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Overcoming Resistance to Change in Associations

By: Christian Britto 28 Sep 2016


As harsh as it can sound, telling associations to "adapt or die" certainly has merit.

For the organizations that understand this, great. But that doesn't mean that they have the attitudinal or structural bandwidth to plan and implement these adaptations.

The association industry is historically slow (or opposed) to taking on new processes and technology - practices that have curtailed membership and revenueThere seems to be challenges and opposition at every level, from the often top-heavy boards to the rank-and-file employees who are just used to doing it a certain way.

Every change management project is its own beast. But there are some reoccurring challenges that lead to their failure, which we'd like to highlight and offer actionable suggestions for solving.

1. Not understanding why change is needed in the first place

The familiar is comfortable. But being comfortable and putting on blinders to innovation is what has caused rising waters to go unnoticed in the industry. Your employees not understanding why things need to change in the first place might be one of the most challenging things to overcome - it is a resistance rooted in both their personal ideas as well as organizational culture.

Because you need to combat this on two fronts, your greatest weapon is a strong, revamped culture. Ask yourself. This means being brutally honest with yourself and asking "Who are we, really?"

When you start to look in the mirror at who you are, how you operate, and what your association brand really stands for, you'll start to see where you're coming up short. Now, the hard work of identifying who you want to become and how you want to get there starts - a mission that should be a key ingredient of whatever change management project you want to take on. 

2. Feeling left out of the decision process

Most employees don't like the passivity of forced change that comes from the top down. You should give them a sense of responsibility and ownership throughout the process.

\One great strategy is to have your employees' first exposure to your change project a request for their opinion. This involves them in the construction of a plan as opposed to keeping everything behind closed doors and then unveiling some sweeping new change project to them. You can gather opinions through workshops, meetings, surveys, or whatever data gathering process your organization prefers. 

And this shouldn't just be an empty gesture to seem democratic. You really should be mining your association and employees for their thoughts and opinions. They are a key component of a change implementation succeeding, and it is imperative for you to know what they think of your performance, culture, and operations, and how they think these things could be improved.

3. Skepticism due to history of change management failures

Cynicism towards leadership is entrenched in many association cultures. 

And the skepticism can come from all parts of the association, not just the rank and file. Many senior members of the c-suite and board who are settled into the old routine may have a hard time swallowing new strategies.

For this reason, you will need to come prepared to the conversation (or the debate as it it may feel like in some associations). Research is your most powerful weapon. Make your case with data and real world case studies to appeal to both pathos and ethos. Once you get people on board, if you've truly convinced them, then the change will need to come from the inside - out. 

Acting on your approach to change 

The "start small, think big" approach can absolutely apply here. Starting with a small seed of change and attitude readjustment can have ripple effects throughout the association - but in order for this to happen, you really need to have everyone in your smaller circle of influence on board.

Even if "starting small" is appropriate for your association, you're eventually going to need to have 100% of your people on board here. Everyone should be invested in the success of this change - from the most senior board member to the newest hire. A department that might require special attention to educate and influence? Human Resources. It may seem obvious, but they can be overlooked when focusing on other employees, and their buy-in is absolutely critical. 

Attitude and behavior are intertwinedWith the help of change makers taking action and holding people's feet to the fire, you can make broad strides. Being cognizant of these 3 pitfalls and how to avoid them at your particular association is key to reinforcing change that is purpose-driven and resilient.

Christian Britto

Written by Christian Britto

28 Sep 2016 in strategy, management

Christian is the Operations Manager at rasa.io

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