Outrun Disruption: Use These 7 Strategies to Build a Resilient Organization

COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. But disruption, whether from biology, technology, or culture, is here to stay. We can’t stop the challenges; But we can be resilient enough to take them in stride and move forward to become stronger.

What exactly does resilience mean? Why is it important, and how do you build it into your association’s DNA? Recently, .orgSource has been studying this question. We’ve researched, conducted focus groups, and compiled interviews with forward-thinking industry leaders. Those conversations led to our two Association 4.0™ books: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption and An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation

We’ve discovered that, at its core, resilience is about managing change. It is a constellation of attitudes and behaviors that begins with the person at the top, as the chief culture builder, and filters through the entire organization. Resilient associations and their leaders acknowledge the unexpected as an integral part of doing business. They are comfortable with the continuous evolution of products and services, as well as the need to occasionally make a complete about-face. Technology and digital business practices are embraced as essential for this ongoing transformation.  

If your organization struggles with adjusting to change, or if you need to reinvent a tired business plan, we’ve identified these 7 ways that you can build a more resilient future.

1. Focus vision: Understand why your organization exists and what is most important about your brand.

This is not as simple as it sounds. Many associations struggle with maintaining their core purpose through changing volunteer leadership. The CEO needs to be a North Star whose vision is magnetic enough to keep everyone navigating toward those goals.

Kim Robinson, President of the association management firm FrontlineCo, put it like this; “The challenge is to develop a clear and consistent vision for the future. Many boards struggle to see the view from 30,000 feet. Even if there is consensus, it’s difficult to maintain continuity if each incoming president has a different set of priorities. Although staff are not generally involved in picking the leaders, they can promote the concept that changing officers does not mean changing direction every year.”

2. Be adaptive, flexible, and nimble: Develop organizational strategies that are future-oriented and constantly evolving.

The marketplace is as unstable as quicksand. Don’t let inattention bring you down.

The marketplace is as unstable as quicksand. Don’t let inattention bring you down. Resilient organizations monitor trends and are prepared to take programs and services to firmer ground at the first sign of trouble. In a recent webinar, Sharon Rice, .orgSource’s Managing Director of Business Strategy, noted that credentialing has typically delivered a high percentage of revenue despite a challenging economy. With online knowledge options exploding and greater competition for your members’ time, adding micro-learning and micro-credentialing is an example of a resilient strategy that reflects the realities of the marketplace.

3. Innovate, become risk-tolerant, create an experimental culture that supports change: Business as usual is not an option.

If change management is the heart of resilience, innovation is its soul. Creative problem-solvers exist in every organization. Find them and give them the space to experiment. Don’t be afraid to reinvent, take calculated risks, or abandon projects that aren’t working. David Caruso, Co-Founder and President, HighRoad Solutions offered this advice: “Engaging individuals in a nonprofit or an association who are seeing outside of the box is important in terms of finding new revenue and discovering what the audience wants.” But Caruso cautions that outdated governance can suppress experimentation: “New concepts may not have room to grow within a bureaucracy that’s focused on politics over productivity.”

4. Build for action: Promote efficient decision-making and delegated/decentralized authority.

If your COVID-19 action plan got caught in layers of bureaucracy or derailed by a dissenting board member, begin untangling that decision-making process now. Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association explains how he and his board divide responsibility: “We treat the board as incredibly important trusted advisors. We operate like a start-up company board. We thrive on change. I have a chart that I share at each annual board orientation. It explains what I do, what the board chairman does, and what the board does. The board chairman doesn’t have the authority to tell me what to do—their job is to get consensus to move the organization forward and take action.”

5. Develop robust business intelligence initiatives: Data systems should support decision-making, environmental scanning, and real-time feedback.

Develop robust business intelligence systems.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Having the right technology is important. But the best digital tools don’t create resilience unless you use your data to make objective decisions, create customized education, products and services, and learn from feedback.

David Martin, CEO at the Society for Critical Care Medicine, credits a digital transformation with giving his organization a better understanding of their business environment. “Going 100 percent digital allowed us to get a 360-degree view of our constituents,” Martin says. “SCCM can focus investment in its most important customers, see patterns in demographics, and respond with adjustments in pricing or strategies. The data we collect and analyze provides new ways of thinking about customers that drive revenue growth in the short term and create insight into future behaviors and new product development in the long term.”

6. Enable technology: Make digital transformation a core strategy throughout the organization.

Data shouldn’t be the IT department’s pot of gold. Distribute the wealth throughout the entire organization. Every employee should know how to use digital tools to find information and create exciting customer experiences. Members of the American College of Chest Physicians expect the association’s technology to be as sophisticated as the healthcare industry. In just four years, CHEST gave itself a complete digital transformation, an accomplishment that could easily have taken a decade. “The industry’s landscape is always changing, and it is our role to determine what new ideas and opportunities will make the most meaningful impact to those we serve,” says CEO and Executive Vice President, Robert Musacchio.

7. Seek financial health: In addition to operating performance and diverse revenue streams, create the capital resources to invest in transformative change.

Not every group has the deep pockets to do this easily. But if you can accomplish the first six recommendations on this list, this last one should be within reach. Many of the CEOs who we interviewed for our books advocate allocating a portion of the annual budget for innovation and experimentation. Sandy Marsico, Founder and CEO of Sandstorm Design advises, “I have a budget line for risk. These are not contingency dollars. These funds are designated for experimentation. I don’t always know how I’m going to spend the money, but when there is an opportunity, we are ready to seize it.”

The ability to meet challenges and seize opportunity is one of the payoffs for becoming a resilient organization. The other benefit is more long-term. These seven strategies are also the gateway to ensuring that you will deliver the education, products, and services that your members value and need.

Read interviews with Kim Robinson, David Caruso, and Sandy Marsico in Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation.

Read interviews with Gary Shapiro and David Martin in Association 4.0: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption.

As a leader in digital transformation, .orgSource can position your association for success now and in the future. Click here to schedule a short consultation with me. I am always eager to meet new colleagues.