You spend the entire weekend cleaning your home from top to bottom. The place looks great. All that’s left is a sink full of dirty dishes. Some friends drop by unexpectedly. Did they notice your immaculate dwelling? Do they appreciate all your toil? Unlikely; when things are fine, nobody seems to notice. However, most assuredly, the guests’ eyes will spot the one unfinished business, the dirty dishes. Upon that they will judge you and share their comments with others.
Likewise, ATA has endeavored to communicate and be transparent with its membership. The problem is that there are a few dirty dishes; some unresolved transparency matters, providing some members with fodder. Therefore, before highlighting issues of candor and communication, consider what ATA has accomplished.
ATA’s Communication and Transparency Actions
1. Website: www.atanet.org contains a wealth of information.
a. How our association functions: http://www.atanet.org/governance/ataglance_works.php
b. Complete board members list and contact information: http://www.atanet.org/governance/governance_board.php
c. http://www.atanet.org/governance/coming_soon.php this used to be where I could access the minutes from years of board meetings. It seems to be missing at this moment.
d. Understand how it all works: http://www.atanet.org/docs/p_bylaws.pdf
e. Elections, nominating process, decisions: http://www.atanet.org/governance/index.php#elections
f. Treasurer’s Report: http://www.atanet.org/membersonly/login.php?rm=login&msg=0&redirect=/governance/treasurer_report.php
g. ATA’s code of ethics and its policy: http://www.atanet.org/governance/code_of_ethics.php
As you can see, the website is replete with data. The conundrum is that it is cumbersome to mine the information you need. Although the website was redesigned recently, ideas and proposals should be solicited regarding improving it to be user friendly to its members and the end users requiring our services.
2. Chronicle. The recent February issue gave featured fascinating titles:
a. How Does the ATA Nomination Process Work?
b. Anatomy of an ATA Conference.
c. Report from the Treasurer
Other issues have reported on board meetings and future major changes.
3. Social Media Groups.
a. I visit LinkedIn group more than the Yahoo one. Their purpose allows members to express themselves within the private confines of the group. They discuss relevant current topics. The administrator is a board member.
i. Data retrieval of members’ thoughts and opinions to share with the board.
ii. Damage control. During heated discussions, the administrator might answer some questions or invite someone to do so.
4. Board Meetings. All board meetings are open to the membership, albeit not always convenient. During these meetings, you hear the entire consideration not necessarily printed in the minutes. Board members may request that their names be stricken from the minutes when dissenting. Attendance affords me an opportunity to see the true leanings of individual board members.
ATA’s use of the website, Chronicle, social groups, and board meetings provide members with access, thereby easing conspiracy fears. This is arduous, because board members are volunteers with businesses and families. In view of the foregoing, what’s the problem? Let’s now chat about the dirty dishes. To illustrate the challenge with clarity and interaction, contemplate two cases.
1. Public Relations. At the 2012 conference, member Chris Durban demanded public relations before the membership to a thunderous applause! Many members were angry that ATA no longer had proactive, vibrant public relations.
a. Many didn’t understand why public relations was chopped.
b. They were furious, no explanation was forthcoming.
c. Others were ignorant as to ATA’s lack of public relations budget.
In 2011, ATA hosted the FIT conference. As we learned in the February 2015 Chronicle, conference area is negotiated without cost as long as a certain amount of hotel rooms are reserved. ATA miscalculated the attendance for that conference. Since the quota of hotel rooms was not reached, ATA had to pay for the conference meeting rooms. This was a colossal mistake and a massive financial blow. ATA is still recovering today from that event.
I found all this out by attending board meeting, pouring through old board meeting minutes, and reading the Chronicle. The purpose of this article is not to rehash; it is to demonstrate member resentment and confusion due to lack of lucid communication.
2. Decoupling Certification. Recently, the Chronicle announced that ATA certification would be decoupled from membership, thereby allowing non-members the opportunity of certification. This sparked a lively debate on the LinkedIn group.
a. Once again, the members were caught by surprise.
b. Without the reasons, it seemed like an appalling concept.
c. Many felt decisions of magnitude are reached without membership consent or input.
These two examples illustrate the continuing disconnect between the board and the membership regarding resolutions.
Effectively Washing the Dishes
Everything below is my opinion, for whatever it may be worth. I have outlined my thoughts on ATA dishwashing.
1. The Board should record the top hot topic issues, provide and articulate, official answers. The President’s column of the Chronicle is one venue (the question could be on the cover of the Chronicle to tempt people to open it).
2. Before deciding, seek out the opinion from the membership. Don’t just send out a survey! Write an article for the Chronicle, present the pros and cons, and request feedback via all avenues.
If this had been done after the FIT conference, perhaps a different solution could have appeared. Instead of completely scrapping PR in favor of the Chronicle, the Chronicle budget could have been reduced to allocate funds for some PR. There was room for middle ground if the membership had been consulted.
3. Open processes and member input are vital. The unhappy members can respect the fact that the majority has spoken.
4. Errors happen. Admit them, explain them, and apologize with humility and without excuses. Silence only infuriates people.
5. Update the website so it is user friendly.
6. Use the ATA Chronicle to respond to pressing membership concerns.
7. It is fine to use discussion forums to interact and bring back information to the board, but the participants deserve an official response afterward.
I believe ATA is striving toward openness. There is always room for improvement. The simple solutions mentioned above can settle a number of matters concerning discontent members.