Change Happens. Are you ready?

Guest post by Stuart Easton


Change Readiness Challenge

So are you ready for change?

TransparentChoice is challenging you to find out how ready you really are. We have put together a 5-10 minute Readiness Challenge survey covering the 5 areas outlined in this blog. The output is a written report that will allow you to see in which areas you are ready… and where you still need to do some work. We will also publish overall results allowing you to benchmark yourself against your peers.


Change; are you ready?

Change is eternal. It’s happening now and will continue for ever… or least for the length of my career. And of yours.

Dealing with change is like dealing with ice cream. You know it’s going to melt and you put measures in place to manage it. My wife always has a paper napkin handy to catch the drips. My kids wipe their hands on their clothes. I just eat quickly. The point is,we know the change is coming and we can prepare.

And associations have more than their fair-share of change to deal with. Social media and changing demographics mean that many associations are asking deep, existential questions about their role in the world. Whatever the answers are, you can be sure it will involve change.

Making your organization “change ready” is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges we all face. And it turns out that the most important aspect of managing change is to develop your ability to make and execute better decisions.

In the corporate world, “decision effectiveness and financial results correlated at a 95% confidence level” – this from an article in the Harvard Business Review is based on a study of over 700 organizations. Again, in the corporate world, this translates into clear, measurable results: organizations that made and executed better decisions generated average total shareholder returns nearly six percentage points higher than others.

So what does this mean for associations?

Well, we’ve worked with leading consultants and thought-leaders in the association space to develop a Change Readiness Challenge. It looks at 5 key aspects of your organization’s readiness and gives you feedback on how you perform relative to your peers.

To take the challenge, you can follow this link, but first, why not read on to learn about the 5 key areas covered in the challenge; the areas in which you need to build decision-making skills if you want to respond to change quickly and confidently.

Lead from the front

The direction of travel of an organization is set by its senior executives and is overseen by a board. If this “head” is not ready for change, the organization as a whole is unlikely to succeed.

According to Jeff De Cagna, Chief Strategist of Principled Innovation, a leading consulting firm that works with association decision-makers to help their organizations to thrive, non-profit CEOs and their boards give themselves a B-minus for overall performance. “These boards are going to have to up-their-game if they are to help their organization successfully develop in a changing environment.”

So much of what a senior leadership team does, especially in conjunction with the board, is about making decisions and setting the tone. De Cagna again; “It’s very rare that a board has deliberately built a skillset around making robust decisions. This is a core capability that all boards need to develop; without it, it’s hard to be effective as a board or a leadership team.”

Good decision makers deliberately frame the question – defining goals, priorities and criteria – they think creatively about different options and have a structured and collaborative way of coming to a conclusion.

According to De Cagna, “This isn’t just about getting any-old answer. It’s also about creativity, transparency, collaboration and buy-in – it’s a team effort. It’s a deliberate process at which non-profits must improve. That’s why I’m pulling together a Governing Digital Collaborative’, a group of association leaders who are serious about developing better and deeper decision-making capabilities at board level.

At TransparentChoice, we’re delighted to be supporting Jeff in this initiative and we’d encourage you all to get involved.

Focus on delivering member value

Social media has fundamentally changed how people network with their peers. Best practice, opinion and the experiences of others is a quick web-search away. Let’s not beat around the bush; this has a profound impact on the value members get from your association.

For many, there’s a second factor that makes things even worse; younger members of the profession are not engaging with associations.

The same old service offerings delivered through the same old business model simply won’t work. But how should you change? Well, according to Jamie Notter of culture change consulting firm Culture That Works, “Your members want you to exist, but they need you to offer them relevant services wrapped up in a business model that makes sense for them.”

But how do you know what that means?

Well, you have to engage your members (and prospective members) in a dialogue around what they want, about what’s important to them. Notter again; “When you really understand what your members value, you can align offerings around them. You can also charge more for offerings that deliver the most value. Everyone wins”.

Of course, this can be quite a complex process and at its heart are some key decisions around target membership profile, the portfolio of services you offer and the associated business model. There are multiple trade-offs involved at each step. “Being able to make good quality decisions quickly and without getting bogged down is critical if associations are to respond in a changing environment.” says Notter. “This is why we’re teaming up with TransparentChoice. By structuring each decision, we can identify missing information, engage stakeholders and make better, quicker decisions.”

Develop agile planning and budgeting

The words “agile” and “planning” or “budgeting” don’t usually fit together too well and we’ve put them all in the same sentence. Are we mad?

Well, we use this language deliberately. The planning and budgeting process is a golden opportunity to be agile, to revisit your activity and key initiatives and to align them with strategy. Unfortunately, most organizations fail to take advantage of this opportunity– their planning process is essentially to fill in the same spreadsheet as last year, but with slightly different numbers.

According to Bob Kitchen, managing director of Catalyze, a world leader at implementing agile planning and budgeting processes, “A structured and objectiveapproach to the planning and budgeting process with a laser-like focus on value delivered can typically let you deliver 30% more value from the same resources.” A study by McKinsey confirms this; companies that deliberately invest in managing their strategic portfolio add 40% more value compared to those that don’t.

So what about associations?

Agile planning and budgeting is all about clearly defining your priorities and then aligning initiatives and budget behind those priorities. It sounds simple, but in practice,professional associations are often their own worst enemy. According to Kitchen, “Many professional associations are very rigid in their processes and org-structure. This gets in the way of making tough, creative and above all agile decisions around resource allocation.”

“We’ve worked with professional associations to get around this cultural challenge,” says Kitchen. “Tools like TransparentChoice not only improve the quality of the resource allocation decisions that are made, but they also help overcome internal barriers and dramatically reduce the politics and deliver alignment. Agility in budgeting would be near-impossible without this level of alignment.”

You can download a case study from the Catalyze website.

Align infrastructure with strategy

Your infrastructure, and in particular your IT infrastructure, is the vehicle that delivers on your vision. If your infrastructure can’t deliver the services, and the service levels, that your members demand you will fail.

According to Sterling Raphael of Next Step Labs, “Your members today, especially your younger members, expect to be able to access the services they want easily and quickly.They need to be able to discover services online, to access them, to share them. The association needs to be able attract and serve members efficiently. Unfortunately, most associations don’t have an infrastructure that can support this simple vision.”

Many associations are, therefore, reinventing their IT infrastructure. This represents a major investment and is something you want to get right because those new systems won’t be coming out again any time soon.

“The first step is working out what to do first. We work with clients to understand their business drivers and to work out which goals are most important, most urgent. Identifying these priorities means you can focus resources on delivering the maximum value early in the transformation process,” says Raphael. “We can then take these priorities and use them to drive the selection of vendors and technologies in an open and collaborative way using tools like AHP. This collaboration really helps engage stakeholders and leads to better end-user adoption.”

Take control of culture

Culture matters. I know it sometimes seems rather intangible and difficult to define, but if your culture is not aligned with your goals and with your members, you will struggle.

In fact, we’ve seen how cultural changes of younger members in particular has a direct impact on your service offerings and infrastructure. Your internal culture can get in the way of good governance and of planning and budgeting.

According to Maddie Grant of Culture That Works, “Putting tools in place to help make decisions can cover some of the cracks, but to really change things, you need to think about the culture of your members and your internal culture and marry the two.”

As younger members come through, the millennials, the stress-cracks caused by culturalmis-match really start to show up. Grant again; “Millennials demand instant access, they demand to be involved in decision-making, they demand to be empowered to do things themselves. These demands have a direct impact on your infrastructure, on the programs you should deliver, on the way governance is exercised. If you can’t adapt to the cultural change in your membership, you will simply struggle to attract and retain members.”

Warnings don’t come any more stark than that for an association. But what has this to do with decision-making?

If you want a culture that can make quick decisions – something vital to an association’s health – and that can make them in a collaborative way, you will need to actively foster and support the process of decision-making right across the organization.

Decision-making tools can help, but ignore culture at your peril.

Change Readiness Challenge

So are you ready for change?

TransparentChoice is challenging you to find out how ready you really are. We have put together a 5-10 minute Readiness Challenge survey covering the 5 areas outlined in this blog. The output is a written report that will allow you to see in which areas you are ready… and where you still need to do some work. We will also publish overall results allowing you to benchmark yourself against your peers.

If you are going to ASAE Tech 2015, we will be there booth #505.   Why not fill in the survey now and collect your report at the show? That way, we can even give you some direct feedback on your results.