The story goes like this: A little girl watches her mother cut off both ends of a ham before putting it in the pot. When she asks why, her mother says, “That's the way my mother always made it.” Curiosity now piqued, they call grandma and ask her why she cut off the ends of the ham. She said, “Because that's the way my mother made it.” So they call great-grandma, who laughs and says, “It was the only way I could get the ham to fit in the small pot I had!”

Ah, traditions are wonderful things, aren't they? So comfortable, so easy to follow, so easy to accept without having to think about them — and so in need of someone who will pipe up and say, “Gee, why do we do it that way, anyway?” If the answer is “Because we've always done it that way,” a red flag should go up, marking that tradition as something in need of serious reflection.

When was the last time you questioned your meetings-related practices to ensure they actually are for the best, and not, well, ham with the ends cut off? You may find that the way you have always done something, while it may have made perfect sense way back when, is no longer relevant. Or that the reason behind a policy was based on the whim of a long-gone exec rather than on real needs. Or that what once worked no longer connects with your changing member demographics.

Your attendees are changing. The profession you serve is changing. The way people get information and education is changing. The question remains: Are you changing the way you do things, too?

Sometimes we get so entrenched in the day-to-day that we don't have the time or the objectivity to step back and ask the questions that might result in amazingly productive changes. Sometimes it takes those outside of your meeting department, like the co-authors of We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change, who contributed to this issue's cover story, to point out that the emperor is looking a little naked these days. Ask a new hire if there are things you are doing that don't make sense to him or her. Ask a nonmember to attend your meeting and give you feedback. Give a video camera to some teenagers and ask them to film the highlights — and lowlights. It doesn't matter how you question; the important thing is that you ask and, if you don't like what you hear, you change it.

Questions are uncomfortable, no doubt about it. But without questioning the way we have always done things, we'll never come up with better answers.
Sue Pelletier
(978) 448-0377

For more of Sue’s commentary, click here.