Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Association Leadership and Innovation

I recently accepted an invitation to join the Board of WSAE, my state society for association executives and staff. After 16 years of working with Boards as an association staff person, it will be my first experience being a Board member myself. I expect to learn something new (new to me, at least) about leadership in associations and the appropriate interplay between Boards and staffs. The WSAE Board and membership, like a lot of other societies these days, include a changing generational mix--Xers like me moving into prominence and positions of leadership. I expect to learn something from that angle as well. And I expect to blog about some of those experiences here on Hourglass. Stay tuned.

One thing I've already learned (or reinforced, since I sort of knew it already, but now the shoe is really on the other foot) is that one of the best ways to get a Board member engaged is to help them build a link between their personal/professional interests and the organizational objectives of the association.

In my current situation, that link proved to be the topic of innovation. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, looking for better ways to support a culture of innovation in my association, and finding inspiration in several examples from the for-profit world--examples where successful companies have incorporated an "innovation function" into their business model. This is dedicated, defined, and resourced function within the organization that works to generate innovative ideas and select the right ones to develop into innovative products. Ram Charan, our keynote speaker at our February 2009 Annual Conference, described it something like this:

I clearly remember sitting in that keynote session, scribbling down notes from Ram's presentation, knowing that I would use them to construct a flowchart like the one I've reproduced above, fascinated with the idea that this "corporate best practice" might have an application in the association world.

And that's where my link with WSAE comes in. I wanted to explore these concepts with a peer group of association CEOs, ones who, like me, are committed to this idea of creating an innovative culture for our associations, but are struggling to find a workable model. And WSAE wants to find ways to engage more association CEOs in their activities, leveraging their interests and experience to add more value to the whole profession of association management. That organizational objective, coupled with my professional interest, has resulted in something we're calling the WSAE Innovation Task Force.

Essentially, it's a group of WSAE members, weighted with association CEOs, who are willing to share information and meet on a regular basis to discuss innovative practices in their organizations. Before every meeting, we'll select one case study, from either the for-profit or non-profit world, to review, and then at the meeting we'll discuss:

1. Principles of innovation successfully employed by the organization profiled.
2. Strategies for applying those principles to the association environment in general.
3. Actions for individual participants to take in applying those principles in their organizations.

Future meetings will follow a similar agenda, but we plan to start each subsequent meeting by asking participants who made a commitment to action at the previous meeting to share their real experiences in implementing those actions in their organizations. Adjustments to a growing list of innovation principles and strategies for the association environment will be discussed based on these real experiences. Over time, our objective will be to develop an evidence-based model of innovation for the association community.

Knowing that there is a lot of expertise out there on the subject of innovation in associations, I'd love to engage interested readers of The Hourglass Blog in this process as well. Right now, the task force is planning to meet once every two months or so, and our first meeting has been scheduled for January 22, 2010. If you have any case studies or other information about organizations successfully creating an innovation function for themselves, please send them my way. If you all have enough interest, I'd be happy to post a record of our on-going discussions on this blog.


Maddie Grant said...

Congrats Eric! And yes please! Definitely want to hear about this going forward! Totally awesome.

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