What’s really outside the Association business model box?






Damned thinking outside the box!

Just when you think you know everything someone or something comes along and opens your eyes, mind and heart to a whole world of stuff we don’t know. I am a fan of quoting “what we don’t know and can’t do will always be more than what we do know and can do.” If only Associations would embrace this premise. Never before has this quote been more true for Associations than in the 21st Century Information Age.

I am enjoying watching the online discussions & posts from some of the world’s leading Association thought leaders (aka Jefff De Cagna, Jamie Notter et al) and inspirational Association Executives like Tom Morrison around business model innovation. While the debate can lend itself to being interpreted too simply in terms of the way an Association works or engages its members; it is in the underlying premise that the real interest for me lies. 21st Century Associations continue to believe and operate on the basis that they, and they alone, are the sole arbiters of what should be considered ‘fact’ in that industry or profession. In truth they, after decades even centuries of interpreting the body of knowledge for that profession/industry, are often recognized and referred to as the experts. Nothing wrong with that until the Association’s leaders start believing their own press and continue to make decisions based on the falsehood that is they will always be recognised and referred to as such.

In Australia, outside of those professions where it is legislated you must be a member of your professional Association or registered as a professional, more often than not there will always be more people ‘associating’ around an industry agenda outside the Association’s membership than within it. The other scenario is the one particularly related to accountants where the CPA and CA brand is so strong after so long it is simply the culture of that profession and its employers that to not have the designation is to be virtually unemployable. However, even in that scenario it is the credential itself that holds the value proposition and sustains their business models. What happens when the Australian Government mandates that the duopoly is anti-competitive and no longer allowed to be that way?

The actual business model of your Association may not be broken today. What performance indicators you use to measure that may be current and informative. At Fitness Australia we use Balanced Scorecard to report key performance indicators with financial, innovation, infrastructure and people perspectives to give us a sense of the success we have achieved year on year since 2008. Your financial position may be strong; your membership engagement may be at all time highs; and, your capacity to offer quality products and services may be renowned in the industry/profession you serve. But is this going to be enough in the mid to long term?

To answer this question most Associations turn to long term strategic planning and it is here I feel we are failing as a sector. We are failing to recognise the significant societal change we are experiencing and that will continue to occur at a rate our current Association processes and structures will not keep pace with. Strategic planning, as it continues to be applied, allows us to document what is palatable to key stakeholders today with some view of what we would like to have happen. It allows us to hide from a number of the key factors that will make or break the plan as we simply don’t have to answer those questions on paper and be accountable for them.

The business model innovation techniques described by Jeff De Cagna requires us to seriously think about scenarios that are plausible considering what we know about our industry based on our experience, evidence, market research, trend analysis and mix this with our own decisions for where we are taking the Association in the context of this environment. Leaders thinking about the future, and using this platform thinking, are required to be concerned not about perpetuating what they do know and can do, but also give due credence to what they don’t know and can not do – and, then make a decision.

This process as exercised by business model innovation proponents requires us to create a story about the future model addressing a single issue or idea; or, design a future model for the way we govern and operate our Associations. Either way the business model innovation canvas (as distinct from any form of strategic planning template) requires to complete the picture else the story is presented with notticeable gaps. Each of the building blocks requires a well thought and defined explanation linking it to the other building blocks. Only this way do I think we are genuinely building a solid foundation for future success in the 21st Century.

Why is this important in my mind?

Somewhere out there there is someone or some group of people who may well know what your Association currently doesn’t and may well be able to do what your Association can not. They are talking, meeting and curating information about it far more effectively and in a far more productive environment than your Association can offer. They are not constrained by a Constitution, membership rights nor Committee schedules. They are not being told what they can and not do; and, they are not telling anyone else what can and can not be done to advance the cause. Often a technology platform will be at the core of how this works so well and it will be easily accessible by all and often free to use.

Historically what is the response applied by our Associations when we discover this? We assume a defensive position, often seek to discredit because they are not part of the Association and invest our members resources (our time and budget) in being protectionist. I am not saying we should embrace every other collective of knowledge or activity we discover however with a very good grounding in what we seek to achieve as an Association we can highlight our integrity and credibility by operating from the premise of acknowledging what we don’t know and can’t do.

Often the best course of action that will create value is to simply move out of the way of a faster moving more engaging movement that supports the overall progress and development of our stakeholders livelihoods. After all it is the sustainability, viability and relevance of our stakeholders’ livelihoods that requires perpetuating not the Associations.


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