Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 115
Business Practice Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

The Benefits of Membership

New research measures the benefits of association membership.

It�s that time of the day when you go through the mail. Envelopes with little windows that allow you to see inside and read �pay to the order of� are welcome. Those that say �amount due� are not so welcome. But letters without windows cause your eyes to dart to the return address and to the amount of postage. Some of these go into the recycling bin without another thought, but once a year, you get a letter from your business or trade association that causes you to pause.

Without even opening the letter, you know what it says. It�s been a year, and it�s time to pay your dues. Without even intending it, your mind drifts back through the past year, and the question of value nags at you. �Was it worth it?� �Did I get my money�s worth?�

The question of benefit is so common that it attracted the attention of Kathryn Dansky of Pennsylvania State University. She examined the careers of 88 participants who attended a recent meeting of the Ohio Council for Home Health Care. These people held positions ranging from supervisor to CEO, and she found a difference for those members who were the most active. They had higher than expected incomes and higher than expected organizational rank.

Professor Dansky found four factors which she believes were important. These factors contributed to the greater-than-expected success of association members. She named the first factor psychosocial support. Psychosocial support occurred when members found themselves in a social setting in which they felt comfortable revealing their anxieties and concerns to others. When this occurred in association meetings, they found others responding with empathy, and this proved to be very helpful.

She named the second factor networking. Association meetings allowed members to network with influential executives. This contact gave them learning experiences that enhanced their management skills. It also increased members� influence in business and professional circles.

She named the third factor role modeling. She found active members taking advantage of their close contact with high status executives by imitating their work behaviors. In this way, these high status executives served as role models for active members.

She named the fourth factor inclusion. Active members found their participation in their association providing them with friends and a feeling of belonging to a group.

Members who reported the most role modeling tended to have higher salaries. Members who reported stronger feelings of inclusion and belonging to the association tended to have higher management positions. Dansky explained it this way:

Members who sought out high status executives and imitated their work behaviors altered their own attitudes, values, and styles of management, thereby making them more effective. Members who felt greater inclusion and belonging in the professional group enhanced their self-confidence and self-esteem. Combining these two factors led to significant performance improvements that were measured by salary and organizational rank in this study.

Dansky believes professional and trade associations can become psychological support groups for their members fostering a sense of identification where members share values, goals, and interests. She believes association executives should plan activities for their members that foster role modeling and a sense of inclusion and belonging. "What appears to be more important,� she says, �is the networking, psychosocial support, and role modeling provided by the group. Professional groups may serve their members better by teaching less and nurturing more." - p. 17

Dansky also mentions questioning as a useful activity. Executives frequently encourage newly promoted managers and supervisors to ask questions. Unfortunately, they often ignore this advice. They fear exposing their ignorance. They prefer to learn by observation, but in association settings, asking questions carries little risk. Dansky believes both members and association leaders should plan activities that encourage questioning, networking, role modeling, and inclusion.

Reference: Dansky, Kathryn H. (1996). The Effect of Group Mentoring on Career Outcomes. Group and Organizational Management, 21 (1), 5-21.

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