Is Your Organization Ready for a Change?

By Nicole Millman-Falk

While change is an inevitable part of life, most associations find themselves firmly settled into routines until a crisis—or a board member—calls for something to be done differently. Whether your organization needs to change its membership dues structure, technology systems, or its branding, navigating a successful change requires a plan.

When a change initiative fails it is generally not because of a design or technology flaw; it is not because of lack of vision or understanding of by association staff of what needs to be done. Change initiatives fail because there generally is not a system in place to manage it.

Jack Sumner, Chief Finance Officer, Ladies Professional Golf Association, and Houman Adabi, Consulting Director, Aptify, spoke at digitalNow 2015 about challenges and best practices to effectively deal with change within an organization. A successful change management plan, they noted, includes planning, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating.

During the planning stages, the association must clearly define its vision. A stakeholder analysis will identify those who will be impacted by a system change, while a communication plan will clearly outline how, when, and to whom information should be delivered along each step of the process.

"When a change occurs in an organization, there can be a significant disconnect in perspectives between business leadership and employees," said Adabi.

Among the concerns of leadership:

  • What is the required investment?
  • How will this change impact our financial performance?
  • What is the return on investment?
  • When can the change be completed?
  • How much improvement will be realized
  • How will this change impact our members?

Staff, on the other hand, tends to be focused on how any changes will affect the daily work routine.

  • What will this change mean to me?
  • Will I have a job?
  • Do I have the needed skills and knowledge to succeed in the new environment?

Key Elements of Change Management
Sumner and Adabi outlined how association leaders can successfully lead a change process within their organizations.

  • Lead Change: "Leaders should walk the talk," they said, by "sanctioning, legitimizing, supporting, and driving change." It is up to leaders to create an environment that supports change as it happens.
  • Create a Shared Need to Change: Leaders must be prepared to answer they question, "Why are we changing?" It is their responsibility to ensure everyone understands why this change is important to the association and to staff individually.
  • Create a Shared Vision: Association leaders should provide a picture of the desired end state to serve as a guide for people along the way.
  • Foster Ownership and Commitment: Everyone needs to be on board with change. Creating buy-in by all stakeholders (be that staff, volunteers, or the board), commitment, and ownership to the change will enable the association to successfully implement change.
  • Align the Organization: Ensure that all elements of the association support the vision. Leaders also need to create an environment that enables learning and continuous improvement.
  • Communicate with Stakeholders: Perhaps most critical is to share "rhe right information to the right people at the right time," said Adabi. Internal and external communication can promote acceptance, involvement, and excitement about the change.

The speakers also outlined common challenges to implementing change, including:

  • Staff Resistance: People are often fearful of having to learn a new way to do their jobs, preferring to do things the way they always have.
  • Lack of Information: Often there is not enough information provided to staff regarding the change. This leads to uncertainty regarding the specifics of the change and its impact, as well as lack of participation in the initiative, resulting in resistance and lack of buy‐in to the change.
  • Lack of Management Support: Change must be driven by the association's executive director. If the top management does not support the change, staff see no reason to implement it. It may be viewed as the change of the month that will go away soon, since it is not an imperative of the executive director.
  • No Clear Vision: Without a compelling case for change, a clear goal, and a plan to get there, successfully implementing change is difficult. Make sure you provide staff with a clear picture, and with the proper training.
  • Organization Support Processes Don't Change: Often ignored are the supporting systems and processes that reinforce staffs' behavior. Without analyzing these systems and making appropriate modifications, the desired change may not stick since they are still being supported and reinforced for doing things the old way.

Change can breathe new life into an association. To implement successfully, make sure there is a vision, a plan that is clearly and consistently communicated to all involved, training for those who are expected to make the changes, and a mechanism for evaluation and feedback. Having a plan in place and managing the process can make all the difference.

Nicole Millman-Falk is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, providing content development and strategic communication services for trade associations, professional societies, and donor-based organizations. In addition to her own company, she serves as Editor for Apogee Publications, which provides turnkey association newsletters, magazines, and membership directories. She is Editor of NYSAE's InView and is Chair of NYSAE's Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687;; or through her website at