Breaking news. Executives and Professionals seek strategic solutions from their Associations. Facing increasing pressure to produce results, they only engage in activities that help them overcome business challenges and achieve results. Associations are meeting their new mandate, by energizing their Boards to do big things, and help their members thrive in an era of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is palpable and it makes sustainable growth difficult. Factors including Coronavirus Disease, supply chain disruptions, political polarization, innovative technologies, cyber threats, trade policy, shifting consumer attitudes, & workforce shortages all complicate markets. Looking to preserve cash, Executives and Professionals focus on strategic solutions to secure the bottom line.
Associations are meeting the needs of a changing marketplace through “outside in” strategic planning. Using immersive research, they invest in understanding evolving challenges and opportunities. Research sets the stage for market focused discussions. It also helps transform Associations into Strategic Partnerships and helps position Industries and Professions for growth.
Through a flexible planning process, Associations energize their Boards to do big things:
- Focus and unite on data.
- Have conversations about value creation and market or professional growth.
- Build nimble and cost-effective strategic solutions to address challenges and position members for growth.
Once the process is complete, Associations regularly:
- Report to members on alignment with the metrics and KPIs that help them overcome uncertainty and succeed.
- Communicate Industry and Profession ROI. They show how actions create solutions and growth opportunities.
- Foster and communicate solutions.
According to Jon Kulok, Principal, Edge Research, based in Arlington, Virginia, having this type of immersive research level “sets the strategic planning discussion around stakeholders and enables conversations around how members can leverage their Association to get to places not imagined today.” Kulok emphasizes that the process is about seeing the world through the “members’ eyes and uses research to build tangible and strategic solutions.” As Associations deliver business and professional solutions, members perceive them as relevant and necessary. In a zero based budget environment, more Associations use “outside in” research to energize their Boards to do big things.
Since 2004, Julia Hamm, President & CEO of Washington, DC based Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), positioned the organization as the strategic partner to help the electric utility industry transition to a clean energy future. The organization includes all clean and distributed energy resources in the conversation and develops, shares, and builds practical solutions for the entire Industry. The membership includes utilities, regulators and policy makers, as well as for-profit and non-profit corporations.
Operating as a 501 c3 not for profit organization, the Alliance conducts Industry focused Board meetings where executives share knowledge, address challenges, and devise strategic solutions. In addition, they supply unbiased and actionable research and advisory services to utilities to help them address the challenges of a clean energy landscape. The Alliance keeps its neutrality, does not advocate or take positions on issues, or pick favorites.
At SEPA, energizing the Board to do big things happened through an “outside in” Industry insights and visioning exercise. It served as a “durable and flexible process that helps us build and maintain the right focus well into the future” notes Hamm:
- Industry insights – Confirming the state of play in the Industry and understanding how SEPA could be a Strategic Alliance over the long term.
- Visioning – 10 years into the future, build a nonprofit that supplies maximum value and impact for the industry. Defining what 10x impact looks like for the organization and the electric power Industry.
While Hamm and her team energized the Board, they successfully engaged their stakeholders to design strategic solutions by:
- Investing in understanding their challenges and opportunities.
- Conducting strategic conversations about value creation and how the organization could build the catalyst for clean energy in a five to ten year window time frame.
- Understanding their perspective on the skills and attributes organization leaders and staff need to make that vision a reality.
- Building nimble and cost-effective strategies to address challenges and position the Industry for a clean energy future.
- Winning champions commit to act first.
- Asking other leaders to make the same commitment.
- Regularly and transparently communicate Industry solutions and growth opportunities.
- Utilizing research to report to members on alignment with the metrics and KPIs that help them overcome uncertainty and succeed.
The Strategic Initiatives tackle the complex issues that the Industry does not yet have answers to. What is significant is how each Initiative creates an interactive platform for stakeholders to engage and develop solutions for over time:
- The 51st State – Created ongoing opportunities for experts and Industry leaders to share, test, and supply feedback on direction and innovation to support an evolving utility sector. Through this Initiative, all stakeholders took part in designing “Sustainable market structures from the ground-up, rather than attempting to make wholesale or partial changes to something that have been in place for decades” notes Hamm.
- Renovate Initiative – With an intended desire to meet customer needs with clean, affordable, safe, and reliable electric service, this Initiative helps evolve regulatory process and practices at the state level.
SEPA uses strategy to run as a market focused nonprofit organization and they are on a robust growth trajectory:
- Merged with the Association for Demand Response & Smart Grid (ADS) in 2015 and SGIP (formerly the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel) in 2017.
- Grew annual revenue from $300,000 to $12 million. Grew membership dues revenue from $100,000 to over $2 million.
- Negotiated efforts to form a for-profit trade show subsidiary with $19 million in revenue jointly owned by SEPA and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
- Increased staff of 1 to 50 and support capabilities to deliver subject matter experts in an era of disruption and transformation.
Jeff Morgan, President & CEO, Club Management Association of America (CMAA), leads an organization who helps club professionals and clubs become more successful in a time of uncertainty and generational change. Arriving in 2014 following seven years as President & CEO, National Investor Relations Institute, Morgan saw a new opportunity to Energize the Board, Membership, and Staff by changing the culture. Using a crowd sourced strategic planning process, Morgan and his team focused on:
- Creating the climate for change.
- Engaging and enabling the organization.
- Implementing and sustaining for change.
Through its iterative process, CMAA immersed their stakeholders in “outside in” critical discussions around member challenges and opportunities:
- What will be strikingly different in clubs in 5-10 years?
- In 10 years, what will the biggest challenge for our members?
- If you re-created CMAA today, what would you do differently?
- What is the most important action CMAA took over the past 5 years to help you and your club?
Through questions and qualitative research to engage stakeholders, CMAA brainstormed, and delivered strategic solutions addressing the generational shift in the Profession:
- Millennial’s as future club members.
- Millennial’s as key to club workforce.
- Millennial’s as CMAA’s future base.
- Create programs to solve problems.
- Broaden CMAA’s focus for club success.
- Supply club data for better member decision making.
The Strategic Planning process effectively shifted the culture and mindset:
- Board: Fiduciary, Strategic, & Generative thinking.
- Members: Embracing change & wanting more deliverables that help advance the Profession.
- CMAA: Developing programs to better equip members for solutions & success.
- Staff: Alignment with member challenges and nimble enough to support the Profession throughout an era of uncertainty.
To better position the organization in the Profession, it changed its name from Club Managers Association of America to Club Management Association of America. And despite uncertainty challenges, CMAA is on a notable growth trajectory and reports:
- 5 to 10% Association revenue growth rates.
- 5+% profit margins & 5 years of profits.
Morgan emphasizes that it’s important to “be nimble but be patient. It may take 5 plus years for some seeds to grow.”
The Smart Electric Power Alliance and the Club Management Association of America reflects a growing number of “outside in” organizations that deliver strategic solutions:
- Robb MacKie, President & CEO, American Bakers Association (ABA), Washington, DC, “Uncertainty forever changed the calculus for us, we think and respond in ways that address Baking Industry challenges and quantify the outcomes that we deliver. We are in the business of building a pathway for a more profitable Baking Industry. It’s that simple”.
- Brian Wynne, President & CEO, Association for Unmanned Vehicles (AUVSI), Arlington, Virginia, “Our new strategies are aligned with Industry challenges and our member’s desired business outcomes”.
- Corey Rosenbusch, President & CEO, The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) (formerly President & CEO, Global Cold Chain Alliance), Washington, DC. “We recognized early on that our only pathway to relevance are strategic solutions helping our members achieve success”.
- Thayer Long, President of Reston, Virginia based, Association for Print Technologies (APTech) notes “We don’t have the latitude to wait and see, the global economy forces changes, we use research and continually challenge our assumptions the keep the Printing Industry ahead of the curve”.
As Executives and Professionals look to preserve cash, their expectations for strategic solutions and securing the bottom line determines whether they join Associations. If they do, they want to collaborate with staff leaders who understand their challenges and produce tangible returns. Jim Zaniello, President & Founder of Vetted Solutions in Washington, DC notes “Boards want to collaborate with leaders that mirror the same exact traits that make them successful in the commercial world. CEOs that use data based insights, strategic collaboration, and focus on delivering results will attract and energize Boards.”
Members Hire Strategic Solutions
Executives and Professionals seek out Associations who deliver strategic solutions. Facing increasing pressure to produce results, they will only use time and money to help their companies and professions deliver sustainable growth.
Associations are transforming to help members thrive in an era of uncertainty with these critical factors:
- Since Association Boards want to do big things, organization CEOs energize them with transparent, collaborative, and data driven strategies that produce tangible results for members.
- Organizations use immersive “outside in” research and strategic planning to align with member challenges. The Smart Electric Power Alliance and the Club Management Association of America energize their Boards and do big things. They deliver strategic solutions, tangible returns on investment, and revenues are growing at impressive rates.
- Association CEOs in other Industry segments reinforce the trend. They use immersive “outside in” research and strategic planning to deliver strategic solutions. Members at Association for Unmanned Vehicles, American Bakers Association, Global Cold Chain Alliance, and Association for Print Technologies are perceived as Strategic Partners essential to Industry success.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks Founder, helped to create a third place between work and home for his customers. In doing so, people have a place for conversation, knowledge sharing, and a community to help one another. Uncertainty creates opportunities for Associations to serve as the third place between work and home. Supplying a neutral platform to conduct immersive research and brainstorm the future motivates board and member engagement. It also creates a Strategic Partnership for boards and members to overcome their challenges and thrive in a world of uncertainty.