What is "small"? Depends on who you ask.

Over my nearly 30 years in the association space, one of the things that always gives me a chuckle is when I hear an association executive say “I work at a small association.” Because I know in my mind that “small” most likely means something different to that person than it does to me.

For example, my first association had seven staff when I started there. My second had 30, and my third one had 50. Which of these was a “small” association? By my experience, seven staff is “small,” 30 staff is “mid size” and 50 pushes into “large.” Yet I’ve met many, many association execs over the years who would say “I work at a small association” and when I ask how many staff, they respond north of 30. I’ve even met a few who said “small” and then told me they had 100 staff! I’ve long since learned to follow any statement like this with “How do you define small?”

This is important because too often we assume that we understand another’s perspective or definition of words. And that can lead to some really serious problems down the road. So as Covey once wrote, always seek first to understand. When someone says “small” or “difficult” or “crazy,” don’t just assume you know what they mean. Ask them to define it.

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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