Participation in a good trade organization is one key to survival in the auto service business. But as valuable as trade groups are, they won't flourish the way they should until members grow out of the ``old-boys-club'' mindset. It's time for some people to grow into a stance of neighborly professionalism. Until they do, they'll scare away more prospective members than they recruit.
In my travels, I meet countless service personnel who, via trade association participation, selflessly give back to the industry that feeds their families. Frankly, they contribute more experience and information than they'll ever get back from the trade group.
The legacy of these positive contributors won't be the golf outings, picnics or Christmas parties they organized-or even the number of new members they recruited.
Instead, they'll be known for improving members' quality of life by providing information that helped them run their businesses better. The true contributors scheduled the speakers and seminars and created programs that taught members vital managerial, mar-keting and technical skills.
Unfortunately, the contributors' hard work and good examples often are undone by self-serving factions dedicated to preserving the status quo, including a good-old-boys/good-old-gals network they've cultivated within the organization.
True, that faction helped build the association. But a closer look reveals it also may be holding back the entire organization by taking more than it's giving.
You see, membership provides status, recognition and positive reinforcement these folks often don't get at home or work. Worse yet, the bitter truth for some is that association activities are just a legitimate excuse to get out of the house and socialize!
Just like the unhappy customer negatively influences more people than the satisfied customer, similarly, the old-boys-club attitude may turn off more membership prospects than membership benefits turn on.
Most trade group recruiters agree membership is a tough sell in a tight economy, so they welcome all the help they can muster. Some 1990s-style attitude adjustments for the old-boys faction may be the most immediate help they get.
The first adjustment: ban the holier-than-thou, us-vs.-them approach frequently encountered.
This cocky attitude only heightens perceived differences and psychological distance between members and non-members. On the other hand, adopting the stance of a concerned industry neighbor trying to help another neighbor improve his lot in life promotes a common purpose. Common goals help bond people together instead of separating them.
Second, dump the join-or-perish tactics. Prospects aren't stupid. No matter how good your association is, the prospect realizes the overwhelming majority of service shops get along without joining up. Rather, emphasize membership as a means of working smarter instead of just working harder.
Third, require members to personally accompany prospective members for an entire evening's activities. Individually introduce prospects to as many people at the meeting as practically possible.
Don't just introduce them to the group, leave them alone and migrate back to the old-boys clique for the evening. Doing so segregates prospective members at a critical time when they should be bonding with the group.
Fourth, actively demonstrate that your group is committed to learning and business development first, social events a distant-very distant-second. Overemphasizing social activities creates or strengthens the impression you're running an old-boys club.
Fifth, adopt John F. Kennedy's litmus test-challenge members and non-members to show what they can do for the group and the industry instead of expecting only to take from it.
Break the club atmosphere once and for all by grooming members and leaders who are qualified to give rather than take from the group. Promote a sense of balance.
For example, a fellow whose marriage and/or business is failing from years of neglect probably isn't qualified to give more time to the group or hold office. Instead, he has to get his own life in order before he can contribute to the group in a meaningful, long-term way.
Finally, associations can't grow until members become living examples of the ideals they espouse. A group cannot earn respect and new members when its officers (of all people!) run threadbare, downtrodden-looking businesses. Like it or not, seeing is believing.
People will begin believing in your group when they see its beliefs at work.