Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship (ACE) is a group made up of association executives and stakeholders who think outside the association box about the future. We have conversations about an entrepreneurial approach to association leadership and implement the resulting great ideas in our jobs. In our most recent conversation live in DC, with a virtual component hosted by Association Success, we discussed change management. These takeaways evolved from an ACE conversation on change management convened by Meena Dayak and Carrie McIntyre.
Is change a problem for associations to solve? “No, problems occur because something isn’t working. But change solves problems,” says Jon Bassford.
Bassford zeroed in on the essence of the issue at an Associations Catalyzing Entrepreneurship conversation on change management: value. For-profit companies are constantly forecasting, evaluating, and trying to circumvent the loss of value. Associations may react to the consequences of losing value but few foresee that value itself needs to change.
The old school model is members first and last. However, a new generation of leaders is looking at the declining value of associations as membership hubs in the face of growing competition. They are transforming their associations into sustainable businesses that add value — to an industry, or profession, or society. A couple of decades ago, membership itself provided that value. But today members are demanding more and engaging less.
Some associations are altering their business models to build in tiered pricing — higher dues provide access to all services so that membership is no longer about paying to pay. Others have been taking down the paywalls and opening up content and benefits to convey their broader value to an industry or profession. And a few associations have even done away with membership altogether, providing value through top-notch programs and services that stand up to the competition.
How can more associations consider such bold moves? How can we stay nimble and responsive to changes in member and market needs by adding new programs — and more often by ending old programs that no longer offer value — when we have limited resources?
Panelists Katie Bergmann and Shawn Traylor led ACErs in a discussion of four essentials for associations to manage value-based change — listen, pilot, be transparent, and measure value.
It starts with creating the right thing and for that we need to listen to our members, Sure, we can ask them what they want. But they may not always know themselves. Or they may have differing opinions. One member’s needs may only be one member’s needs.
We need to understand what members’ lives and work are like so we can identify and address pain points. And of course, we need to help them envision and prepare for that unknown future.
Increasingly, we need to listen beyond our membership. The American Public Power Association, embarked on a rebranding journey because they wanted their members — community-owned electric utilities — to be better recognized. So it wasn’t enough to talk to members: they also talked to members’ customers, and learned that four in five had no clue that community-owned electric utilities were constituted differently from shareholder-owned utilities. This insight drove their own rebranding as an association and emphasized a pain point many members weren’t even feeling yet.
Remember that what members say they want and what they’ll actually pay for are two different things altogether. One medical association launched an education product built entirely on member input. But the product fell flat as what people were saying they wanted was not actually what they wanted. The association moved to better understand data on user behaviors to inform future products. This situation is not unique to associations: many for-profit tech companies have been burned by it as well.
Which signals the importance of piloting.
“The future is piloting things, getting feedback, and then recalibrating. And then doing it again,” says Mary Byers.
Change can be incremental. Not everything needs to be launched full scale. Put the minimum viable product out to the market and test it — even make people pay for it so they’ll be more vested in its success.
Borrow a page (or a byte) from entrepreneurial initiatives like a Kickstarter or Patreon. Or consider how most tech companies make product development an iterative process. They put something together in the cheapest, fastest way possible to test and try in the real world.
Of course, you have to manage the pilot process in a way that extracts value, points out Tim Parsons. You need the right partnership of people who ideate and people who systemize.
Piloting takes the fear out of the new and the different. It lets you innovate, solve problems, and grab opportunities faster. And it lets you embrace the concept of failing quickly (for a deeper dive into these concepts, sign up to join the Oct 16 ACE conversation on Lean Startup for Associations).
3. Be Transparent
Speaking of fear, people dread — and fight — change mostly because it’s an unknown, right? So successful change management requires building a culture of transparency.
We need to loop in our colleagues, our leadership, and our board on any plans for change, and make the business case for why the change is needed and how it can build relevant, robust value.
Hilary Marsh and Zell Murphy make the case that innovation should be baked into staff performance goals. Because changing what people do takes changing what they are rewarded and motivated for.
Along with transparency, you have to build trust and ensure that the change is aligned to the values of the association and the values of those that need to implement the change.
An extreme dimension of transparency is co-creation. Arianna Rehak, a proponent of co-creation, points to Dan Ariely’s explanation of the Ikea effect — the value we get when we put our own furniture together, because we feel we have a stake in it. “A little sweat equity pays us back in meaning — and that is a high return,” explains Ariely.
Co-creation is becoming the norm with the growth of a proactive buy-in generation. Associations and our members are ideally positioned to ideate, co-create, and succeed, together.
4. Measure Value
We all know that success with change must be measured, but how? Shawn Traylor offers associations a framework he put together to help the team at his tech startup, Brazen, figure out exactly how they wanted to align around values and priorities.
The framework starts with themes rather than individual projects — taking it back to what really matters. Key performance indicators are established for each theme. Products and product features are then scored for each KPI — using pre-determined measures — and weighted. Commitments, competitive elements, and detractors are accounted for before coming to a final score.
The framework, as laid out and explained in these slides, helps to take both a macro and micro look at performance and the progress toward desired outcomes.
As Tim Parsons points out, “Choosing your measures of success before you start helps you take a scientific approach to change — create the hypothesis; then test, learn, adjust, and start over.”
Value-based change means proactively addressing what people really need. It isn’t about just being reactive to the rapidly changing environment, but getting to the heart of where this change is taking people – so that you can carve out your own space there.