2.17: Innovating Organizational Culture with Debra BenAvram

2.17: Innovating Organizational Culture with Debra BenAvram

Debra BenAvram juggles many complex situations and takes on challenging issues—it’s the nature of her work and what she does exceptionally well. In order to stay focused on what matters most, she has learned to focus first on innovation and organizational leadership. Her approach is simple. Be intentional and remove obstacles that get in the way or that slow down high priority work within the association. From removing yearly reviews and replacing them with real time feedback, to helping others see their potential, Debra is always on the lookout for ways to strengthen individuals and the culture in which they work. This conversation will inspire you to rethink how you approach your work and your role as a manager and leader.

Debra BenAvram, FASAE CAE
Chief Executive Officer, AABB [formally the American Association of Blood Banks]

“We have to move away from the traditional review and move to a model of constant feedback, dialogue, and engagement with our employees.” 

Debra BenAvram is the chief executive officer of AABB, headquartered in Bethesda, MD. AABB, formerly called the American Association of Blood Banks, is an international society focused on advancing transfusion medicine and cellular therapy worldwide.

Debra joined AABB in 2018, following more than 16 years leading the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), including 11 years as its chief executive officer. She has a strong passion for redesigning staff and volunteer cultures to support integration among all team members and eliminate silos. Debra frequently presents on topics including organizational culture, performance management, and her innovative approaches to encouraging and maintaining collaboration, communication, and a valued work environment.

Debra received a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics with a concentration in business from the University of Maryland. She received her Master of Science degree in educational leadership with an emphasis on leadership and organizational culture from Miami University. She also earned a certificate in executive leadership from Cornell University. An active volunteer leader, Debra is a fellow of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and a past member of the ASAE Board of Directors. She also is on the board of directors for the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Debra has received several awards for her work, including being listed as one of CEO Update’s Top CEOs and the Washington Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Business Leaders. In 2010, she was recognized with ASAE’s Emerging Leader Award, Women Who Promote Excellence in Associations.

Debra lives in Bethesda, MD, with her husband, Vincent; son, Lev (16); daughter, Paz (8); and their lovable pound pup, Masha.

Other Resources

What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help your professional development (i.e. books, courses, trainings, assessments, magazines, thought leaders, etc.)? Colleagues, peer groups (create one today!), preparation for the Certified Association Executive credential exam, Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Coens & Jenkins, Blinkist, and podcasts (Business Wars, Dear HBR, The $100MBA Show)

What is your favorite aspect of the association management field? Having a strong connection to a mission; being engrained in so many communities: the organization’s communities, the staff community, the broader association community; and working with association colleagues

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? “Fake it till you make it,” and own your strengths and leverage the, instead of struggling against them.

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