While many of us have been through economic downturns, most of us have never been through an economic downturn quite like this one. Yet even in severe business circumstances there are opportunities to sustain our core business and strengthen the position of our associations by looking beyond the current bad times.
Although it may be some time before we see clear skies on the horizon, there are steps each of us can take this week, this month, this quarter, to better position our associations for the future—stay focused on your core business, maintain a long-term view (while paying attention to the essential short-term actions), relentlessly manage costs (some bargains are only available in a downturn…think real estate) and work diligently to strengthen the loyalty of members, vendors, suppliers and stakeholders. Some of them are surely hurting in this current financial storm and need the association’s support and help.
Darrell Rigby a director at Bain & Company conducted extensive research among Fortune 500 firms that had lived through industry slumps and economic recessions. The resulting article Moving Upward in a Downturn published in the Harvard Business Review offers some useful insights on ways you can help the industry and the Association emerge stronger and better positioned to take advantage of an economic recovery when it arrives. If you prefer something more “association-centric” check out 7 Lessons You Can Learn from Business. It’s a brief article authored by yours truly offering ideas for managing in an economic pinch published in ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership’s Membership Developments newsletter.
Beth Ziesenis has written a wonderfully engaging piece for ASAE and The Center’s CEO Leadership Letter titled Leading Your Association to Embrace Change.** As she rightly points out, the business of associations is change. Building off the recently released research Designing Your Future by Rohit Talwar that identifies 10 key patterns of change likely to impact organizations and the communities they serve, Beth explores the critical role executives face in dealing with fast-paced change.
Whether a CEO chooses a team system or encourages future thinking as strategies to deal with change, management will also strengthen staff’s ability to run a successful organization by illuminating their approach. Beth shares the wisdom of management consultant and author Rosabeth Moss Kanter who posits in The Enduring Skills of Change Leaders that “techniques that facilitate change within organizations—creating listening posts, opening lines of communication, articulating a set of explicit, shared goals, building coalitions, acknowledging others—are key to effective partnerships and sustaining high performance, not just managing change.” There are several concepts here worth thinking deeply about if you are contemplating or engaged in leading change.
(**Full disclosure: Beth quotes me at some length.)
As many of you know, my latest research interest is the intersection of leadership decision-making and outcomes for associations. It’s my longstanding hypothesis that associations often stumble (sometimes badly) because they rarely measure and test the quality and nature of their decision-making which results in poorer quality outcomes than might be expected. Group input is good. Group decision-making perhaps not so much. While we often lament the glacial speed of decision making in associations, the flip side is that the veritable alphabet soup of characters able to exert influence on decision-making virtually assures a less than optimum outcome for associations and their members.
I’m happy to say that ASAE and the Center through Associations Now magazine has taken notice of my thinking in this regard and have chosen to publish my latest article Escalating Into Oblivion as part of their ongoing series Lessons From Failure. The new developing literature on leadership decision-making and the mysteries of the brain offer all sorts on exciting insights into the possibilities that with a bit more focus, analysis and attention to the inherent biases around us, we can produce considerably better results for our members, our organizations and ourselves. For me at least that’s a mystery worth diving into. I hope you agree.