Saturday, February 26, 2011

How to Be a Real Change Agent in Your Association

Associations are currently experiencing one of the biggest dynamic shifts in technology and demographics ever experienced in human history.  Business is changing at lightening fast speed, traditional business models are no longer relevant, and each demographic group wants things differently.

One of the biggest challenges associations face today is motivating and inspiring their Boards to face the facts, and take steps to move their association’s communication strategy, value propositions, and member service models into the future.

The problem is this means “change”, which many Boards do not like.  Let's take a look at some of the trends impacting associations in the next 3 to 7 years; boards need to start thinking about NOW:

·      Social Media growing as a predominant mode of communication for those under 30
·      Association’s value proposition being questioned more than ever
·      Internet providing so much information for free that associations used to have control over
·      Associations struggle to connect the membership dots for Gen “Y”
·      Mobil communications putting information resources in the palm of every member’s hand

The question is….what is your Board going to do about it?

So many Boards are controlled by a predominantly baby boomer generation, who in large part, rebel against making any radical changes away from how “its always been done”, and adapting their associations into the technology age.  Even knowing the under 30-year old member is a fast growing set of members who communicate differently, Boards still persist to keep traditional, ineffective models of driving member value and communication.

Having influence on getting your Board to consider the wave of change is an art, and a system of communication.  The following are crucial to being a key influence of change within your Board:

Establish the Problems You Need to Solve as an Association
I’m amazed at how many associations approach solutions because everyone is doing it, or without identifying the problem first.   People only make change when two things happen:

1.     They are aware a problem exists
2.     They are sufficiently disturbed enough about the problem to make change

If you, as the “change agent”, cannot articulate the problem to your Board, and cannot share the relevant information to disturb them enough to make change, you will never see innovation and creativity to keep pace in today’s fast changing environment at the Board level.   When your Board fears what will happen if they don’t make change more than the changes needing to be made, then and only then, do you have a Board ready to make radical innovations to maximize their value proposition to the member.   The key is to define your problems.

Survey Your Membership for Their Thoughts and Input
Your Board serves your membership, that is why they are elected.  A key element to influencing your Board into change, is to survey your membership on their thoughts to problems and solutions.  If your Board is pushing you to go one direction with an initiative, and a survey says that 70+ % of your members feel the value isn’t there and you should go another direction, your Board will be hard pressed to push the initiative knowing less than 30% of the members feel it’s the right move.   Make sure to keep your finger on the pulse of how your overall membership views programs, services, and technology and put that data in front of your Board for their review.

Network With Your Board to Understand Pushback
As you are setting the ground work for any type of change, it's important that you be having open conversations with all your Board members individually, to see who is going to be the “nay sayers.”  Not changing because you just don’t like change is not a valid reason for not making change.  You need to find the nay sayers first, and help educate them why change will be a good thing.

Pick Champions on the Board Who Will Carry the Message
The best people to be pushing change are other Board Members who believe in the change.  As you network with your Board on issues of making change, discover who your  “change agents” can be, and provide them enough information and support, for them to be effective in driving your Board to make change.

Present the Facts of Why Change is Needed and What the Risks are of Doing Nothing
If you are looking to make positive changes in your association in any area, it's imperative you present relevant facts so Your Board can see the reasons why they need to consider options for solving the issue presented.  They also need to know what the ramifications will be for doing nothing.  The best example in everyone’s face right now is “social technologies.”  Over 97% of all under 30-year olds communicate through a social network.  If you knew this as an association, it would make sense that your association needs to implement some type of social technology to bring your future members together in a format they really like using.  Doing nothing could leave your association open to future members having the perception you are not innovative enough for them, and you're not relevant because what you offer, they can get for free somewhere else.   Remember the KEY Component to membership value...engagement and retention...doing things for members they cannot do themselves effectively.

Put Responsibility on the Board for Choosing the Right or Wrong Solution
In my experience, if you have laid the problems out very clearly, communicated what potential solutions are, and what the ramifications are for the association if they do nothing, the Board will almost always choose change, because they don’t want to be known as the Board who stood in the way of growth.  Make sure they understand they are the ones making the final decision...not staff, and they are responsible for the negative results that could happen if they do nothing.

Your Board Has to Have the Confidence YOU CAN PULL OFF THE CHANGE
This goes without saying, but I have to say it because I see some CEO’s who are frustrated at their Boards for not making change, and when I listen to them talk about the issues, I can hear, "the Board doesn’t think the CEO has the ability to make the change happen effectively so lets do nothing".  Make sure you have what it takes in leadership skills and staffing to be the “change agent” in your association.

Tom Morrison is CEO of the Metal Treating Institute.   Through using the above plan, over the last 5 years MTI has seen a 7.5% increase in membership, 28% increase in per member revenues and 482% increase in overall net member surplus.