Possibility Unleashed: The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference

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Connections - 02.28.22

Chief Perspectives: A Conversation Between ANCOR’s Executive Leaders

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by Barbara Merrill & Gabrielle Sedor, ANCOR

Editor’s Note: CEO Barbara Merrill and COO Gabrielle Sedor joined forces this month to share their perspectives on the association’s most exciting developments. Check out this excerpt from their conversation and let them know what you think!

GABRIELLE SEDOR (GS): Every couple of years, ANCOR piggybacks its winter Board Retreat onto workshops offered by ASAE (the association for association leaderss) that teach CEOs and Board chairs how to develop and lead truly exceptional boards. This year, ANCOR Foundation Board President Rita Wiersma and I joined Barbara, along with ANCOR Board President Heidi Mansir, Vice President Diane Beastrom and Secretary/Treasurer Jennifer Saunders for the ASAE event before heading into the Board Retreat.

BARBARA MERRILL (BM): An association for associations? It sounds a bit silly, but of course association leaders need our own association, too! ASAE, formerly the American Society for Association Executives, is where we go to up our game. And I can’t recommend these workshops more strongly. Attending the CEO Symposium with members of the Executive Committee has been the key to transforming the ANCOR Board of Directors into an even higher-performing board, and we regularly go to that training to stay ahead of the curve. In fact, we are exploring bringing one of these trainings to ANCOR members – it’s that good.

GS: As luck would have it, the Tucson Exceptional Boards program was co-led by Mary Byers, one of the authors of Road to Relevance, a book that the ANCOR Board of Directors read in preparation for its Retreat.

I always appreciate tempering my mental to do list with reminders of how much progress ANCOR and the ANCOR Foundation have made in building their boards, maintaining a strong culture and creating pipelines for future leaders to serve. So, I was relieved that the ASAE workshop was equal parts thought-generating and also validating. It was the perfect preface to a productive board meeting.

BM: My predecessor, Renee Pietrangelo, introduced Byer’s first book, Race to Relevance, at least 12 years ago. In that nook, Byer makes the point that associations must understand their niche, and not try to be all things to all people. That’s why the board intentionally defined our core members as providers of services for people with I/DD, as opposed to people with all disabilities. Road to Relevance is the blueprint for implementing the concepts introduced in Race to Relevance.

GS: While Tucson temperatures were unseasonably chilly, it was still nice enough to fit in a morning hike and spot a javalina or three before heading into the meeting. And, it was wonderful to meet face to face with almost all of the Board, especially since we hadn’t physically seen each other since our July 2021 meeting in Kansas City.

Photo of landscape in Tucson

BM: Unseasonably chilly is an understatement!

GS: That rejuvenation and awakening that I think we all felt by being in the same space together reinforced our decision to hold our Annual Conference in Miami this spring and actually fed into a conversation that the Board started in October 2021 and expanded to the Board of Representatives and State Association executives Forum over the winter: how do we position ANCOR (and our members) for success in an unpredictable environment?

Is there a role for in-person gatherings anymore when so much can be done remotely? How can ANCOR lead on the federal level in ways that make the most impact for our members locally? Where should ANCOR focus its energy, financial resources and human capital to best support our members and the people they support?

What we heard (and what we felt) was that social connection is more important now than it’s ever been before.

Can we do most things virtually? Yes. Is there still a need to offer face to face events? Emphatically yes. One of the ways that ANCOR can lead is to connect new members and new executives with colleagues already in the field. We can create the space for networking and mentoring while still acknowledging that a virtual option can allow other members to participate who may not be able to leave their organizations for several days at a time due to duties or workforce challenges.

We hear you, and we’re excited to offer our 2022 Annual Conference as a hybrid event. Choose the method that works best for you and be assured that we will do all we can to maximize that experience.

BM: I’m incredibly excited about Miami. After transitioning four in-person conferences to virtual formats in the last two years, we know we can now meet safely in person. We have a deep hunger to be together, to learn and network in a way that, despite their strengths, virtual meetings cannot replicate. But, as Gab says above, we will offer the virtual option because of the accessibility it offers, both for safety during a pandemic and the affordability for time and resources. Our numbers have never been greater, which we know is a sign of our growing influence. I’m loving our bigger boat!

GS: In addition to the usual Board business (Minutes approved: check! Consent agenda approved: check! Financial reports accepted: check!), the Board approved ANCOR’s 2022 policy priorities, learned more about ANCOR and the ANCOR Foundation’s Communications team during a session led by Sean Luechtefeld, and heard from Elliot Massuda from ANCOR Gold Partner Foothold.

The rest of the Retreat was focused on assessing and building upon ANCOR’s strengths as an association. The Road to Relevance maintains that “as iron sharpens iron, associations operating from strength create more strength.”

Board member Shelly Chandler led the discussion as Board members attempted to specifically identify ANCOR’s strengths as they pertain to our assets, resources, capabilities and intangibles, and asked the question, “what do we do better than anyone else?”

Generative thinking can be challenging, especially when many of us make a living by problem-solving, thinking on our feet and trying to operationalize strategic plans and goals as best we can. And perhaps by “we” I mean “me.”  But this exercise isn’t over. In fact, its just the beginning as we move toward assessing our five-year strategic plan at year 3. Are we building on our strengths? Are we absolutely capitalizing on what we do best in ways that our members see and feel?

BM: Gab’s not alone in being challenged by generative thinking. It’s also not intuitive for me, but the generative/strategic lens is critical to maintaining our advantage, and ensuring we are leveraging the knowledge and talents of our Board of Directors. It’s about asking the right questions, anticipating future needs, being proactive as opposed to reactive. It’s where high-performing boards seek to spend the majority of their time. If you ever feel like your board meetings are like the movie Groundhog Daycheck out this blog post on the value of structuring generative discussions

GS & BM: Tell us, where do you think ANCOR’s strengths lie? We welcome your feedback, particularly prior to the next Board discussion. Email us at [email protected] or [email protected] and help us fit into our generative hats.