STC Elections 2014: Interview with VP Candidate Bernard Aschwanden

Biographical Questions

new-stc-logo1. Who are you? What’s your background? What do you do for a living?

I’m an STC member, and have been since 1997. I do a lot of what other people in STC do for a living. I primarily work to create, organize, and distribute information. My regular job is running and making sure that my contractors and customers have their needs met.

2. When did you join the STC? Why?

I joined in 1997 with the expectation that it was a good move into a field that was dynamic, interesting, and would keep me employed. So far, so good. Over the years I’ve discovered a passion for the work the membership does, and have contributed not only to the Society, but also to the  members in the form of webinars, presentations, papers, and community level events.

Candidate for Office Questions

bernard_aschwanden_lViews on the Profession

1. Where do you see the profession of technical communications heading in the next five years?

Up. We have turned a corner under the guidance of the current Board of Directors and I hope that we can continue to grow. We need to ensure that we focus on a few core areas that I think really matter. We need to retain members, and grow our membership.

2. What would you do as VP and later as President to support or change this course?

I have a vision in which we rebrand to focus on membership, not the profession. Technical communications is a strong field. Titles include writer, editor, information architect, information developer, documentation manager, documentation specialist. Related fields are so rich in titles as well. We overlap with ux design, help developers, business analysts, medical writers, and so many specialized areas within companies. The field is strong, so let’s make STC into a member organization that puts greater power back into its members.

Specifically, I would work for more active partnerships, listen to our current partners and identify growth options, and support members in making the case for “owning the words” within a company.

Operations of the STC

The STC has had well documented challenges and some wins over the last number of years. As one of the elected leaders of the organization your views on the organization’s operations are very important. The next questions will cover this area.

1. What do you see as the right roles for national board and the local and regional organizations?

The International Board (we have people from Canada and Europe on it) should look after the overall community and all members, regardless of community size. We need to manage the finances better and return value to the local and regional organizations. The Board of Directors has to set the vision for the Society, provide services to large membership groups, and look after the net financial management of the collective Society. On a local level the specific elected representatives know best what a community may want or need. Maybe one community has a great need for information on documentation related to software and hardware because of a huge tech sector employment in the area, and another needs details on government specific writing, or water and energy, or mining.

The Board should set the vision for the staff, and the local communities should implement the vision in the best interests of their specific local membership. It’s all about communication; the how and the why is so often the same, but the what and the who depends on the target audience.

2. Where should the organization and its board focus its financial resources in the next year?

Ongoing member value. Education. Growth beyond the current model. We need to really offer members something that goes beyond what other organizations do. We can’t compete with publicly available YouTube and web content. So let’s expand education and ensure we spend time/money/people resources on teaching our members, and ensuring they can show that they have learned new skills, and then provide them with an argument to get that raise at work. More skills, higher productivity, better performance. That’s what we should see every year from members. And we should see them rewarded for it.

3. How does your role as an elected leader differ from that of the full-time paid staff?

For starters, they get paid :)

Seriously, the staff is fantastic. They have dedicated jobs, and specific skills that are used to implement the vision we have for the STC. The elected members of the Board should set goals that can be achieved, but the staff should be allowed to identify the best way to make the goals happen. The Board can offer suggestions, but we can’t overwhelm the staff, we can’t treat them like they work for us (we all work for the membership).

Members and Chapters

4. How should STC address the changing needs of organizations for technical content and the potential skills gap of STC members?

Goes back to education. We need to know what that gap is. I think we can learn that through vendor partners who attend a LOT of conferences, and we can learn from online resources including yours! If we can identify what skills are needed, and who can deliver that training, we can help both. STC members can be connected with trainers. Trainers can reach a broad potential attendee base. Everyone wins. As employers see more value in the STC brand (membership) we gain more loyal members as well. Win, win, and win.

5. Although membership in STC surges from time to time, the general trend is downward. What would you do to reverse that trend?

It has been down. We stabilized and actually had growth this year! To reverse the trend we’ve had to look at what members really perceive as value. That forced us to change our way of thinking. We’ve also got a new Executive Director and he’s doing a great job in implementing vision. The Board has been pretty demanding in what we have asked for, and so far I’m impressed. Let’s see if that mix of vision, education, and leadership can continue this. I think it can.

6. Should the STC keep supporting the local chapters? If Yes, Why & How? If no, Why?

Yes. Pure and simple, that’s where the members are. I do want to ensure we mean communities (we rebranded that) that include the online and the physical. Why? That’s were the most direct benefit of membership is often seen. That’s where growth can happen. That’s where we ensure people interact with each other and build a stronger personal network. How? Funding, but also leadership training and transition support. We have to have strong leaders developing further leaders. Part of that is getting leaders to Summit for Leadership Day. It is through that mix of leadership and community that we have events like the STC Summit, but also regional events like Rochester NY or Philadelphia Metro holding successful mini-conferences. Strong leaders, strong communities, great success.

The Office of Vice President and President Elect

1. What can you reasonably expect to accomplish as VP and President?

My vision is to rebrand, listen, partner, own the words, and provide member value. I think I can do this over two years. To do so means I also need to set up strong leaders to follow after me, and I need strong communities. Rebrand. Let’s be about members, not about the profession. Listen. Let’s hear what members say, but also what our core partners have to say (and let’s hear it on a community and a Board level). Partner. Let’s truly partner with other organizations and ensure that we have shared goals of success. Own the words. Our membership needs to be able to make the business case to control the words and our leadership needs to teach that business case through even better education (it’s already good, but…), and lastly member value. I think I’ve explored that one a bit here already.

2. What will you do in the first 100 days?

I need to ensure we have financial stability so the big two would be listen and partner. I want to find out from people who work in our field, and people who work in areas surrounding it what the issues are, and what they see as potential solutions. That’s done by listening. Then we can decide who to partner with to make it happen. Just as a nation has internal strengths and grows stronger through multi-national partnership, so can STC. We have a great Board, dedicated staff, and fantastic members, so let’s grow stronger by partnering.

3. What will be your legacy after you’re done as VP and President?

Hopefully, stability, clear process, strong partnerships, growth. I want people to look back and say that I delivered value and that the vision I proposed came to pass.

The Big Last Question …

Why are you the right person to be the next VP for STC?

I have outlined what I want, and how I think it can be done. I have experience on the Board, worked with many communities, and a track record of leadership and results. My vision is clear: Rebrand to support members, listen to the community, partner with others, own the words within an organization, and provide value for member dollars.


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