Knowing that disruption is coming and that flexible, agile innovation is the path toward stability is different than doing something about it. In almost every industry, professionals are acutely aware that things in the next 5 years, 10 years, 20 years will not be the same. Regulations are getting more stringent. Organizations are consolidating. Technology is displacing workers. Moves overseas are dislocating professional jobs.
The future looks murky at best. We hear this. Many of us are now seeing the effects ourselves. We know that if our organizations do not change, there will eventually be no organization. We have to do something, and soon.
But knowing is very different than doing.
What is holding us back?
Many association CEOs are ready to try some new things. They have ideas; they are poised; they’ve rallied the staff. And just at the point they are prepared to dive in, the board says, “no”.
Why would the board say, “no”? Well, for a few reasons. First, there is a social cost for making an unpopular decision. Second, board members do not want to be the ones to sink the ship. Voting for a project that fails may sink the ship on their watch while the inevitable spiral of decline will sink the ship on some future board’s watch. Finally, board members tend to be high-performing, uber-professionals, who are incredibly well-networked. Even though they are representatives of the membership, they may actually be disconnected from most member’s experiences. So, they don’t see the reason for the changes being proposed.
It is easier for a board to say “no” than “yes”. So what can a CEO do to push the association ahead anyway?
- Approve a small discretionary budget. Many innovative associations get the board to approve an innovation budget. This is usually a small pot of money that is available for innovative activities. Approving this budget once saves the board from the wear and tear of making decisions like this on a case by case basis, and allows the staff to be more nimble with their many innovation experiments.
- Experiment first, launch later. Show the board that the staff’s innovation process includes multiple rounds of small experiments, iterating, and then launching only the products most likely to succeed. Starting small uses fewer resources, and allows the organization to play with ideas without diminishing member’s trust.
- Recruit the right board members. Some percent, maybe 10% of your members are early adopters. You will know them when you talk to them. They are tired of the status quo in their industry, company, or even in the association. Encourage them to run for board positions. Your carefully curated board will help smooth the way for the changes you want to make in the future.
Ready to make the leap?