Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with volunteer and staff executives who, facing an age of an ever-increasing rate of change, feel like they are struggling to be nimble in their attempts to keep up. As we dove deeper into what factors were emerging, the conversation kept coming back to a focus on how to approach daily evolution from a place of strength. Working with these various groups, a seven-point process emerged that could guide an organization to build a foundation of resilience to better negotiate a constantly changing landscape:

1. Recognize foundational strengths.

There are reasons you have members and you have been able to support your profession or cause for as long as you have. If you did a quick poll asking where your organization excels, these areas would come up time and time again. As you enter into discussions of “what’s next,” make sure you are also focusing on what continues to serve as the foundation of value you create, and then promote and further invest in those efforts accordingly.

2. Seek ongoing environmental shifts and norms input.

While a single environmental scan can produce a comprehensive picture of a moment in time, today, associations are looking to supplement those reports with ongoing input. Create proactive, specific asks to your partners and stakeholders, inquiring into what they see strengthening and shifting on the professional horizon. Listen with an intent for pattern identification so when you start to hear the same answer from a number of sources you can turn strategic attention in that direction.

3. Ask the right people the right questions.

Of course, change isn’t only based on external factors. Create a system of ongoing input from internal stakeholder segments and tailor what you are asking based on who the member/customer/volunteer is. Just as you create segmented value to account for specific demographics (career planning for those early-career, virtual discipline communities for a global audience, etc.), asking for internal reflections should account for that same background – people want to know you hear their voice, not just any voice.

4. Listen and incorporate reflections to your evolving vision and goals.

Your organization’s vision of impact & accomplishment and the goals you set to mark your progress in pursuit of that vision need to be part of your everyday conversation. As you receive the input from #2 and #3 above, the conversation that follows should be based off of current organizational efforts, and whether those efforts need to be modified based on the new information at hand. Pivoting to modify goals and success metrics based on shifting priorities allows an organization to still identify progress even if the path takes a different route.

5. Communicate.

The lynchpin of success in resiliency isn’t just the ability to adapt your goals but to adopt a culture of inclusive communication. As your organization pivots to new criteria, it is essential those changes are not only shared with staff and volunteer leaders (who also do the work), but that, wherever possible, the work carried out by each individual/group is tied back to the new goal, explicitly identifying the impact their efforts will make.

6. Recognize and celebrate achievement.

As our strategy and its implementation becomes ever fluid, there is an increased priority to recognize the successful accomplishment of milestones towards the larger goals. Positive recognition of forward progress can serve to reinvigorate those making the efforts, reinforce progress even if hurdles or challenges are encountered, and serve as a moment for a reflective pause to make sure that the organization’s efforts are still in line with the goal/mission it is striving to achieve. Last, but certainly not least, these may be moments where success can also be shared with the larger membership base, making the efforts of the organization a journey where they are a participant and not just an audience.

7. Create amazing experiences.

When organizations laser focus on an ongoing assessment of need and the piloting/creation of high-quality solutions to answer those needs, the piece that is often forgotten is the end-user experience. The best program/product/service will still fall short if the experience of utilizing that solution is a poor one. Including the customer experience as an ongoing practice in execution and evaluation is key to refining and maximizing the impact any effort an organization makes.

We will never be able to predict every shift that will affect our organizations. What we can do is have the best approaches in place to respond and adapt to those changes from a place of strength and stability.

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE is the CEO and Strategy Catalyst of Vista Cova – a company that partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning, creating stronger stakeholder connections, and reimagining value and engagement. Lowell frequently provides dynamic sessions to organizations – conducting deep-dive interviews and getting members and volunteers involved through experiential learning approaches. He currently serves as the Chair-Elect for the overseeing commission for the Certified Association Executive certification, and Chaired ASAE’s Task Force on CEO Pathways. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens and Association Charrette – a co-creation retreat experience. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE is the CEO and Strategy Catalyst of Vista Cova – a company that partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning, creating stronger stakeholder connections, and reimagining value and engagement. Lowell frequently provides dynamic sessions to organizations – conducting deep-dive interviews and getting members and volunteers involved through experiential learning approaches. He currently serves as the Chair-Elect for the overseeing commission for the Certified Association Executive certification, and Chaired ASAE’s Task Force on CEO Pathways. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens and Association Charrette – a co-creation retreat experience. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.

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