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Undeniable Success: The positive impact of engaging young leaders

MCA of Chicago – Save The Associations Vol. 1

Although the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago (MCA of Chicago) has been around since 1888, sustaining its core purpose of managing labor relations between local mechanical contractors and the pipefitters local union, it has evolved many times to energize its constituents to become engaged members.

The Decline in Organic Growth

A few decades ago, the reality of time passing set in—the people representing the association’s member companies had aged.  The only young people one would see at a membership meeting were the children of a business owner.

Add to this that many of the businesses were family-owned.  The chance for survival of family-owned businesses decreases dramatically with each generation. In fact, only 30 percent of family businesses make it to the second generation, 13 percent make it to the third, and 4 percent to the 4th.  Thus, at some point, those businesses would run out of properly equipped and interested family members to add to the business contact sheet.

Organic growth wasn’t going to be enough to keep the MCA of Chicago relevant in the construction industry. It was time to evolve the organization from a social club to one that regularly made a difference in each member’s business.

The association first began by providing educational opportunities to member companies.  The owner could choose to send his/her employees (and maybe him or herself) when relevant.  The initiative grew through the years into the Construction Education Institute®, which now offers partnership to its 80+ traditional and online classes to local construction organizations.

More recently, however, the association realized that it needed to do more.  The classroom was attracting different people than those spotted at the membership meetings, but the organization needed to do more to give its business owners an easy way to provide more grooming opportunities for their rising stars, whether they were family or not.

Engaging the Younger Generations

The MCA of Chicago’s Emerging Leaders Section was launched in 2015 with the purpose of giving younger industry professionals the chance to enhance their capacity to work strongly and smartly. Participants discuss industry problems and devise potential solutions, share and adapt new technologies and ideas to revolutionize the state of the industry, and network with others in similar roles across different companies.

The Success of Emerging Leaders

Although the Emerging Leaders Section is less than 3 years old, the success of the program has been undeniable. The program has reinvigorated age-old members, increasing overall member engagement for many companies.  It has led to new events and conversations, among the younger generation as well as seasoned industry veterans.  Most importantly, it has evolved the face of the association:

Fresh Leadership

As of June 2018, 30 percent of the association’s board members are from the Emerging Leaders demographic (45 and under) and there is at least one Emerging Leader in each of the 20 plus leadership groups of the organization.

An Increase in Diversity

While the program was designed to simply engage young professionals, it also helped the organization increase its racial, economic and gender diversity.

This increase fueled the sustainability of another affinity group, the Women of MCA of Chicago.

Attention to the things that matter well beyond the bottom line

While membership numbers are important, associations are ultimately about people. Associations exist to help people create and sustain better lives on a personal and professional level.

When the MCA of Chicago asked for feedback about the program, one Emerging Leader wrote:

“I didn’t take a perfect road to the Emerging Leaders—I’m sure at one point no one thought I would be leading anything. That’s what makes the Emerging Leaders so good, no matter what facet of life you came from, you are still accepted as an ‘Emerging Leader.’ Not once did I ever feel that I didn’t belong. I actually felt like I was a true leader and looking around at everyone else on the committee made me think to myself, I MADE IT! I am successful and my hard work is paying off. As confident as I am, the Emerging Leaders group has helped me be more confident and has made me want to help others even more than in the past. All of [the Emerging Leaders] are great leaders and you will do wonderful things as you already have in your career. All I ask as I make my exit, remember: we all come from different life styles, paths, and I’m not sure which path is right or wrong, but we all met on a path of an “Emerging Leader”. I can’t THANK YOU enough for letting me be a part of such a great organization. I’m ready to be a leader in my family life as well as a leader in my business.”

The Advice

Ready to launch your own initiative to engage younger generations?

Consider framing your initiative as a pilot. This will allow you more flexibility to try new approaches and ideas, while still setting key timelines and metrics for success. It also allows your group the opportunity to rally the organization around something new while keeping association leadership comfortable by allowing them to pull the plug if it doesn’t meet expectations.

Consider the right individuals to act as leaders within the group. Selecting outgoing, engaged rising stars to serve on a five-member steering committee allowed the Emerging Leaders themselves to develop the goals and trajectory of the initiative, not association staff.

Consider using a broad definition for “young” (either by years experience and/or age).  For example, MCA of Chicago used “45 and under” as most of its leaders were well over that age when the group formed.

Consider strategically expanding your invite list beyond those eligible for traditional membership. For MCA of Chicago, expanding to include industry vendors for many gatherings was a smart choice. Vendor representatives were diverse, tended to be artful conversationalists, and held strong relationships with a different mix of companies than the association had developed.

Looking for more advice and inspiration like this? Stay tuned because this is just our first installment of the Save the Associations campaign. All summer long we will be sharing inspiring stories of associations that are doing something exceptional to ‘save’ their association and their industry from an untimely demise.


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