“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan
The Canadian Society of Association Executives offers a designation called Certified Association Executive (CAE). It’s a course I’ve been taking and it’s helping me learn some valuable lessons about continuous improvement. I have always been about personal and professional growth in my career and especially with the development of Sea to Sky as a business. The CAE is helping me apply those lessons more effectively to the management of not-for-profit organizations and associations – one of the key services that Sea to Sky offers. So, in the spirit of sharing, here are a few things I’ve learned.
Driving innovation forward
The CAE materials describe how “the expectations of the ‘customers’ of an association, be they donors, members, or other contributors, continue to ‘ratchet’ up. In short, members are increasingly expecting higher levels of performance from the organizations that they support.”
Association members are also becoming more selective and may, as a result, look at reducing the number of organizations they support or the extent to which they support them. This means there’s an increasing responsibility for association managers to do right by their members and continuously improve their offering.
The CAE course prescribes reading by external experts, one of which is Paul Sloane, the founder of Destination Innovation, a consultancy that helps businesses gain competitive advantage through innovation. Sloane says that the key thing for associations is to create value by innovating their way ahead of the competition.
“You can do this by harnessing the creative power of your greatest asset, your people,” says Sloane. “The goal is to turn them into opportunistic entrepreneurs who are constantly looking for new ways of doing business.”
Sloane lays out the process in eight steps:
1. Paint an inspiring vision.
2. Build an open, receptive, questioning culture.
3. Empower people at all levels.
4. Set goals, deadlines and measurements for innovation.
5. Use creativity techniques to generate a large number of ideas.
6. Review, combine, filter and select ideas.
7. Prototype the promising proposals.
8. Analyze the results and roll out the successful projects
The benefits of professional management
In the case of two associations we manage at Sea to Sky, both moved from grass roots organizations solely run by volunteers to working with an association management company, which in itself resulted in automatic improvement. We were able to make significant progress in key areas such as renewals, communications, finances and overall member service. We were also able to work with the boards of these associations to draft and implement strategic plans, which helped us make improvements from how things were done in the past.
As for innovation, an advantage of being a small business such as Sea to Sky, void of departments and bureaucracy, is that it encourages innovation and creativity by virtue of its size. This makes for an ideal workplace for those with ambition and initiative. Everybody gets opportunities to grow, explore and implement new ideas.