The Culture of Yes: Change Afoot at ARRL HQ?

As part of my work with the ICQ Podcast, I have regularly interviewed the current CEO of the ARRL as a feature. On Episode 345 that will drop this Sunday (Feb 27, 2021 Central Time), I interview both the CEO, David Minster NA2AA, and the President, Rick Roderick K5UR. I heartily encourage you to listen to the interview as well as the full Episode.

In the past, I’ve had critical comments regarding how the League’s HQ “works” when I felt things needed calling out. This might have been from my own analysis or from the input of podcast listeners, fellow hams, and those who know that I’m a low-level flunky for the Delta Division as an Assistant Director. Most ALL of these criticisms have come from an sense that the management—whether elected, paid or volunteers—of League services was inward-looking rather than outward-looking at members’ needs. And, would-be members. One can see this culture in the often-heard (including from me) use of the descriptor, “not invented here,” about some position or action taken by the Board or CEO. It’s also a frequent reason that many say they are no longer members. It has led to a membership of about 150,000 of the more than 750,000 licensed amateurs in the United States. Moreover, it puts the “no” in innovation!

I want to reproduce one paragraph from David’s January 2021 Second Century column in QST as follows:

Excerpt from Second Century column in QST January 2021: 9

I read this as a direct attempt at change in the organizational culture in Newington. Clearly, David recognizes a fundamental limitation. Indeed, in my interview with both David and Rick, this is the clear directive that is being operationalized at HQ since David’s arrival. President Roderick is fully on board with this direction. He is a labor lawyer by day and former member of management in the business world so Rick is very aware of how an organization’s culture affects most every operation it conducts. From what I hear from Board members, most if not all of the Board sanctions this change, too.

As a Life Member, I can be really excited about the changes I’m already seeing in my interactions with League HQ. It’s a sign of things to come, I truly hope. I know, we’ve heard some of this before with two of the recent CEOs. But David NA2AA discloses some major new implementations in Newington that will further enhance interactions with members. The League’s some 150,000 members reflect an incredible array of skills and talents that, if identified, could be engaged to do things on behalf of the ARRL and the membership. Things that this modestly-capitalized non-profit organization could never afford to purchase. Just listen to Eric 4Z1UG’s QSO Today interviews of the many hams with amazing talents for just a smidgen of the talent pool.

The lack of both a mechanism to identify the talent among it’s membership and an internal culture that does not recognize what it can contribute, negate the hidden assets that are present in the volunteer-driven non-profit membership. And it saps the strength of what the staff in Newington alone can accomplish as they can become over-burdened with burn-out. That tends to always result in a culture of “no” as a go-to respite from the limits of a staff. Let’s just say it’s the equivalent of the “get off my lawn” response that we old geezers adopt some time when we don’t engage with our neighbors in positive ways. It’s a real thing in organizations and I believe that David gets it. Moreover, he’s doing something about it as he articulates in my interview.

As a sociologist who has studied both volunteer organizations and business operations as a consultant, these organizational changes make me optimistic about seeing them yielding a set of outcomes that reflect what a membership-oriented non-profit should be about. David’s statements about inclusion directly tie into the assets among the membership’s talent pool. Every request cannot result in a “Yes,” but making that the default setting is a fundamental shift in the right direction.

I hope you’ll join us for Episode 345 of the ICQ Podcast after it drops on Sunday. Listen for yourself and assess it on your end. The interview is less than 30 minutes in length but as our slogan reads: come for a moment, stay for an hour!

Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

6 Responses to “The Culture of Yes: Change Afoot at ARRL HQ?”

  • Goody K3NG:

    Good article. This is good news. I’m in the category of “former long time fan and proponent, now an aggrieved / disappointed / disengaged lifetime member”. I’m not an old geezer by amateur radio standards, I’m 51. They’re saying the right things, hopefully we see actions and results.

  • Bill W2BLC:

    Sociologist? Lawyer? So nice to have these organizational experts on board!

    I once supported the ARRL. However, when it became the smoke filled backroom of “not invented here” I left. I will have to see hard changes in the addressing of activity loss due to age before I will again be interested in ARRL.

    Complex and expensive digital systems are not the answer. I do believe that VOIP offers a future of connectivity. All the old timer needs is a laptop and very simple software. VOIP is great for rag chews – the cure to hours of TV watching and loneliness.

    Bill – on the air over 65 years.

  • Frank K4FMH:

    Bill,

    I fully understand your need for action by the ARRL before you have any interest. I’m a sociologist and statistician, not a lawyer. I’ve studied organizations and what’s being said is the first step toward change. The Board must fully get behind the actions rather than retain the “my way or the highway” conflict since David Summer’s retirement. I do not know if this change will be successful. Only time will tell. But we hams must be willing to accept change, too.

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Jerry W3CDE:

    I’ve been around since 1954 and member since 1955. The past 10 years of so have been Ho-Hum… I am on the air,but not like before. The League has lost a lot of luster. Life member since 1965 and enjoy the magazines. The me better than you has been a BIG turn off to me. I hope they will get their act together and open up. I’m now 80 and hope to see some more good years. Lets work together.

    73,

    Jerry
    W3CDE

  • Frank K4FMH:

    Goody,

    I’m 68 so I’m a bit more in the “geezer” age group than you. But I fully understand your disengagement. I finished the interview more optimistic. But actions speak much louder than words as we all know.

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Frank K4FMH:

    Hi Jerry,

    You’ve had a hammer==>nail moment in your reply! I’m the ARRL and you’re not (apologies to Chevy Chase) is a losing viewpoint. But David NA2AA seems to get that from my interview. Rick does too. I hope we see actions emanating from what he says in the interview that lead to greater openness. There are many, many like you.

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

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