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4 Steps to Inspire Innovation in Your Association

Written by Taylor Clement on September 30, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Steps to inspire and increase innovation in your association.

"Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change. That is inevitable." - William Pollard

Many people believe innovation is all about inventing and releasing new products. That's a myth. Innovation is so much more than just revamping products or services.

As a society, we thrive off of innovation. Look at how far mankind has come within the last century. From the invention of the jet engine, the pacemaker, the internet, or even something as simple as the can opener; innovation not only impacts our lives on a daily basis, innovation sparks imagination.

Innovation is especially prominent in for-profit companies. However, innovation is less prevalent in associations.

According to the 2016 Association Innovation Benchmark Study, only a little over half of associations report that they are consistently innovating today.

Completed by member research and association expert Amanda Kaiser, the study also delves into how and why those associations are innovating, as well as why other associations may be struggling. Even the organizations that aren't consistently innovating seem to recognize its value.

Innovation is something that is seen as very positive that associations know they need to strive for. They know they need to think outside the box and solve member problems. So why are only half of associations innovating?

One reason may be that most associations don't have an effective innovation process. Without a repeatable path to generate and implement ideas, associations become stagnant. At that point, organizations lack the innovation they need to adapt around members and their changing needs.

Defining Innovation

It is hard to pinpoint a concise definition of what innovation is since innovation can – and should – vary between association depending on member needs and values. One idea that works well for both associations and for-profit companies, however, is that innovation is the ability to solve member problems with products and services.

Or, as stated in Kaiser's benchmark study, "create and launch a member benefit or product or process that is new that provides value to members."

Innovation needs to be made a priority in order for your association to evolve and avoid being stuck with outdated benefits that are no longer useful to your members.

Here are four steps that will help you increase innovation in your association.

4 Steps to Increasing Your Association's Innovation

Step 1) Get Executive Buy-In

Having leadership support from your CEO and board is a major factor in successful innovation. The CEO should be onboard with the concept of innovation and support the process of innovation from the staff and employees, yet it is important to remember the CEO should be enthusiastic about innovation and initiate the process. In order for transformation to take place in your association the CEO must be on board with the vision of innovation.

As stated by a participant in Kaiser's benchmark study," our CEO gave us permission to start to think about this and start to think about making changes. He was okay with short-term pain for long-term gain. That really got us going."

Realize the importance of buy-in at the top of your organization and get as many people involved as possible. Your entire staff should feel free to contribute and take an active role in innovation. It is your staff that knows your members best, including what they need and how you should innovate. Your employees will also be the ones to actively innovate every day. Executives lead the charge, but employees are the power behind the process.

Step 2) Forget the Fear of Failure

Your CEO not only gives the support innovation, but also provides support in times of failure and leaves room for mistakes. Another study respondent said:

"Our CEO gives us the opportunity to make mistakes and you're not berated. I feel I can go try something and if it doesn't work I won't be in trouble for it. Go try it, what's the worst that can happen? It might succeed!"

There is freedom in making mistakes and taking risks. Innovation, regardless of your association's specific definition, always involves trying something new that may not be fully tested. It doesn't happen if there is no risk of failure.

Every association would be on board with innovation if there were no risks involved. It is important for the CEO and top executives to allow staff to make mistakes and not feel discouraged if you fail, innovation always has the possibility of failure.

Step 3) Define Your Strategy

Defining your strategy means deciding what you want your association and relationship with members to look like in the future.

Ask yourself, your staff, and other executives:

  • What do we want to happen and how are we going to get there? If you're innovative then you're doing something different.
  • How do you want the relationship with your members to change or improve? Do you want the relationship to be stronger, more valuable, gain a sturdier foundation? These wants and needs will be different for every association.

Communication between members and staff is key to implementing innovation goals. Make sure both the members and staff are informed from the idea stage until the launch.

Step 4) Act

It is one thing to think about the idea of innovation, it is another to actually act on that idea. Don't just think about it, do it. During the study, one respondent stated: "Innovation is 5% dreaming up the new things and 95% doing them. Everyone seems to forget the 95%."

If you want your member-to-association relationship to change, empower employees take the actions needed to change it. Make it clear that staff ideas and feedback are wanted, needed and anticipated. It is your staff's ideas and feedback that will help you determine whether your process is working or needs to be improved. You must evaluate your process and act upon new, innovative ideas in order to transform.

Inspiring Innovation in Your Association Takeaway

Get rid of the fear of failure by learning how to take risks. Taking risks is the only way for your association to grow and become innovative. The CEO and top executives must learn to support the concept of innovation and let the staff feel comfortable by leaving room for mistakes.

As your entire association moves forward with changes and works to build a better relationship with members, that innovation will help you adapt to today's market and provide value to members. For detailed information on the state of innovation in associations, as well as more ideas on how to innovate, check out Amanda Kaiser's full benchmark study.

 The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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