Blog Sept 2019
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The Secret to Successful Partnerships: More Human Humans


The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) held its 2019 Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio this August, which several McKenna Management employees attended. As always, the meeting featured a variety of thought-provoking educational sessions, engaging networking opportunities, a lively exhibit floor, and unique social events.

Out of the many sessions that I attended at this year’s meeting, one in particular that struck a chord with me was titled “Cultivating More Human Humans: Applying Organizational Psychology Effectively,” which was presented by Nicholas Serfass, FAIA, CAE, who serves as the Executive Director of the Richmond Technology Council, a Virginia-based association. Throughout this session, Serfass emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, and in the association industry in general.

The concept of “more human humans” comes from ASAE ForesightWorks, a unique research initiative that seeks to equip association executives with information about key trends that will impact our industry now and in the future. In its research, ASAE describes that “automation will steadily increase the relative value of certain human qualities in work, including social skills and creativity. In the age of artificial intelligence, humans will remain relevant not by knowing but by thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating at the highest level.”

In other words, in order to successfully complement the ever-expanding proliferation of technology, humans need to learn to interact and collaborate better together, actively engaging emotional intelligence to do so. A starting point towards doing so is trying to understand the gamut of human personalities we can encounter in our work as association executives.

During the session, Serfass highlighted the key characteristics of several common personas that we all encounter today, whether in the office, on our association Boards and committees, or in our personal lives. For each persona, he shared research about the effects each can have on a workplace or association’s culture, and how association executives can effectively interact, and collaborate, with employees, volunteers, or others who fall into these categories. A summary of these personas can be found below.

-          The Hoarder – holds everything close and acts as a gateway to information

-          The Imposter – unsure of where to begin projects, and doubtful of their qualifications

-          The Overachiever – highly-productive but can step on others toes while worrying about failing

-          The Devil (‘s Advocate) – questions everything and stalls the progress of conversations or projects

-          The Lone Wolf – works independently and places a low value on collaboration

-          The Silent Type – stays emotionally and physically distant and doesn’t build relationships

-          The Scorned – disconnected from management, gossips, and creates “mountains out of mole hills”

As new staff are brought into an association office environment, as volunteers transition in an out of an association, or as our association’s culture changes, we are bound to encounter ever-changing combinations of the personas described by Serfass.

The important lesson from this session is that if association executives recognize that humans all have unique characteristics, styles, and values, we can more effectively work with people who we may have otherwise seen as too different from ourselves, or even difficult to work with. The need to cultivate more human humans starts with recognizing the multitude of characteristics that can make us up.

So, if you work with a “imposter”, try to instill them with confidence to give them a boost. If you work with an overachiever, recognize that their high-standards can lead them to perceive setbacks as failure, and have honest conversations about the importance and impact of their work. Or, if you work with a “lone wolf”, encourage communication and give them opportunities to connect and share with others.

One of McKenna Management’s core values is “partnerships.” As such, members of our team are engaged in fostering relationships and developing true partnerships with both clients and fellow employees. We describe our approach to our work as “developing partnerships with our clients to plan, implement, and reflect on strategic goals and initiatives together, and developing partnerships with fellow employees, supporting one another at all times.”

So, if we’re all in this together, we need to understand each other and how we can most effectively bring success to our associations together, whether the team is made up of “hoarders”, “silent types,” or “overachievers” or any other unique persona that makes humans human.

For more information about ForesightWorks, visit

Andrew Cronin Finn, MSc, MBA is an Executive Director at McKenna Management, Inc., an association management company based in Westford, MA. His professional interests include strategic planning, change management, and volunteer engagement. Andrew currently serves as Executive Director of the New England Society of Association Executives and is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, the American Association of Medical Society Executives, and the Association Societies Alliance.