Association professionals don’t often have the luxury of time to ponder problems for too long. In a fast-paced world and with limited resources, there’s always something else that takes priority. Still, if we do have the opportunity or intentionally create the opportunity to spend more time defining a problem rather than making a snap decision to default to a quick-fix, here are two pieces of advice to consider when problem-solving:

DON’T rely on tried-and-true ways

Chances are your industry and service offerings have changed over the years, and so should your ideas, tools and approach. There may be better solutions out there to consider if you do some digging. It’s important to take the time you can afford to define each problem you’re faced with and consider all possible solutions without jumping to a hasty conclusion. By acting too quickly and not taking this critical step, we actually risk losing an opportunity to adapt and innovate, which is essential in keeping associations relevant in the long-term. We don’t want to simply look at the status quo of what we’ve been doing in the past based on our assumptions or bias of the problem itself. What may have worked in the past may not necessarily be the best solution or may not lead to the best possible outcome. 

An example of this is something we’ve all probably seen before. Let’s say your association has an event that is tracking under your registration targets. The quick solution you come up with is “let’s send another eblast” or “let’s do another call campaign.” However, what if we instead took a step back and asked ourselves why registration is low? Is there perhaps another reason in the event itself? Is the format, content, price point, time of year, etc., right for the target audience? Does the event still serve its purpose? 

That’s a scary conversation to have. It’s so much easier to just follow along with what’s been done before, but by halting the conversation of how we can do better in its tracks, we are doing a disservice to our members, and ourselves as association executives. We need to dare to come up with new ideas. By doing so, we’re taking a closer look at the bias we might have in our decision-making, opinions and assumptions.

DON’T limit perspective

When defining a problem, you need as much information as possible to understand it and break it down to something workable. Part of that is asking others for input. It’s also important to keep the scope of the problem in mind: Who is impacted by the issue? Who is telling you about how to solve it? And who else needs to weigh in on the decision-making in order to get the best possible solution? 

This means considering diversity in opinions. Having diverse backgrounds and cultural and generational differences can help come up with and evaluate alternatives. As the director of a Millennial-owned company, I want to embrace generational differences because it’s what we’re seeing in the workforce and in our association demographics. One way I’ve seen this happening, especially if those traditionally on a board or within a membership demographic are of an older age or higher experience level, is by creating a young professional director role on the board to create more opportunities for these discussions.

Bringing different generations together to have problem-solving conversations is a great way to tackle the challenges and opportunities in store for associations, especially when talking about big decisions. There’s a lot to be said for embracing different lived experiences, keeping an open mind and coming together to look at problems from different perspectives. 

You cannot simply decide on your own; it needs to be a team effort. In my experience, and especially in the association world where decisions can sometimes take quite a bit of time to be changed or reversed, if you do have the time to define the problem (and ultimately, to plan the solution), take it. You never know when you’ll implement a solution that could have long-lasting impacts on the communities you serve.

Senior Leader at Redstone Agency

A senior leader at Redstone Agency, Maddy has worked with dozens of national and international not-for-profit organizations over the course of her career in association management. She is focused on ensuring her clients always receive advice based on best practices and brings a wealth of knowledge in membership engagement, systems and processes management and change management. Maddy also has expertise in providing board and volunteer support and structuring the annual financial reporting systems of many organizations. Maddy has published articles on Canada’s Anti-spam legislation, green workplaces and taking control of workplace stress. She is a regular contributor to Corporate Meetings Network and has been profiled as a featured meeting planner. She is a Director on the CSAE Trillium Network Council, and contributes to their e-magazine FORUM on topics related to young professionals. In 2015, Maddy was named a Top Forty Under 40 by the Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE Weekly. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Donna Mary Shaw Award from the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE).

A senior leader at Redstone Agency, Maddy has worked with dozens of national and international not-for-profit organizations over the course of her career in association management. She is focused on ensuring her clients always receive advice based on best practices and brings a wealth of knowledge in membership engagement, systems and processes management and change management. Maddy also has expertise in providing board and volunteer support and structuring the annual financial reporting systems of many organizations. Maddy has published articles on Canada’s Anti-spam legislation, green workplaces and taking control of workplace stress. She is a regular contributor to Corporate Meetings Network and has been profiled as a featured meeting planner. She is a Director on the CSAE Trillium Network Council, and contributes to their e-magazine FORUM on topics related to young professionals. In 2015, Maddy was named a Top Forty Under 40 by the Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE Weekly. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Donna Mary Shaw Award from the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE).

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