A journalist asked me to imagine I was the CEO of a struggling association, and there was a board meeting next week. What would I want the board to know?
Here is what I would say.
If we keep doing what we are doing, we won’t be doing this much longer. If we change what we are doing, there is a chance we will have a chance. Because where there are member needs, there is probably a business proposition. And wow, do our members ever have needs right now.
Some members might need to learn new technical skills or read best practices, as they always have. But a lot has changed for members. Many members are dealing with new alarming issues. They wonder if their businesses are viable, if they will have to lay off close colleagues, and if their livelihood is safe. Their organizations are consolidating, struggling under new regulations or supply chain disruptions, while budgets and deadlines are shrinking. Members’ challenges are fiscal, physical, and emotional. Work and home are merging in an entirely new way. Our current benefits don’t serve these new issues – yet. What group of benefits, products, content, and services might solve these problems, I’m not sure yet.
But, I hope you will trust the small experiment process that my staff and I will be trying. We will listen deeply to our members’ challenges, understand their worries, and learn about their goals. We will then try to offer solutions through little experiments to see what sticks and what doesn’t. We will be iterating because no one can know which solutions will solve members’ problems, and the only way to find the correct answers for members is to test. Testing is not quick.
Our process will take time. Revenues will not be the same this year or next as they were last year. It is time to dip into our rainy-day reserves. Most of our experiments won’t cost much money, but I need every exceptional person on my staff to point us into the future. I need the team to contact members, listen to members, empathize with members, partner with members, and serve members.
Since resources are slim, so from now on, we will only have one focus. Members. We will be taking a hard look at all the projects on our plates. All administrative tasks will be delayed. All engagement projects will be prioritized.
I am proposing a new path. You do have a choice. You can choose the new path or a version of the old path. Associations sometimes pick the old path by accident when they pull in and protect by slashing expenses. This is tempting because it is easier. But consider this. Perhaps we were engaging members less pre-COVID, and COVID was just the catalyst, speeding up what would happen anyway. If this is the case, restricting resources will force us to be even more out of sync with members.
Please agree to this new path today so we can start without hesitation. Please agree to this new path tomorrow, next month, and next year. Please hang in there with us for the downs (and hopefully some ups.) Please join in while we experiment and commit to being a positive force. Let members know this is the first time we are trying something like this. Tell them there will be some bumps, warts, and awkward moments, which is normal when an organization tries new things.
In the past, we always chose the safe path. Today the old path still looks deceivingly like the safe path, but I don’t think it is safe at all. What do you say about holding hands and stepping down the new path together?