Prepare Your Association for Its Futures

Last week, I had the honor of addressing the Florida Society of Association Executives.  

The program was sponsored by Hyatt Hotels of Florida, which is an exceptional supporter of the Florida association community. At the luncheon, the Hyatt team presented FSAE with a check to support individuals seeking to participate in Institute or to earn the CMP or CAE certification. It's the 30th year Hyatt has supported such scholarships.  

Bob Harris, CAE asked that I speak about association innovation as an integral part of preparing your association for the future.

Nobel Physicist Dennis Gabor wrote in 1963, “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”  It’s a pretty neat concept in itself, made all the more interesting when you know that the author specialized in the science and technology of holography.  It’s a true example of vision and leadership, and a great example for each of us.  

What futures might we envision for our associations and our careers … and how can we make them a reality?

It was approximately 100 years earlier when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which provided a new way of looking at how change occurs and futures are created. In his theories, it is the combination of the external environment and individual fitness for that environment that determines how evolution occurs. The quote here, which reflects how notions of change are still relevant themes and memes in our lives, is actually from the 1963 journal of the Southwestern Social Science Association.  

What CHANGES in the WORLD around us may require us to ADAPT?

Five Changes 
That May Require Associations to Adapt

  1. New Business Models

As we look at the world around us, it is easy to see how there are new ways for us to buy, sell, and receive professional services. Advances in technology and commerce allow us to stream television shows; download music; self-publish books; advertise handmade goods to a worldwide market; create our own custom-blended Scotch; solicit seed funding for new entrepreneurial ventures; remotely diagnose illnesses of our bodies and cars; and so much more. Consumer expectations have accordingly risen for on-demand, personalized solutions priced in ways that align what they pay for with what they want. Let’s be honest … that’s a far cry from the traditional association business model in which the payment of an annual fee provides a relatively standard “membership package” … not to mention educational conferences offered once a year. The changing world of business models merits that we consider reinventing the way we package and sell our membership, programs, products and services to more directly connect cost and value with stronger ways to think about ROI. 

  • Understand what your members want and need.
  • Develop benefits that solve the problems.
  • Assess the costs to provide those benefits and get rid of anything that doesn’t provide a benefit.
  • Put a membership model in place that both aligns with the way your audience wants to pay and makes it easy for your offering to sell. 

2. Digital Mobility 

Digital Mobility means more than just mobile technology  It includes the devices we use to connect to the Internet (including the internet of things); the mobility of the people who live in a digitally-enabled, time-pressed world; the information processes that create an immersive experience in that world, which may include location-aware services, digital assistance, or an environment that adjusts to your presence (think Minority Report).  All of these factors influence behavior, including an "always on" culture, in which some have become dependent on devices and digital networks to accomplish almost any task.
In thinking about the trend of digital mobility, here are a few pieces of advice: 

  • Design with mobile in mind - Begin by thinking how you can use mobile technology to reinvent or improve an experience.
  • Think mobile first - It's probably true that mobile may not be the most frequent way that your members currently engage with your association. But the rapid increase in mobile devices, comfort, and preference for mobile solutions is inevitable. Design for the future, not the past. 
  • Think “mobile” throughout - It's not enough to think about how to market an event on a mobile friendly website ... you also need to think about how you make it easy for people to engage during the event with their devices.  Consider how mobile can be integrated into every step of the process ... you may not integrate it at every step, but the best way to have great ideas is to have lots of ideas from which to choose.

3. Video


Last week, as I was dropping my daughters off at school, “Video Killed the Radio Star” came on our satellite radio.  My nine year old daughter’s face lit up and she exclaimed “This is the BEST SONG EVER!”  Which I thought was ironic since Frannie is a child of the iTunes and YouTube generation - not the radio - MTV era.  But the blog post from which I borrowed this graphic sums it up well – Video Killed the Radio Star ... and it’s coming for your website next.

Consider a few facts:
  • a video in Google’s index is 53 times more likely to appear on first page search results
  • two-thirds of web video viewers are more likely to purchase than counterparts who have not watched the video
  • Over half of consumers report that watching videos make them more confident in making purchase decisions 
  • The quantity of video on the Internet has quintupled since 2010
One YouTube executive predicts that video will soon be 90% of Internet traffic. (Okay, that one may be a little self-serving and biased … but what if the exec is even half right?) Here are a few ways to begin thinking about video for your association:

  • Spend some time watching video to learn what does and doesn’t work.
  • Experiment by highlighting others’ videos in your communications.
  • If it’s right for your association, start small and fail fast.

4. Reputation

There is a French proverb:  “A good reputation is worthier than a golden belt.” And no, this is not a rebrand of the old “golden handcuff” that holds our members to us … it is a gift that helps our members improve their appearance and value in the eyes of those around them. Reputation is all about providing new ways of helping to build trust for members from their customers and partners. In past, the predominant ways to build reputation included familiar tactics - who you knew, where you lived, what school and church you attended … and for businesses, national brand affiliation, Yellow Page ads,  and yes, Chamber of Commerce and association membership. 

Depending on the consumer, some of these avenues are still significant parts of the buying or partnering decisions. But the playing field has radically expanded - now, consumers can turn to Angie’s List, LinkedIN, Facebook, Klout TripAdvisor and YELP to name a few.  Just as an example here are a few facts about YELP:  YELP was founded 2004, and houses over 67 million reviews which attract more than 139 million visitors per month.  It claims to direct over 400,000 contacts to businesses every day.

How can you help your members build and enhance their reputation?

  • For professional societies, how can you help your members not only gain skills and experience, but also become connected to those with employment or freelance opportunities?

  •  For trade associations, how can you help your members find talented, skilled workers?  How can you help promote the value of services your members provide, and connect potential buyers to your sellers? 

5. Networks

In June 2012, I was in the airport headed to speak on ASAE’s 7 Measures of Success at the Washington State Society of Association Executives. I was a little apprehensive, since the book was then nearly 6 years old and a question on my mind was, “Are the 7 Measures still relevant today?”  Imagine my surprise when I noticed that Jim Collins was featured on the front of INC magazine at the newsstand, and when I read the article, I found Collins referencing his work with ASAE!  

In the article, Collins' reflected that while bureaucratic management models have served us well, he senses we are moving into a new age – the age of networks. Networks are a collection of connections that come together in loosely held relationships not directly controlled by traditional command and control. Information and requests are made of the network, and when there is capacity in the network, the problem is solved by the network.   

Sound unreliable?  Think UBER - a collection of people seeking rides who send a technologically enabled request out to a collection of drivers willing to provide rides. As an UBER customer for about 9 months, my experience has been that this informal network is far more reliable, far more pleasant, and far more affordable than traditional alternatives. But your association is probably not going start and try to unseat UBER. What are some other options?
  • Consider empowering your members to host problem-solving programs on your behalf, like the Wisconsin SAE’s “innovation circles” program.
  • Look for ways to treat your membership as a network, sending a “call for short-term help” rather than a once-a-year call for committee service.
  • Open conversations to understand how you might better connect buyers and sellers as well as candidate and employers in your community.  What are alternatives to how you have always done it?
  • Consider providing ways for members to “serve themselves”.

A Few Thoughts on Fostering Innovation

Each of us in this room has the capacity to be innovative, and each of us has a role in innovation for our organizations. Innovation is not just about creating something entirely new - it is also about a continual commitment to improving and adapting our processes to be more enjoyable, efficient, and effective. 
Here is a leadership framework for innovation:   
Closing Comments

In closing, I shared a short poem about a commitment to continuous improvement that has been quoted in my family for at least two generations:

 I wish you each success 
in being your very best in 2015! 

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