Call To Action: Transform Associations!

Call To Action: Transform Associations!Like all organizations today professional societies and trade associations are being reshaped by powerful economic trends. More than one leader from these organizations has said to me recently, ‘Many of these trends have been spoken about for years or even decades. The difference is today we are being forced to act because business pressures have reached a critical threshold.’

In conversations I have had with over 100 association leaders during the last six months, here are five of the biggest issues I have heard them raise:

1. Member disruption is an issue.
Many members are facing game-changing circumstances which fundamentally impact their jobs. For example, printing equipment owners are being disrupted by rapid development of new technology, digitization, and globalization while speech-language pathologists are facing uncertain payment protocols as a result of healthcare reform. These disruptions require proactive, resource-intensive attention by association leaders to sustain thought leadership, business continuity, and profitable operation.

2. Membership itself is under scrutiny.
An important conversation is taking place questioning the fundamental value proposition of belonging and looking toward engaged action as a possible evolution. Leaders appreciate those organizations that are skilled at garnering attention and creating participation especially when it comes to concerted action across a sector or profession. Some are considering it as the next step and even a possible replacement for traditional membership.

3. Businification is in upswing and brings complex ramifications.
Businification is what I call the intentional adoption of private sector business practices. It is more challenging that i sounds. For example, it is tempting to switch profitable revenue away from membership dues and toward valued products and services when possible. But this may shift internal culture too much toward profitability at the expense of member value, or jeopardize advocacy strength, as dues are the traditionally recognized indicator of the ability to marshal bloc action.

4. Technology continues to disrupt.
Members demand more but expect to pay less. They are constantly exposed to the high customization, immediacy, and freemiums that pervasive enterprises such as Amazon or Facebook offer, without appreciation for the massive resources required to construct these aspects of customer experience. Appetite for continuous innovation is ever increasing along with intolerance for the kind of process delays that governance often generates.

5. Association staff talent is in a bubble.
Pay and benefits are often higher or more stable than the private sector while performance expectations are generally lower. It is true there are plenty of star performers in organizations. It is also true that some are expert at outdated protocols and pressure to perform at the growing edge is not pervasive; e.g., meeting planners who are logistic masters but not working tightly with product development specialists often assemble complex events without maximizing market delivery profits.

Professional societies and trade associations play critical roles in our nation’s fabric, bringing people and organizations together to wield collective influence, guide policy, raise the bar on individual and organizational performance, and provide the camaraderie that makes professional and commercial pursuits a collective and efficacious endeavor. Further, it is often inside associations that emerging trends are first spotted and important policy issues are dealt with much more expeiditiously than is possible in government.

This is why it is so important that the issues above are addressed by people with vision, leaders who are capable of authoring their destiny rather than suffering as victims of a turbulent environment.

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Innovation for SequestrationSeth Kahan helps leaders on large-scale change and innovation. Designated a Thought-leader and Exemplar in Change Leadership by the Society for Advancement of Consulting®, and a Visionary by the Center for Association Leadership, he is the author of the bestsellers, Getting Change Right and Getting Innovation Right. Clients include the president of World Bank; the director of the Peace Corps; Royal Dutch Shell and 30+ association executives.

Seth Kahan




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