back by their current employer with a counter offer. We had to start the search process all over,” Eubanks says. While they ended up hiring a leader who is “more of a team player than the individual who did not join the team,”this sort of scenario is quite a common one.

“In terms of finding talent, I think it’s getting harder and harder to find great talent who are also going to be a cultural fit for the organization,” explains Debra BenAvram, CEO of AABB, the leading organization representing the transfusion medicine and cellular therapy communities. “There is so much competition for good talent that dollars don’t go as far. We’re doing more for less and juggling a lot of factors as making decisions on how to design staff and culture in a way that’s going to deliver results for our members.”

Attracting Talent

In a 2019 “Association Salaries & Staffing Trends Report” conducted by PNP Staffing Group, 28 percent of associations reported candidates declining their best offer, and 57 percent of those surveyed said that senior executive positions are the most difficult to fill. In 2019, the majority of competition will be in this area, since baby boomers are retiring and a large portion of staff replacements are for leadership positions.

According to Alexander Mohr, executive director for the European Flavour Association (EFFA), part of the challenge when it comes to hiring is explaining the role and tasks of trade industry associations, especially if you’re looking outside of major cities like Brussels, London, and Washington, DC. Associations are often not on the radar of young people, which is one of the struggles when it comes to positioning associations and attracting fresh talent. Companies should highlight the work that’s done on a national, European and maybe global level,” Mohr advises. “Demystify the industry and give the people who work with us, the volunteers, more visibility. I think it’s the association’s task and work to give those volunteers the chance to shine a bit.”

EFFA, for example, created a community called the Flavour Ambassadors, a multimedia project that highlights the roles and expertise of professionals from different departments through video interviews. “Engage beyond just giving once a year report about activities, and maybe try and make volunteers ambassadors for the industry with visibility on social media,” Mohr adds.

Creating a Culture

The “Googleplex” campus in California may boast swimming pools, volleyball courts, and 18 cafeterias, but associations can create just as strong of a company culture without all the bells and whistles. One of my colleagues always says culture happens by design or default, and one of those two things is going to happen, so you better design it well,” says BenAvram. “When I think about designing culture, any time we have a person coming into or leaving a team, it’s a brand-new team—and we can never forget that.”

To combat budget constraints and rotating work forces, BenAvram advises developing a strong and ongoing set of values to create a team that trusts each other, challenges each other, and holds one another accountable to accomplish great things. “Culture development and team development is something you’re never done doing,” she says.“When I’m working on building culture, I’m working on building a connection for everyone in the organization to the results for the whole organization, not just the results for their own team.”

Eubanks agrees, which is why the hiring process at IASP is a team effort. When a spot opens up, this is a chance to look across the organization and make a group decision on how—and where—to allocate those resources, instead of rushing to replace a member. “When we set up the interview process, I purposely include team members from other departments and from different levels so the candidates can get a good perspective of how our organization works and what the culture is like,” Eubanks explains.“We also discuss the open position in our leadership team meetings and agree on expectations for the new person to work with different teams, so everyone understands the role and expectations before we even make the hire.”

Having a methodology in place helps to build trust with teams and show that leaders are looking to make the best decision for the organization as a whole, ensuring that every member’s voice is heard. This way, one team doesn’t feel prioritized over another—a challenge in today’s resource- (and budget-) strained world.Culture change takes three to five years—these are building blocks that take a long time to get people to see and trust and value as you’re building a team and figuring out how to use your dollar,” BenAvram says.“At the end of the day, people want a connection to the altruistic mission we’re all here for. Where I work, if we do a good job, patients who need a blood transfusion will have safe blood. That’s a pretty powerful tool for me to use to motivate employees.”

This article was written by Boardroom editor Lane Nieset.  The right to use, part or all of it in subsequent works has to be granted by the Publisher.

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