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The Rapid Pace of Change: The Association Challenge

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I recently attended the kick off breakfast for the Electrical Association of Manitoba’s annual conference. The opening speeches were very typical with a Minister from the provincial government talking about industry, and the president of the association thanking everyone for attending and discussing the expectations for the next two days. The more interesting aspect of the opening presentation was the 20/20 vision for the industry that took place for the next hour.

Change is Inevitable  

Most associations are set to undergo more transformation during the next decade than they have ever experienced. Change is being driven by new technology, shifting demographics, new economic conditions and changing member expectations. Every member within every association will be challenged to adjust their business or practice to keep pace with new demands.

As I sat in the audience knowing nothing about electrical contracting, I could easily relate to their 20/20 vision study findings. As an association executive at an association management company, I could relate the 20/20 vision study to virtually every one of our clients.

The Findings

A market research firm collected data on the electrical industry to understand the present needs and the future direction. The following are points that pertain not only to the electrical sector, but to many of our association clients.

1. Customer Relationships and Pre-Purchasing Trends

Consumers have more access to knowledge today than ever before, due to the internet. Online stores encourage consumers to make purchases directly through them, bypassing the contractors. This creates a challenge for electrical contractors as it creates risk and safety concerns as the contractors are only needed for the installation. The loss of connection with the customer is weakening the traditional source-buy-install role of the contractor and affecting overall profitability and bottom-line.

Associations struggle to stay relevant to their members in an age where information is available online 24/7. Associations must grapple with how to provide benefit above and beyond what the internet can do.

2. Business Scope and Planning

Change is happening so fast that it can be difficult to plan for the future. The electrical contractors report talked about diversification vs specialization, price exposure, tendering processes and specifications. The study confirmed that participants are looking at diversifying to offer a wider range of services or specialize to offer expertise in core services – two strategies that are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Typically, associations do strategic planning every three to five years. The rate of change is putting pressure on this timeline, so associations need to be more flexible in this regard. Staying on top of the future planning will be an important item for your board and management to address regularly throughout the year.Please refer to my previous blog on strategic planning: http://strauss.ca/strategic-planning-associations-much-often/

3. Technological Advancements

The electrical world is constantly faced with technological advancements, such as new technologies, low voltage power and tech based services.

This is true for many other associations. Association management software, conference registration software, online transactions, mobile applications, social media are all areas that are being constantly updated. One of the biggest challenges is determining the resources (dollars and people power) associations need to dedicate to dealing with technology changes. No association can afford to do it all, so careful thought needs to go into what technological changes need to be addressed and when.

4. Training and Development

Training in this sector is constant with the ever-changing technologies being introduced. However, the preferred method of receiving updated training and information from suppliers about technology/ product also changes. Seventy percent preferred web-based training programs, fifty-nine percent preferred face-to-face interaction and fifty percent preferred email communication.

The method in which associations deliver professional development to members is shifting. Face-to-face interaction is still important, as we run many conferences for our AMC clients. We are seeing a huge surge in online training with Go-To-Meetings, Facebook live sessions, webinars and You Tube video sessions. Adapting to the different ways of delivering professional development & training is important. Associations need to be aware and listen to their members to make sure they are delivering the development and training that is needed.

5. Demographics and Staffing

This is very common among all industries as the Baby Boomers age. The electrical contractors talked about this on two fronts – how they deal with their changing employee demographic, and how they deal with their changing customer demographic.

Associations approach demographics and staffing in a similar vein. The demographics of your membership base is important to stay aware of. I am currently working with a client where the demographics of the membership is aging and the influx of younger millennials is not keeping pace with retiring members. This is a common problem across all associations and a strategy needs to be developed to address this.

Staffing demographics for associations is also a challenge as executive directors are aging. Finding qualified people with the right level of experience for association leadership is an area that associations need to focus on. Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) at the 2016 national conference addressed this by hosting a Young Professional Networking and Speed Mentoring session to try and attract younger professionals into leadership roles for associations.

6. Business Profitability Impacts

This dealt with all the aspects in the electrical contractors’ world that impacts profitability, such as government incentives, information technology, training of employees, business development, health and safety costs, insurance costs and government legislation.

Profitability isn’t a word that is used often in the not-for-profit association world. Surplus and deficits are more commonly used terms. There were many similarities from this report finding to associations and how associations are affected by the external environments. Those external factors can put pressure on the resources an association has, therefore affecting the surplus and deficit position in any given year.

Where do You go From Here?

I am not an electrical contractor but I was amazed at how well I understood the challenges their industry is facing and how direct a benchmark the report is for so many other professions. Change in society affects all groups, and no group is immune to change. The message I took away from attending this session was embrace the change, study it, and engage in dealing with change. Your association will only be stronger when you do.

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