Sarah Sladek
Sarah Sladek
Sarah Sladek
Sarah Sladek

Strategies for Shifts: How Your Association Can Tackle Change

June is in full swing which means school is out for the summer! I have two daughters in college, both of whom recently returned home from their respective schools after a long and successful year. While it’s wonderful having them back under our roof, our house seems to have expanded to accommodate all of their stuff. Our space has been hijacked by bins of clothes, piles of textbooks, stacks of boxes, and heaps of dorm room décor. At times, it can be overwhelming, but I know I will look back and miss these days in the not-so-distant future.

Today, as I looked around at the excess of  “stuff” that surrounded me, I realized that membership associations are dealing with a similar situation. No, they’re not dealing with towers of physical belongings, but there is a lot of stuff that seems to be piling up – and it can be difficult to determine where to begin when it comes to tackling it all. 

Since the outset of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve seen profound and unprecedented shifts take place in our society – specifically within the workforce, education, and membership associations. Remote work, hybrid gatherings, mask mandates, and contact tracing became buzzwords in our COVID lexicon – and we continue to see the lasting effects of these shifts today. Of course, many of these changes were unpredictable, but organizations were forced to pivot and adapt accordingly.

As a leader, your approach to change (before, during, and after it occurs) is indicative of how successful your organization will be. 

In my research as a consultant, I’ve discovered that organizations will take one of three approaches when it comes to change. Perhaps you remember reading about these approaches in a previous post.

  • The Ostriches: Nearly 80% of associations fall within this category. Ostrich organizations tend to avoid change. They think that by ignoring it, it will simply go away.
  • The Explosives: This group of changemakers isn’t effective because their knee-jerk reactions to change ultimately lead to burnout and, eventually, a reversion back to the way things operated originally.
  • The Changemakers: This group is mindful of change and embraces it, but most importantly, they are strategic about change. 
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Leaders who exhibit a changemaker mentality exceptionally well can answer the following question without hesitation: “Why do we need to change right now?” They are able to effectively rally the support of their team and, furthermore, can approach organization stakeholders to explain their mission with urgency.

Changemakers are able to go one step further beyond acknowledging that change needs to happen – they are also able to take action strategically. They can provide actionable items to members, sponsors, and other board members about how the change will be accomplished. They aren’t afraid to tackle changes, and the more successful organizations will actively prepare for them. Much like the boxes that have accrued around my home, changes can pile up and become overwhelming. If no change happens, disengagement, low morale, and disillusionment quickly follow. 

So, how do you start adopting a changemaker mentality? Begin by having internal conversations within your organization. As a board, consider questions such as:

  • How much of our budget will be allocated towards change?
  • How much change are we willing to make?
  • What risks are we willing to take to make change happen?
  • What’s our strategy?

One association I recently worked with designed a strategic guide titled “The Road to Change,” which mapped out a step-by-step plan based on projected industry and market trends. They were mindful and realistic about how much would actually be achievable within the outlined timeframe, but created mile markers to measure progress. I was impressed by this approach and urge you to draft your own iteration of this document to start the process of change management.  

Both expected and unexpected changes require urgency, strategy and the proper attitude.

We have to recognize that change is an opportunity to grow and evolve. Things will happen outside of your control (hello, COVID-19!), but when the marketplace is experiencing disruption, that is when your members and prospective members will be scanning the landscape for solutions. Don’t underestimate your potential to flourish amidst a crisis. With a little bit of strategy, and the right outlook, your association is capable of being the go-to resource to provide solutions – and a safe haven – for your members.

Ready to start tackling change like a pro? We can help. Let’s work together to set your organization up for success.

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