Failing industry. Struggling industry. Industry revolution. Take a look at every industry that is seeing considerable consolidation and decline and industry experts will tell you the problem is many organizations were not able to adapt and change as fast as the external environment needed them to.
I’m not sure if the association industry is a failing industry, in fact some associations are thriving. But many are not. We are seeing consolidations, some associations are flat which is a red flag but many are also showing year over year decline. The imperative is for change. This is because the external environment is changing fast, far faster than we are. It is the perfect storm of…
- Shifting member needs
- Increased member expectations
- Technological advances
- Well funded for-profit competitors
- Decreasing attention
- A glut of choice
- And the industries that we serve are themselves in turmoil.
Given these pressures many associations need to change. But why is change so hard?
Change is not actually all that difficult for some organizations. Take a look at a few companies that innovate all the time: Amazon, innovation think tank IDEO, and Netflix. Why can they do it and others can’t? I first thought of funding. They all have a lot of resources however startups do not and the good ones are able to change and adapt nearly every day. It is not just money. Organizational change comes from habits that are developed.
The professionals who think change and innovation are important commit to it. It sounds so simple but it is hard for most of us. True commitment is holding hands and jumping not knowing the outcome but knowing that trying is better than not. Commitment to change is knowing there will be a lot of ups and downs, maybe even more downs than ups. I think parts of commitment are knowing there will be failures but, not blaming and instead supporting the team especially when the chips are down.
Organizations that change and innovate allocate resources to do this. It is not something piled on top of someone’s existing job. No, time is carved out, people assigned, goals determined, a process mapped out and maybe a budget allocated.
We need to practice to become a black belt in karate, a great dancer or a top football player. Practice builds muscle memory. In the same way, we need to build mental muscle memory by practicing change in our organizations. The more we do something this less scary it becomes, the more we practice innovation the better we work as a team, the more we try new things the faster we get and this constant practices makes us smarter at knowing what might actually work.
How can we expect associations, some of which have been running the same business model for decades, to embrace change and seamlessly adapt? We can start to practice right now. Start small and grow. Commit to change, allocate resources and above all practice until change is just what the association does.
Talk to members and they will give you a list of problems that they would like the association to solve. But doing so requires that the association changes. Which is hard. Find more articles like this, by Amanda Kaiser, on her blog for association professionals or follow her on Twitter @SmoothThePath. Amanda is a qualitative member researcher who helps associations develop member informed strategies and innovate.