Serious Questions: What will it take for your association's stakeholders to thrive?

Last month, I launched the P. I. Serious Questions newsletter. Each issue of the newsletter presents a serious question on which I offer my thoughts for newsletter subscribers. Starting this month and going forward, I will post the previous month’s serious question and response to the P.I. Blog once the current month’s issue of the newsletter is released.

The August 2012 Serious Question of the Month

What will it take for your association’s stakeholders to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

For the last few years, I’ve been asking some version of the following question of all of my clients, and of just about all audiences for my public talks:

What will it take for associations to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

I happen to love this question, because it invites leaders to grapple with deep strategic issues and problems that are far more complex and consequential than the location of the next conference, the cover image for the next issue of the magazine or even the results for next fiscal quarter. This question raises still more compelling questions about which capabilities, collaborations and technologies will make it possible for their associations to flourish by harnessing the powerful forces of relentless societal transformation. It is an important line of inquiry that associations must continue to pursue vigorously.

In recent weeks, however, I have found myself thinking more about the question that is the focus of this post, since this iteration may have even deeper implications for the design of future association business models than the original. The ways in which associations answer this question certainly will exert great influence on how future value propositions, stakeholder segments and stakeholder relationships are defined, and will help shape future organizational investments in innovation. Unfortunately, like the original version, there is no single answer that applies across all associations.

How should you and your colleagues begin to think about this question? Here are three observations to help you move toward action:

+This is an “edge” conversation–While it may be useful to raise this question with your board to jumpstart their thinking, do not expect the group to have many new ideas or insights to share. This conversation must begin as far away from the organizational core as possible, with the stakeholders who live at or beyond the edges of your association. They are already defining “what’s next.” Listen very carefully to what they say.

+It’s not about marketing–Avoid making the dangerous assumption that simply communicating your existing offer in a “new and improved” way is a viable strategy. Perhaps the most difficult thing for boards and CEOs to accept is that the answer to this question is almost certainly not “a membership in your association.” Get serious about creating new value that respects your stakeholders’ desired outcomes.

+Focus on support–It’s what the stakeholders of the future most need right now. They have ample independent access to credible knowledge, robust social networks and meaningful learning opportunities. To help them make the most of these resources, they need deep support from a source they can trust and without its own agenda. Remember that intangible value can be just as (if not more ) compelling as tangible value.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive the P.I. Serious Questions newsletter, please subscribe today. You will receive your first issue in early October.

Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.

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