A Long-Term View of Association Leadership
From the outside, the headquarters of Association Management Center (AMC) in Chicago, IL, looks like an ordinary office building. Don't be too quick to judge; the place has heart. AMC's vision is long-term, full of compassion, and, above all, expansive. AMC employees see little that separates them from clients and their members, the local community, the association community, and the global marketplace. Everything is interconnected and working together to grow and achieve clearly defined goals. At AMC, asking questions like "Why do we exist?" and "How can we make a difference in this world?" is just part of the culture.
"This organization can dream the big dream because we have the experience and the resources readily available to do that," says Jeff Engle, a company principal. AMC is anything but a cookie-cutter firm, he says, because it aims to grow clients through personalized service, wise decision making, and passion on the part of the entire staff.
Partnering with Clients
Since its founding in 1974 by Art and Dagny Engle, AMC has focused on its clients. The company's tagline "Achieve What You Believe" embodies that passion and shows a commitment that extends beyond office walls to each association's membership and specialty.
Growing clients is primary, but the way to achieve that has changed over time, says Jeff Engle, who with his brothers Mark and Scott are now the second generation to run the company.
"To grow clients is why we're here," Jeff says. "However, the driving force today is focused less on increasing the number of members as it is developing new products and programs to serve the market and field, such as developing online education programs or—for rehabilitation nurses, for instance—information on competencies."
Scott adds "today we measure success by how much an association is recognized as the expert in its field. It's all about associations' ability to deliver information to their constituents and being seen by them as 'thought leaders' of their specialties."
AMC also aims to help clients set the gold standard among specialties. When the American Pain Society (APS) launched its Clinical Centers of Excellence in Pain Management Awards to annually recognize healthcare facilities that deliver superior, comprehensive, and multidisciplinary care to pain patients, nearly 100 facilities nationwide vied for that honor. Six treatment centers were recognized at the APS Annual Scientific Meeting.
Communicating this kind of credibility is key for clients, says Mark. "Our association boards are spending more time focusing on communicating that credibility because its value is so well-recognized. AMC invests greatly in projecting that image among association members and to the public at large."
Teamwork is seen at every level within the organization—as well as outside of it, in the community.
Within AMC, staff work together maintaining long-term visions for clients. For example, AMC strives to provide clients with resources that benefit them now and well into the future. Recently, the design and editorial staff of the Publishing Services department worked together to implement InCopy, an innovative cross-platform software program that is changing the publishing industry. AMC is among the first companies in the nation to use the software—the ultimate focus is improving service to clients.
The Information Systems team is leading another software transition—a database change to TIMSS/Personify. Many staff members have been working together for months with the ultimate goal of providing each association's members with a state-of-the-art, seamless way to conduct business with their society. Personify offers dynamic Web integration and robust reporting features.
Team building also comes in the form of fun. AMC hosts employee-planned quarterly company events, including everything from golfing to a Bears pep rally; a carwash for employees, staffed by the executive leadership; and "Frosty" days when shakes are made available at a nearby restaurant to help staff beat the Chicago summer heat.
"Together this creates an atmosphere of caring," Jeff says. "As a team, we care about each other and set high goals for ourselves. We give people an opportunity to stretch and achieve professionally. We hire smart people and promote an atmosphere of growth and a heart for compassion."
AMC client teams are encouraged to work collaboratively by sharing information and know-how—this idea-sharing benefits clients who might not otherwise have access to such knowledge. "We have several clients whose boards of directors are working to develop strategic business plans," says Jeff. "The staff goes through this together, sharing our experiences, research, and knowledge on ventures ranging from the exciting to the routine, such as dues and invoices."
AMC regularly hosts in-house meetings on topics of wide interest. One example is a copyright seminar that covered many nuances of copyright law that pertain to associations. The seminar was led by three lawyers with extensive experience in this area as well as a journal publisher. Offering this type of learning opportunity for staff is one of many ways that AMC provides expertise to clients. The idea for the seminar came from a senior education director who simply wanted answers to some copyright questions and knew that others at AMC might have similar interests.
In the Community
Teamwork extends to the community as well. Volunteerism is encouraged at AMC, and the company released a statement on volunteerism to put more structure around staff efforts. Staff members regularly invite coworkers to partake in their favorite charity event and AMC also commits to several corporate events including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness Day and building projects for Habitat for Humanity through Solid Rock Carpenters. Interested staff members help frame houses in the AMC parking lot and can even join in week-long construction of those houses, most recently in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana.
According to an in-house survey, more than 60% of staff members reported that they volunteer outside of AMC in leadership capacities. Some of this volunteerism and leadership takes place within the association community. Several staff members have held leadership positions in ASAE, and Association Forum of Chicagoland leading organizations in the association community. This participation is "a corporate commitment," says Jeff. "It's important to us that we support our professional organizations."
AMC's future goals will undoubtedly be influenced by several trends within the association community, Mark says.
First, like many American industries, trade and professional associations will continue to outsource individual projects or their entire management functions to firms like AMC. Increasingly it's considered part of doing business in a global marketplace. "Some associations realize that they can't afford the best staff and systems, such as Internet-based tools," Mark says. "We're able to leverage development for many of our clients in areas such as membership database tracking and commercial support. We help clients navigate what can be a narrow, rigorous path to success."
Globalization also means more international interest within the U.S.-based association community. Mark notes that, "Decisions once made solely in the United States have shifted to Europe and Asia and that's having a big impact on consolidation and the way you go about selling membership in associations. It's had a huge impact on volunteerism and membership."
Internet users will continue to increase their reliance on the Web to conduct major aspects of daily living, including working, shopping, and learning. This trend "has huge implications for how and what we learn, which will impact our clients," Mark says. AMC client leaders will continue to discuss implications of this trend and learn from their shared experiences.
Meanwhile, AMC will make strides by doing what it's always done, making bold and wise decisions for the future.
Scott says, "We're willing to take risks for our clients. We take the long-term view of making decisions and often that means helping them afford to try something they couldn't do on their own. We know that the client will benefit, and down the road it will be good for us as well.
"We're not focused on this year," Scott says, punctuating AMC's long-term commitment to its clients. "We're focused on the next 5 years."