Posts filed under Strategy

Replacing the Engine While Flying the Plane: The Association Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Change

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Leading Your Association Over Uncharted Territory

Association executives and directors have been hearing for years now that change is coming. Membership apathy and decline. Decreasing revenues. Industry consolidation. Competition for education, other programs and services.  Governance paralysis.  All of these are symptoms of the much larger issue of relevance, value, and member service, that are pushing many associations closer to the brink. For a growing number, the time to change is now…or perhaps never.

One association executive we’ve spoken to described this process as “replacing the engine while flying the plane.”  Whether it is a new membership, governance, revenue or wholesale organizational model that is needed, the change at hand represents largely uncharted territory in the association space.

Research, Strategy, Engagement and Communication: 4 Pillars of Successful Association Change

During the CSAE Trillium Winter Summit a few weeks ago, TPG Partner Jack Shand acknowledged that while association leaders understand that change is needed, it can be very hard to know how to first identify what change is needed, and second, make the change a reality:

Keep One Eye on the Flight Instruments and the other on the Horizon  

As CSO, your role is to execute the strategic direction set by the board of directors and to manage the day-to-day operations of the association…but it is also to think strategically and be future-focused. Keep one eye on operations and one eye on the changes and trends that will be factors in your organization now – and in the future.

Explain Why You are Changing Course

I was on a plane once that had to turn back to the airport just as the flight attendants were about to come by with the snack cart. When the captain announced the reason – smoke coming out of one of the panels in the cockpit (!) - you’d better believe everyone was on board with the new plan. The case for change must be made. What is the sector, membership, or board most concerned about? People will ask – even if they do not say it out loud – ‘what’s in it for me?’ Make sure you have the answer(s) ready.

Use Evidence to Drive Decision-Making

Have you ever seen inside the cockpit of an Airbus A380? Countless pieces of data and information measuring altitude, speed, fuel levels, navigation equipment, as well as monitoring the various elements of the plane itself (cabin temperature and pressure, electrical system etc.).  Information and research must drive what you do. You need evidence, not assumptions. Research should be internal (consultation with members, staff, directors and other constituents) and external (sector better practices and research, case studies and literature). Use qualitative research to uncover issues and add context, and quantitative research to validate potential directions and options.

Understand and Assess Your Options

Avoid the temptation to rush a decision and apply a ‘quick fix.’ Develop and assess alternatives and options based on your research and end goals.  Particularly if your board of directors or other stakeholder body is involved, this approach allows constituents to make their mark in shaping change. Giving constituents some ownership makes it far more likely that the change will be implemented successfully than if it is seen to be thrust upon them from a small group of executive decision-makers.

Chart the Course

Like any other kind of planning, you need an actionable strategy to achieve success tied to your desired outcome(s) for change. Lay out what needs to change and how. Understand what are the critical success factors needed for the plan to be successful, such as informed and engaged members, the right data, and resources.  Be clear about who is accountable for different elements of the plan. Make it measurable by making your plan SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound).

Recruit Change Ambassadors

Grassroots stakeholders are much more likely to get on board with change if people at different levels of the organization have bought in and are visibly engaged - like this flight attendant, for example.  You can help draw attention to the need for change but it needs champions and leadership from the board and, if possible, other influential members. Mobilizing members as change champions and/or using a “train-the-trainer” approach to consistently facilitate and communicate change across the organization can be extremely effective at generating wide-spread support.

Be Open to Mid-Course Correction   

Once underway, people may tend to be excessively optimistic in self-assessing their own decisions, even when there are storm clouds on the horizon. Continually seeking feedback – and acting on it if necessary – is critical.   Make sure when asking for feedback that you are seen to be acting on it through frequent stakeholder communications that clearly make this link.  Implementing change gradually rather than trying to change everything at once is one way to reduce turbulence enroute, even if you need to change direction.

Keep People Informed

Keep members and stakeholders in the loop throughout the process with regular updates on progress toward stated goals and changes to your plan if it evolves. Be honest and transparent and continually tie what you are doing back to the value it is providing to your end-user. Importantly, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when your change begins to take root and has positive results. It is important to celebrate success!

If you are interested in learning about and continuing the dialogue on association change, we hope you'll consider joining the TPG team at these upcoming events in Toronto and Vancouver!

  • Big Association Trends – From Identification to Innovation. A CSAE Trillium Chapter PDX Event. Wednesday, March 29, 2017 9:00 am – Noon in Toronto. REGISTER
  • Associations 2025: High Performing Associations of Tomorrow. A CSAE National Event. April 03, 2017. 8:30-4:30 at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. REGISTER
  • Associations Trend Talk. CSAEBC Lunch 'n Learn Session. May 4, 2017. Sheraton Wall Centre. REGISTER

 

2017 Association Trends Survey: Participate and Get a Free Copy of the Results

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If you are in an association leadership position in 2017, chances are you feel like you are playing an eternal game of whack-a-mole. Recruiting and engaging young professionals. Growing and diversifying revenue. Stopping the membership bleed... Where to begin? And even more importantly: What to do?

Please take a few minutes to participate in The Portage Group’s 2017 Association Trends Survey. This survey looks at the current and anticipated trends and issues affecting associations in 2017....and what actions they are taking to address them. Please click on the link below to start the survey:

  Begin Survey

All of your input will be kept confidential.

As a thank you for your participation, you will receive a complimentary PDF copy of the Highlight Summary in early April. 

If you are interested in more information and insights on Association trends, please check out and register these upcoming events in Toronto and Vancouver:

  • Big Association Trends – From Identification to Innovation. A CSAE Trillium Chapter PDX Event. Wednesday, March 29, 2017 9:00 am – Noon in Toronto. REGISTER
  • Associations 2025: High Performing Associations of Tomorrow. A CSAE National Event. April 03, 2017. 8:30-4:30 at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. REGISTER
  • Associations Trend Talk. CSAEBC Lunch 'n Learn Session. May 4, 2017. Sheraton Wall Centre. REGISTER


     

 

Your Association Will Look Very Different Ten Years From Now: What Are You Doing About It?

Reading this article on technology trends for 2016 got me thinking: It's hard to believe that just a decade ago, most of us had never heard of the term 'smartphone.'

Personally, I am always a little panicked when my phone is not within arm's reach. Also, I will admit that I have a slightly dysfunctional relationship with my GPS - which I have named Sneaky Suzy - and without whom I would (literally) be lost. I'm not proud...but I'm also not alone. Seventy-one percent of you sleep with your cell phones. Over sixty percent of you call, text or email from the washroom (!) You know who you are.

Did you know that by the end of 2016, nearly 2 billion people will have one of these little devices? We all know how much of an impact information technology is having on our society but how is your association translating it into new and innovative ways to deliver tangible member value?

Here are just a few of the ways some of the associations we have worked with recently are leveraging technology to meet member needs and solve member problems:

  • Using big data to truly understand current and prospective members so that associations can offer customized programs, services and communications
  • Mobile apps with easy and immediate access to tools, templates, information and other resources members can use on the job
  • Offering a ‘storefront’ on the association’s domain for smaller business members who want a web presence but who otherwise might not have the resources or know-how to develop one
  •  Easy-to-use systems for procurement and bidding
  • ‘Match-making’ applications that connect members to potential employees with a strong potential ‘fit’ to their needs and culture

The above is just the tip of the iceberg: What would you add to the list?

Beyond the continuous stream of disruptive innovation taking place, associations are facing a perfect storm of change in the environment inside which they operate. Leadership. Staff. Structure. Membership. Programs and Services...it's all going to look very different ten years from now.

Technology and member value is just one of the questions we will be looking at in April at the Associations 2025 Summit in Toronto - an opportunity not just to hear about what other leading associations are doing to position themselves for success into the future but to engage with your peers to address todays' evolving association environment.   Registration is open- don't miss this great event!

 

A Look Into the Future of Associations

I think associations of the future will be markedly different from today. A number of changes are coming (or have already started happening), but here are three of the bigger shifts I think we will see over the course of the next several years:

 

The Portgage Group's, Alan Ward Presents at #CSAE2015

  See us at the CSAE Conference this week in Calgary!    

See us at the CSAE Conference this week in Calgary!

 

The Portage Group Senior Associate, Alan Ward, has been asked to be a presenter at the upcoming Canadian Society of Association Executives Conference #CSAE2015 in Calgary on October 28th . 

Alan will be presenting on Succeeding at Succession Planning.   

 

 

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What is Succession Planning?

 

Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key leadership positions in the organization. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.

 

The discussion will be interactive and will strive to create relevance to different levels levels of management:

·      Staff

·      The Executive Directors

·      The Board of Directors

 

Succeeding at Succession Planning is less about filling positions and more about building the future health of the organization. It can’t be done well unless you look to future needs and requirements in a systematic way.

 

We would like this session to be integrated, getting feedback and interaction from the crowd. Come prepared to ponder a few questions (will be shared on Twitter) and produce and share some answers!

 

Session Details: 8am – 11:30am

Wednesday October 28th. . Room E3.

Succeeding at Succession with Alan Ward

Attend this session if you want to really dig into the challenges and opportunities of growth for 21st century associations!

 Follow the#CSAE2015 activity on Twitter @ThePortageGroup and on The Portage Group blog. 

Understanding What Nonprofits Do

By Jack Shand, Executive Partner. The Portage Group

In an earlier article on The Characteristics of Executive Leadership, I outlined what employees in the nonprofit sector do. But what do nonprofit organizations do?

First, two observations: Observation one is that many nonprofit organizations feel they are unique. Board leaders tell me this frequently when they are starting a hiring process for a new chief staff executive. Observation two is that many working in the nonprofit sector have struggled at some point in explaining exactly what it is their organization does, and how it adds value. Is it about reciting the mission statement perfectly?

So let's try and build understanding of what goes on in this sector and the "business" nonprofit organizations — associations and charities — are in.

Advocacy is a universal aim for organizations in the sector. Advocacy can focus on a myriad of audiences; it is not only about (and in some cases is not at all about) lobbying governments. Advocacy can be directed to promoting a profession, shaping legislation, engaging stakeholders, dialogue with and through media, or mobilizing a community.

The health charity advocates for better health, quality care, and an early cure. The social welfare organization advocates for better lives and better communities. The business association advocates for the conditions that are catalysts for jobs, investment, and a strong economy. The professional association advocates for better practices, higher standards, and quality performance. Think of an NGO, philanthropic cause, regulatory body, business or professional association and they are doing advocacy.

In my experience, the leaders and stakeholders of all nonprofits are asking that their interests be given influence, put on the map, and have a voice at the table.

Connectivity is the second universal goal shared by nonprofits. Since centuries before the Modern Era, in ancient Egypt and earlier, there is a rich and empowering history of people coalescing around an interest whether it be the arts, culture, or a trade. Indeed, isn't the principal aim of all nonprofit organizations to provide a forum for individuals to engage on matters they share in common? Look at the community cable television station announcements for local events. From places of worship, to sporting pursuits, to clubs, to fundraising events, in all cases it reinforces that the bringing together of people is alive and well. Networking in all its forms — B2B, social media, mentorship — is growing.

Education is the third business nonprofit organizations share. Organizations gather, house, produce and share knowledge. In the United States and Canada, associations and charities are a leading source of adult education and training, possibly second only to private and public educational institutions.

Consider the sizeable resources every city of consequence in the world devotes to attracting conventions, conferences, seminars, symposia, and workshops — events owned in many cases by associations.

For members of professions, from architects to zoologists, there is the impressive business of professional publications, accreditation, and certification that is developed and delivered by nonprofits. In fact for some time there has been a trend where professional associations and educational institutions are forming strategic alliances, including MBA programs, with curriculum in specialist tracks geared to human resource professionals, management consultants, insurance brokers and others.

There is a combined effect of this activity, recognized in constitutions and by democratic governments throughout the world. Nonprofit organizations are special, not in the unpleasant nuance of special interest, but because of the value associations and charities bring to society. Unconvinced? Then think of the tax-exempt status enjoyed by all organizations in this sector. Consider as well the privileged access the sector has to governments. Governments recognize that the organizations comprising this sector add real value to good policy making and to bettering society. Simply, nonprofit organizations contribute to and are needed by society, and their special role has been validated by governments. When you are next asked about what nonprofit organizations do, what your association or charity does, remember the valued work that we have in common:

Advocacy

Connectivity

Education

If you work for an association or a charity, here is our universal business card. It is a membership card we all share because it well symbolizes what nonprofit organizations do, our lead position doing it, and the passion we bring to our work.

© Jack Shand and The Portage Group 2015.

Turning Your Nonprofit Strategy Into A Reality: The Implementation Plan

As the saying goes, "failure to plan is planning to fail."  Just as important as your association or nonprofit's strategy is an implementation plan to put all of those great ideas into action! Here is a simple implementation plan template to help get the ball rolling in achieving your strategy.

Show Your Members They Drive the Agenda With a One-Page Strategic Plan

There are a number of tools you can use to succinctly and effectively communicate to your members that they drive the association agenda. The one-page strategic plan is a great way to present your strategic plan in a succinct way to your members - the key is to make it clear that their input is being used to drive the agenda. Below is one example of a one-page member-driven strategic plan. Here is an example.

Stuck in a Rut? Four Ideas to Get the Juices Flowing at Your Next Association Staff or Board Meeting

Whether your association, charity or not-for-profit staff or board is on autopilot, or whether you are just stuck in a rut when it comes to coming up with an effective and creative way to address an opportunity, challenge or niggling problem, here are a few approaches you could try at your next meeting or board retreat.

Connecting the Dots: Communicating Association Strategy to Your Members

Most associations seek member feedback. Many take this feedback into account in their planning activities….but if this information doesn’t get back to members, all that hard work will have been for nothing. This in mind, there are a number of effective ways to communicate your association’s strategy as an ongoing means to keep members in the loop about what is happening and how their needs and priorities drive the agenda...