Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Acrimony on Acronym

When I used to watch the TV show, "Happy Days," I had a fixation with the graffiti featuring the phrase, "sit on it" used in the montage either before or after the show. I can't remember when it came on, just that it was always there and with it, my question, "Why was that considered a bad thing to say?" (If you need to see a reference made to this phrase, check out this scene on YouTube for a few laughs.)

Stick and stones and all that jazz.

Yes, words have power. In the association world, those of us working for associations are responsible for representing our members and the industry the best way that we can. This makes sense and seems like a reasonable and easy rule to follow. However, rarely is there anything that is simple in life that we humans cannot find a way to make more complicated.

Acronym Blog is the blog produced by the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE). Last week, a longtime writer for the blog wrote a thought-provoking post with a provocative title, "Why Consultants Suck." "Consultant Wasteland" with the first sentence reading, "Why Consultants Suck."

The content of the post really wasn't about why consultants suck, but rather why it might seem like they aren't as effective as they could be. The author posited that the blame might lie with the association leaders who failed to accept more innovative thinking, but that consultants should challenge their clients to feel more uncomfortable and face changes that need to be made.

The title grabbed my attention, but once I read the post, I thought, "Oh, I see what you were doing there! Okay, okay...you are spurring discussion. This is good."

Then, just as quickly as the post went up, it was taken down.

  • I'm a longtime member and an active volunteer for ASAE
  • I've worked in associations most of my career
  • I now work as a consultant serving associations
  • I don't think I suck
Other facts:
  • There is an unspoken question of what a consultant's role should be in ASAE
  • Some consultants feel maligned against by ASAE
  • Some association executives DO think consultants suck
  • Many association executives depend on and appreciate their consultants 
  • (Yes, I knew all these things before deciding to become a consultant)
Some people get touchy when it comes to consultants and ASAE. ASAE is trying to show support for the consultant members, but a blog post headline statement (and Twitter post) like, "Why Consultants Suck" probably ruffled a few feathers and caused the post to be taken down. 

On today's Association Chat (#assnchat, every Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET), the retraction of the post was the chosen topic for conversation and the conversation was lively. 

Consultants didn't think the post warranted being taken down and participants generally felt it was the wrong move for ASAE to handle the situation the way it did. Like me and my failure to understand why, "sit on it" was such a no-no phrase; some chat participants said the headline didn't necessarily cross the line. 

What do you think? 

You can read the transcript of the chat here: http://bit.ly/aG9trm and contact me if you need me to email the original article to you. [Jeff Hurt helped me out with a link to the cached version here.]


  1. Awesome post. I am in agreement with your assessment, and think ASAE could have handled it differently (changed the title, or created a counter point blog). One thing's for sure, it sure is inciting discussion now!

    Overall, I liked the tone of the original blog post, it was to the point, and makes you think, maybe the problem is not the consultant, it's that they are not the right consultant for that particular job. Or, maybe they do suck, or they are a good consultant having a bad day.

    There's a lot of causes for failure, and this article pokes at a few of them.


  2. Hi Garry,

    Thanks for your response - I was getting a little nervous after hitting the "publish" button. ;)



  3. I think your discussion of the recent incident is a healthy one. You're asking some tough questions and I think that is a good thing.

    I agree that ASAE should have handled it differently. Instead, they are seen as sensoring open dialogue on the post titled Consultant Wasteland, with the first sentence "Why do consultants suck?"

    Here's the thing...the post & all the comments are still available in the cached version. You can see it here for now...

  4. Thanks for the link and your comments, Jeff. It is interesting to me to see how all this plays out. I have heard from some people who are very upset about the post, so I'm sure we'll hear more about it.

  5. As a conflict resolution professional I am beyond disappointed with ASAE's response. The lesson is clear: upset the wrong people and you will be shut down. Conflict that touches a nerve or sparks emotions is to be removed like a cancer. Is our community THAT inept when it comes to handling conflict? I will be very careful with my comments on Acronym from now on, and that saddens me.

  6. I'm a consultant, read the post and even submitted a comment. I didn't find the post offensive but a way to spark some conversation. I used it as an opportunity to discuss the need for assessing risks before making a decision on new projects or services. But I also know some Consultant Members that are very sensitive to any writings that may put them in an unfavorable light.

    As KiKi said as consultants we are trying to find our place within ASAE. We are generally small firms so don't have the funds to purchase ads even in the Buyer's Guide, buy tables at events or attend the many conferences (FBOS, Membership & Marketing, Annual Meeting, etc.) unless we are selected as speakers and get a reduced rate. ASAE did institute a Consultant rate for the larger events but still a lot of money. But we are not association executives either although many association consultants worked for associations before becoming consultants. We believe we have a lot to offer but need to make a living and our intellectual property (knowledge) is what we have to sell. We give a lot to ASAE too as speakers, authors and volunteers.

    As with any profession (including association executives) we have good consultants and some not so good. Part of Scott's posting was to help executives with the selection process and evaluating what services you really need from the consultant.

    ASAE has lots of stakeholders to serve so a loud outcry could lead the powers to take that action. Agreed perhaps not the best way to handle it and another lesson that in today's world somebody is always watching and commenting. Let's see what ASAE and others learn form this episode.

  7. Here's my comment on the "post removed" post.

    "I can see how the "powers that be" pressured Acronym to remove the post and I will bet money that it was against Scott and Peter's better judgement. Censorship is NEVER a good idea, in fact it is a crushingly bad idea. You want to live life never offending anyone? Good luck with that. Be happy wallowing in your mediocrity.

    I read all the comments on the original post at least through a couple of days ago, and if anyone was really offended, they didn't state their case in the comments, that I saw. They didn't post a rebuttal - which I am 100% sure they could have, happily, either on Acronym or some other blog. That's cowardly - and as a result, the post has garnered widespread attention (it's still in everyone's Google Reader and on Buzz (right here as a matter of fact - http://bit.ly/info/cpOn7h) and many of us are pretty shocked and disappointed in ASAE's actions in this regard.

    I get Jamie's point that there were lots of other options for dealing with the situation other than censorship and Scott could have apologized (publicly or privately) to whoever was offended, but many people including me thought the post pointed out some real truths about the consultant-client relationship. We consultants ARE often called in to reveal truths about the inner workings of an organization and to cut through the political bullshit. Often we DO make clients squirm and feel uncomfortable. And maybe sometimes clients don't actually like that and fire us. But that doesn't mean we haven't helped in some way anyway. That doesn't mean we didn't do our job. Why run shy from this analysis?

    Total #FAIL."

  8. I'm bummed I missed #assnchat yesterday because I have a ton of thoughts about censorship and free speech. (It's the journalist in me.) I'm not sure what would have been wrong with posting a rebuttal blog post. It would have created a good dialogue and asked tough questions of people. Doing that often makes the community think of things in a different perspective.

    There's nothing wrong with using a "hook" (such as "why do consultants suck?") in a blog post, but you can't EVER delete anything from the Internet once it's posted. It's all about starting a conversation. You may offend someone, you may not, but be clear that the opinions offered on the blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAE. It's that easy.

  9. Thanks KiKi and all. I had missed this.

    This helps illustrate to all of us engaged in social media that the "command and control" systems of the "industrial society" are changing rapidly. As we engage multitudes in discussions of our profession/industry, we will lose control (assuming we every really had it) and that freightens some ... perhaps even the ASAE leadership.

    A good headline designed to stimulate readership and engagement is a solid strategy. Too bad someone at ASAE missed that point.


  10. Wow - great comments, everyone!

    Jamie - Don't be too careful with your comments on Acronym...as members of ASAE we should be able to comment popular and unpopular opinions and besides, your voice should be heard.

    Leslie - Yes, I read your comments that you left on the original post and your words were well thought out.

    Maddie - I think I emailed my response to you! :)

    Shannon - Amen.

    Steve - So true! I think this is a great example of the changing times and a wake-up call (hopefully) for some company and association executives who may not have previously realized this was an issue.

  11. To me, the lesson in this is, by attempting to appease a (presumably) important member or members by taking down the post, ASAE offended a whole bunch of other members: e.g. everyone who is offended by this move. What, is there some caste system of members who are more valuable than others?

    I agree with Maddie--I bet money that this was NOT a decision made by Acronym staff.

  12. Any opinions on ASAE's response via Acronym post commentary?

  13. NOT impressed at all. To put it mildly.

  14. I agree with the overall sentiment here. Perhaps Scott offended some people with his language, and he could apologize for that, but the overall purpose of his post (at least in my opinion) was definitely achieved.

    Unfortunately, it seems many are afraid of these kinds of open discussions, especially when it involves perceived negativity toward one group of ASAE (or any other group's) members. We experience this in our association, where we can't openly discuss problematic members as a group (their behavior, not the individuals) for fear of offending them. But then how do we go about dealing with the underlying issues those members present to the broader industry we serve if we can't talk about it?

    I know I'm generalizing and I know there are exceptions, but it seems some association leaders will forever be caught in the "we've always done it this way" mindset and the efforts of people like Scott to engage in discussion from a contrary point of view will never be welcome.

    It's sad, because there are so many good people trying to good things.


Thanks for your comments!