That thought has been running around in my head for about three or four weeks.
Ask yourself that question. Would you work anonymously on a project for your company that would add value to the company, increase sales, decrease costs, open up new markets, create a new product – but never get any kudos, recognition or reward?
If you would – you are committed.
If not – you may only be engaged.
And is that bad or good? I don’t know. But thought occurred to me after I had a rather disconcerting conversation at the Motivation Show back in October. Here's a long-winded story - but there is a point at the end. Stick with me please...
Incentive Association Inflation
As I mentioned, while I was at the Motivation Show in October I spent some time with a friend who was in town to participate in an incentive industry association meeting. For those of you who don’t know there are quite a few incentive industry associations. I won’t link to each one – but you can see the list here at the Incentive Performance Center.
Their list includes (and this is not exhaustive): The Incentive Research Foundation, Incentive Marketing Association, Performance Improvement Council, Global Incentive Council, Forum for People Performance Management, Incentive Performance Center, International Society for Performance Improvement, Recognition Professionals International, Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, Incentive Gift Card Council, Incentive Manufacturers Representatives Alliance, Incentive Federation – and some associated industry groups such as the Promotional Marketing Association and the Promotional Products Association International. (that’s going to boost my keyword search for surz…)
In other words – there are a crap-load of “associations” whose charters are focused on improving the incentive industry.
But wait… there’s more.
Incentive Industry Power Laws
Now, for some additional background, the incentive industry is, according to the most recent research, about $40 Billion+ – give or take a few billion dollars. That’s pretty big. The interesting thing to me however, is that the industry (from my experience as I’ve not seen any research on this) follows a power law distribution. There are a few very big companies, a bunch of middle sized companies and then a ton of small and very small providers. If I had to guess I’d day the curve looks something like this…
When I look at this situation I see a lot of associations but few companies that can really, truly, afford to spend money and time with them.
This makes me think of my time in Minneapolis when the North Stars professional hockey team moved to Dallas. Yeah, you heard me, pro hockey moved from cold, snowy Minnesota to hot, arid Dallas. The problem was that Minneapolis, while a big city – had pro football, pro-baseball, pro-basketball, and a variety of semi-pro hockey and baseball teams. Not to mention their fanatical support of High School hockey. The net results – the population of Minneapolis couldn’t support that many teams.
As someone said to me when the Stars moved – there weren’t enough sports dollars in Minneapolis.
There Aren’t Enough Incentive Industry Dollars
I’ll say it here – there aren’t enough “incentive industry” dollars to go around and therefore the industry isn't served well. Too many associations, not doing enough good work due to a lack of real support (the dollars, and sense - not a typo - kind.)
That may seem backward - but the issue is "real" support. The industry has a lot of associations - with many companies supporting them with few dollars. There isn't enough critical mass to truly develop long-term studies, great industry outreach, fabulous content.
Each association is getting by based on the fact that the companies that belong don't care about advancing the industry - just their P&Ls.
They’re Not Committed – But They Are Engaged
So back to my story about my friend at the industry association meeting... During the meeting he attended they discussed how to grow membership and increase their impact. Someone mentioned bringing in writers, speakers, thought leaders from outside the membership to shake up the conversation and bring in new and different points of view. In other words, add value.
One of the members (a “medium to large” sized incentive company President) said, “Absolutely not. ONLY members of the association get a place to talk here – no new ideas from outside the group.” (paraphrasing here but you get the gist.)
Why do you think that was so?
Only If My Name Goes On It
That particular President isn’t committed to growing the knowledge base of the industry. He wasn’t interested in doing what he does better for his clients. He wasn’t committed to learning. He wasn’t driven by a need to be better than he was yesterday.
He was driven by his own desire to be richer.
In other words, his goal in being part of the industry association was to be able to put his name on the list, borrow (or steal) some sort of validation and importance from the “brand” of the association and use that to drive revenue and profit for his company. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against it. It is a way to “market” yourself and your company. Not the best one (IMHO.) (See this post if you want to talk about marketing and incentive companies.)
I’m convinced that the reason the industry has so many different associations is that there are so many players who are trying to use these associations solely to drive sales – not drive the industry. I would guess – and I’m pretty sure I’d bet a whole month’s pay – that if tomorrow all these incentive industry association memberships were made “anonymous” they would lose members like roaches scattering from the kitchen light.
There are no companies committed to the industry.
Sure they’re engaged – as long as their logo goes on the association page, as long as they can be pseudo-thought leaders in the industry and get their name, title and company listed in the byline.
They are engaged but not committed.
Where’s the commitment fellow industry friends?
Anyone want to put together an association geared toward really helping end-user clients drive behaviors where you get ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT for your effort?
I thought not.
That would be commitment.