CEO Interviews, Innovation Cases & Models

How to Engage Members by Engaging and Empowering Employees

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Don't forget to pay your dues...

A couple, presumably members, sits on a bench in a YouTube video, staring at their cell phones. One-by-one, a chorus of bright-faced young people enters, dancing the “chicken dance” and singing joyfully to them:

 Don’t forget to pay your dues,

You can do it any time

Super easy– pay on line.

Other ways to pay your dues

Are by mail or by phone

But on line’s the way to go

The deadline to renew

Is December 31st

But really do it any time

If you wait till the last minute

You’ll encounter a delay

Beat the rush! Renew today…


Then the singers use mock operatic voices to escalate to an empathetic crescendo—acknowledging possible obstacles and assuring members of their willingness to help.

 No this is not a scene from Glee. It is the staff of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)—specifically a team from various units working on ASHA’s annual online dues renewal.

It was these team members who took the initiative to conceptualize, choreograph, and perform a musical in place of dreary renewal notices with generic messages.

 Now if you were a member or subscriber of a service organization, which would best capture your attention—one more direct mail piece with predictable pitches? Or a group of vibrant, young people, looking you in the eye while singing, dancing and clearly having fun, who use humor to playfully remind you to renew and offer to help you?  The first is an impersonal sales piece like myriads of others. The second is a personalized communication from real people to real people that sets the groundwork for a relationship rather than a sales transaction.

 The larger story this video tells is one of employee empowerment and innovation; a story of connecting with members as people by humanizing, motivating and leveraging your organization’s own people.

So, what does it take to empower and motivate employees...

…so that they can drive growth and member engagement?  ASHA and its team provide a useful road map:    


  • ASSEMBLE CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAMS that tap the right mix of expertise and competencies across levels and departments in your organization. At ASHA, criteria for team composition were not based on political or hierarchical considerations but on relevant expertise or experience. This is why the online dues renewal team team included valuable staff segments, such call center staff, whose vital frontline perspectives are too often overlooked. 
  • GIVE STAFF ACROSS THE BOARD OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEADERSHIP AND RESPONSIBILITY FOR RESULTS: “Each strategic objective has a point person with  expertise in that particular area,” CEO Arlene Pietranton explains. And leadership roles do not necessarily coincide with formal leadership titles.  
  • CHARGE TEAMS WITH COMING UP WITH, AND IMPLEMENTING, A SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM. I found that nothing saps morale more than responsibility without authority–simply performing “assigned tasks;” or compiling wish lists of goals and objectives that are not executed.  ASHA’s online dues renewal team was asked to solve problems related to the the fact that the bulk of its renewals was occuring over a 10-week period during which they need to process 140,000 payment transactions.
  • GO BEYOND ISOLATED SYMPTOMS TO FRAME THE PROBLEM STRATEGICALLY.  The problem the team was assigned was not framed in purely tactical terms. It was couched in terms of the larger picture and included considerations of overlapping factors such as: how the renewal process affected other ongoing online transactions related to Certification, Continuing Education, the ASHA online store, etc.; and assessment of the roles of the overall flow of web traffic, server capacity and member behavior across platforms.
  • FOCUS ON THE LARGER MEMBER EXPERIENCE RATHER THAN ISOLATED PARTS. Instead of looking narrowly at the transaction processes, the team reassessed the member experience holistically including: factors influencing decisions to renew, members’ perceptions of value; the speed and convenience of the renewal process; the interface between ASHA and members. 
  • MOBILIZE INNOVATION ACROSS THE BOARD. As the YouTube video indicates, mobilizing innovation from every part of the organization creates a sense of ownership, unleashes creativity, and converts passive stakeholders into active leaders and champions.

 ASHA’s online dues renewal team did not simply smooth out the logistics of the renewal process. They helped the association figure out how complex component parts of the member experienced might be best organized and coordinated to enhance it. And they contributed valuable knowledge about member behavior and the kind of capabilities ASHA needs increase its value to its members and grow. 

 In short, to engage members or customers you must have highly engaged and engaging organizations and employees.  And you engage employees by empowering, giving them responsibilities for results and commensurate authority to carry them out; tapping innovation from all levels and functions and making relationships rather than transactions the focus of the organization.  

Click here to read more about ASHA’s collaoborative culture.