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.
If you only find time to read one business article this month, you may want to make it Scott Cook’s piece in the Harvard Business Review (October 2008) The Contribution Revolution – Letting Volunteers Build Your Business. Cook, a co-founder of Intuit has done a solid job of outlining the whys and the ways to build a user contribution system which will play a part in the growth and value of businesses ultimately benefiting customers and shareholders alike. They are what you and I call volunteers. As Cook points out there are a surprising number of business models that rely almost entirely on user contributions to add value to the product—think E-Bay or Facebook for starters. Essentially, E-Bay opened a store on the Internet that relied on its customers to fill the shelves and create an inventory. Wikipedia blew up the 200 plus year old model of encyclopedias by creating a volunteer led expedition into knowledge capture and the thing that makes Facebook most valuable–the profiles of its users are all created by volunteer labor.
Cook ponders a number of other user contribution systems at work today and offers a range of constructive ideas about how companies can more effectively engage users in enhancing the value of their products and services. The article reminds us about the importance of creating truly meaningful user contribution experiences and leveraging those contributions. Small victories matter and while organizational resistance is to be expected there’s value in ramping up to embed the process organization wide. In an era when many not-for-profits struggle with volunteer engagement Cook reminds us of the high value propositions user contribution systems make to organizations. For association professionals, this article is a fresh reminder of the importance and high value potential of volunteers. It’s also a solid source of fresh ideas for renewing your association’s engagement toolkit yet again.