Is your association focussed on progress and innovation? How to improve systems and processes, and empower staff to transform employee passion into organisational performance.
In comparison to their corporate counterparts, associations and other nonprofit organisations display two peculiarities in these areas that raise additional challenges.
Firstly, in their relentless focus on efficiency, corporates have been streamlining regulation and cutting red tape for decades to make it easier to do business. Consequently, their internal systems and processes have been optimised for productivity through continual refinements to reduce waste and inefficiencies. Associations are now embarking on this journey and prioritising internal efficiencies more assertively than in the past. Associations have a lot to do but the good news is that small improvements in efficiency can have a significant impact on productivity and morale.
Secondly, corporates have fostered an output and results culture. Some may have pushed this too far but associations generally are at the opposite send of this spectrum. Similar to other nonprofit organisations, they benefit strongly from the passion employees have for a cause, but need more effective ways to leverage this into real outcomes and accountability. The well-intentioned activity that comes from passion needs to be channelled effectively towards mission, vision and objectives. While Passion rated highest on Employee Capability in the Australian Associations Research Survey, the scores for Accountability, Adaptability and Innovation were consistently low – despite being essential skillsets in the network economy. Associations will benefit from a more businesslike approach to staff empowerment, culture and accountability – but one that also harnesses employee passion and purpose into delivering real progress for members and markets.
Two subtle shifts in emphasis in each of these areas can create significant gains in internal efficiency, productivity and morale.
Only when associations have efficient systems and processes supporting empowered and accountable staff can they really begin to advance progress. This internal alignment enables the implementation of strategies to grow members, revenue and impact. Everything internal is controllable and not influenced by undeterminable outside factors – it is what you make it. This means associations can look inward for solutions to many of their greatest challenges.
If only Sir Humphrey would do the same.
Processes are the sequence of planned conceptual actions that enable staff to perform their roles effectively. Systems are used to execute this process as efficiently as possible. Together, they have a net effect on an association’s performance – either driving it positively towards key objectives, or hindering progress through inefficiencies, confusion and/or distractions.
Every association can find improvements in internal systems and processes, because it is a continual process. Each improvement frees up quality time to help employees do their jobs better, get the important things done. Efficient systems and processes stimulate greater productivity, higher morale and a more engaged workforce – to deliver better outcomes.
So how do you know if your systems and processes are optimised for efficiency? One way is to compare it with the best. I’ve been fortunate to work for Australian divisions of two of the largest and most professional media conglomerates in the world. Both had impeccable systems and processes devised by expert global practitioners and implemented locally with full support. I must admit that at times, I took all this for granted but have now learned how to recognise it – things just click, happen seamlessly, everyone knows what’s expected, collaboration is high and progress is fast. Unless that’s how your association operates, it may point to a need to improve your systems and processes.
Of course, seamless efficiency and progress doesn’t happen by itself. You have to create the systems that underpin it, and this can be difficult for associations without best practice support or sufficient resources like time and budget. However, this does not negate their critical importance or the need to develop them regardless.
Another clue that systems and processes are hindering performance is forthright feedback from staff and members, and lacking that – continual evidence of confusion and conflict over roles and responsibilities. When employees start blaming each other for not following processes, it can be a sign that the processes themselves may be at fault. And when supposedly simple things go round endlessly in circles without resolution, you can be fairly certain the cause is a problem with systems and processes.
Core values can also help associations manage change.
A distinguishing characteristic of change management is that things often seem to get worse before they get better. Because many people fear change, or are intimidated by it, they can meet it with resistance – which makes conflict a necessity to be managed. Once committed to a change management strategy, boards need to hold their nerve through this process. It’s not so much that change management makes things worst initially; it just brings latent issues to the surface where they can be dealt with. The problems were there before, except they were subverting progress covertly rather than openly. Core values can provide an important constancy of behaviour while transformational change is in motion. Resistance to change can be lessened when people see it is in line with core values.
The purpose of this section is not to provide a comprehensive review of change management models, but to reinforce the point that associations must go through the difficult short-term process of change, in order to transform and reap the benefits it provides for the long-term.
The Kübler-Ross² change curve tracks morale and competence over time across seven stages, including a steep initial decline before an even steeper upward trajectory kicks in. The stages are self-evidently defined as Shock, Denial, Frustration, Depression, Experiment, Decision and Integration. Once employees get through their natural resistances (shock, denial, frustration and depression) and start learning how to work effectively in the new situation (experiment, decision and integration) they can thrive and succeed far more effectively.
Similarly, the Change House model based on the Four Rooms of Change Theory³ has four states, moving from the past into the future. The Contentment Room is the starting point until some shock, disruption or event moves the organisation and staff into the Denial Room, and then the Confusion Room before a powerful new vision created together leads into the Renewal Room – which is then sustained by fresh challenges and more support.
Any kind of positive change management requires conflict. But when conflict arises, associations can try and look for ways to smooth things over. This is an error and boards need both patience and resilience to endure the open conflict necessary to create positive change. Transitioning through uncomfortable times is part of the process, and essential for the association to reap the benefits of change.
As more associations are affected by disruption, or need to reinvent themselves to better serve the changing needs of members, change management skillsets will become increasingly important for CEOs and boards. Similarly, understanding the benefits and stages of change can equip employees and members into the future.
Everyone is affected by change. The stress is caused by a feeling of not being in control, and it is the CEOs role to help employees by instilling an understanding, tolerance and appreciation of change. Change management often links back to the delivery of clear objectives, and getting staff buy-in to the strategic plan – so they understand how they fit in, and how their input makes a contribution. When this sense of purpose outweighs the challenges of change, empowered employees make the association unstoppable.
John Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change is used widely as a best practice model, but there are others.