How will history remember this past decade? Never in our lifetime (or some may argue in human history) has so much changed in such as short period of time. For many associations, three and five-year strategic planning cycles are no longer practical given the volatility facing their organization and their members. New approaches to strategy focus on adapting, innovating and experimenting an organization’s way to success. To be effective, today’s strategic plans need to be living documents that evolve continuously over time.
Replacing the Engine While Flying the Plane: The Association Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Change
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
The Associations 2025 Summit is coming up next week! http://bit.ly/1MnbCmG
It is a collaboration between The Portage Group, CSAE and a group of inspiring leaders from associations and businesses across Canada. Together in a fun and interactive format, we will explore the landscape of associations today and discuss what trends will shape the sector in the years to come.
I found this article from Carol-Anne dating back to 2010 where association professionals were asked to weigh in on what they think a successful association would look like five-to-six years into the future. Well that future is here. Lets explore if those prophecies have turned into reality.
Here are a few of the most crucial ways your Association should adapt to thrive:
The survivors will be those who are truly able to stand out from the crowd by being able to deliver value in a world where the term means something different to each member. In order to provide a unique experience that members can’t replicate elsewhere, membership and all that it involves will become more customizable.
New Revenue Models
Increased competition from sources such as the internet and social media are allowing people to access networks and resources without having to pay a membership fee. Associations will increasingly have to give away for free a lot of what they have until now leaned on as their main sources of revenue. Some real outside-of-the-box thinking will be needed to help associations figure out how to generate enough revenue to be able to achieve their mandates.
Flatter, Less Hierarchical Structures
Many associations today have structures that are left-over from the days when boomers joined right out of school and stayed until retirement. This multi-layered and bureaucratic structure doesn't fit in a world where people need access to information, resources and decision-makers immediately without having to jump through multiple hoops and gatekeepers. Future associations structures will be flatter so as to be more accessible, responsive and nimble.
Evolution of Volunteerism…and Engagement
The reality is that people are busier than ever before and have more things competing for their time. Social media will be a great tool for the innovative association looking to recruit, retain and engage. The markedly ‘un-linear’ and transparent nature of this medium has real potential to help boost engagement among all stakeholder groups, from members and volunteers to staff, board members and donors.
Transparency Will No Longer Be An Option
As social media moves more into the foreground, non-transparency just won’t be an option anymore. When associations mess up, they will have to face the music. If you haven’t followed the Kiva.com saga, this charity is a great example of how social media makes this happen. Here’s an article on the debate from the New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/09/business/global/09kiva.html?_r=1&src=tw)
The Great Age Divide
The baby boomer generation is retiring and will continue to have a significant impact on not-for-profits. All of the stakeholder groups will start looking a lot younger - from association staff, board members to volunteers and donors.
Helping members to attract ‘young blood’ to their industries, adjusting to the new leadership styles of a younger generation, and finding ways to transfer tacit knowledge between seasoned executives and young leaders are just some of the challenges associations will face in this arena.
So what do you think? Are these still the most relevant challenges happening in your association? How have you adapted?
We look forward to seeing your top leaders and up and comers in Toronto on April 19th. At Associations 2025 Summit!
Get ready to explore solutions and create change!
While attending a board meeting recently, I heard the President of an association Board of Directors comment, ”remember, I won’t be here after June.” It struck me that there must be so much time spent not only training and integrating new board members, but also a great loss of direction and governing style when experienced individuals leave association boards.
The Portage Group had been brought into this particular meeting to present options of structure models to align with strategic goals. Although this was not the focus of our presentation, one comment that came forward was in regards to bringing ‘younger people’ to the board to have a more diverse representation. “every new generation brings a fresh perspective to previous traditional approaches.”
Perhaps part of recruiting members to your Association could highlight the benefit and opportunity to become part of a diverse and experienced Board of Directors. Where an up and coming professional could develop relationships with experienced people in their sector with a wealth of information in that industry and a vast amount of contacts.
Some of the top reasons you might want a younger demographic on your board:
1. To Manage Technology
At TPG, we often hear feedback from clients that there is a need to improve their association technologies. Often improvements are done once or twice and are not able to be maintained. Having someone directly involved with the association to manage this (in a volunteer position no less!) could be greatly beneficial.
2. To Talk to and Attract Similar and Like-Minded People
While current board members might have a large network of industry professionals, some young blood on the Board could have a far reach when it comes to new potential members and would certainly have ideas of how to reach them
3. To Create Value Add Ideas for Members
Often new ideas can become fairly stagnant on a board where most of the faces have been around in some capacity for many years. Someone new to the group might have some creative ideas of how to attract and retain members as well as enhance value.
4. To Offer New Perspective on Old Traditions.
Are there members of your board who have older children that might be interested in following in their parents footsteps? Do you know someone who might benefit from the industry connections and know how? A fresh and younger face on the board could come with loads of perspective on how to build new traditions.
Change is inevitable. But planning for it could create more of an opportunity than just restructure. Some ideas shared in this blog were found in the article http://nonprofithub.org/board-of-directors/nonprofit-millennials-board-directors/
Succession planning and development of board of directors is just one way The Portage Group can help your association. Find out more about our services at www.theportagegroup.com
You’ve demonstrated a consistent commitment to keep your board and members aware of major trends, risks, and strategic issues that will shape the organization in the coming years. Knowing that there are many new challenges that association executives face today that didn’t exist 15 years ago, The Portage Group and CSAE are looking to gather the brightest stars in your association and the true leaders and have a focused conversation at the Associations 2025 Summit this coming April 19, 2016 in Toronto.
We will be offering a variety of dynamic presentation styles, similar to Ted Talks, at The Associations 2025 Summit, with a more interactive case study exploring (Re)Creating Tomorrow’s High Performance Association mid day.
Some of the topics we will look at are:
▪ How will the next generation of members define value?
▪ What associations are successfully transforming their model to enhance value for their boards and members?
▪ Understanding the environment of 2025 – the workplace, workforce, economy, and Canada itself and changes already underway.
▪ What leading organizations will be seeking in their top executives
Associations 2025 Summit will feature some dynamic speakers:
▪ Bill Greenhalgh, CEO, Human Resource Professionals Association
▪ Diane Brisebois, President & CEO, Retail Council of Canada;
▪ Chris Conway, CEO, Cement Ontario;
▪ Andrea Stairs, Managing Diretor, eBay Canada.
It will be a day that will hopefully start a trend in itself! We would ask you to bring your best for a day of collaboration, learning and networking amongst established association leaders and the up and comers. The conversations to come out of the Summit will aim to bring significant value back to your association in its planning for the future.
How do you prepare for the coming years and demands? Join us for Association 2025 Summit, as we re-think how to leverage the power of associations. Be part of the answer.
For Details and to register go to:
#toronto #april19 #associations2025
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:
By Alan Ward We don’t know our limits until we push past them.
Is this true? It sounds like it could be true. If you asked me, though, if I knew my limits my automatic thinking answer would be “Yeah, pretty well.” I more or less know what I can and cannot do. Ergo, I probably know my limits.
My deeper thinking process, however, would question that conclusion. All I really know is what I have done, what I have done well or not so well, and what I stay away from doing. I know my experience, but not my limits.
As leaders and contributors, we want to make things happen. We need to make things happen. On our watch revenues should be ramping, membership should be growing, and our organization’s influence should be expanding. We develop strategy, equip the ship, and set sail. And things go well… until perhaps they don’t. Then, it seems, we have more questions than answers...