The Executive - May/June 2016 - (Page 7)
A Few Thoughts on Innovation
f ever there was a "loaded" word in association management,
"innovation" would certainly be near the top of the list. All
kinds of thoughts and expectations spring from this word
in my discussions with other executives, and the pressure
to be innovative is especially acute for California associations
considering the nearby presence of Silicon Valley.
The concept of innovation and associations was the focus
of the recent Insights executive retreat held at Disney's Grand
Californian Hotel. With that in mind, I thought I would share a
few thoughts and takeaways on the subject.
Let me start with a simple definition that CalSAE uses for
innovation in our Strategic Plan, which is "the process of creating
and delivering new value for members." For us, innovation is
about making changes, often a series of small ones, to improve
something about the organization-ultimately adding value for
our members. Bigger innovations (a new product, a different way
of doing business) often have many smaller pieces that interrelate-so big changes are often dependent on or a product of
many small factors being done well.
In my estimation, associations are trying to innovate all the
time. However, we often get frustrated that the changes don't
occur or fall short of expectations. Why is that?
At the top of the list is building a culture of innovation. The
executive director is often the single biggest influence on culture
within an association. What was emphasized at Insights is the
need to be consistent over time in how you approach problem
solving, make changes or generate new ideas.
In reviewing the attendee evaluations of Insights, for
example, the vast majority of CEOs commented how they were
going to communicate more about innovation-with their
staff and with their boards. To include or increase innovation
as a part of your culture requires an ongoing dialogue and an
ongoing process. The simple, yet difficult, task of consistently
using processes and communications about innovation is a big
part of making it happen.
The Insights retreat focused on innovation and "translating
intent into reality." While many people define innovation as
the ability to be creative (and often don't think of themselves
as creative), the framework of the discussion centered on very
practical things that most association executives are good at -
systems, process, communications, using tools, asking questions,
etc. In other words, using processes and communicating
consistently can have a big impact on the culture of innovation.
A practical takeaway for me was to ask more questions and do
so regularly. Having a truly open mind and listening to questions
that are being asked is often easier said than done. However, one
terrific new tool I learned was called "question-storming." The
process is so simple and yet can be so productive.
* Step one in question-storming is to take an idea or proposal
that is being developed within the organization but still needs
some work or reflection. You then have a question-storming
session with your team (or Board). During this phase,
only questions are asked. It's like brainstorming, but with
questions. You don't judge the questions and you don't try to
answer them. You just gather the questions.
By Jim Anderson, CAE
* The next phase, like a brainstorming session, is to prioritize
the questions. You can do this by grouping the questions
into themes-and then deciding as a group which questions
seem to be the most important, need answers, should be
addressed first, etc.
* The prioritized set of questions should then go a long way
toward informing you of the next steps or additional work
that is needed.
A terrific outcome of the question-storming approach is
allowing people to voice their concerns in a safe way without being
confrontational. In addition, you get the full weight of your team's
insights and generate questions that you may not have thought to
ask yourself. We did a five-minute question-storming session in
small groups at Insights-and I was so impressed with the quality
of the questions that I vowed to use this technique with my team.
Another important technique for the executive in making
innovation happen is to regularly check-in with the staff and
volunteer (Board) teams. We know it is natural for people to resist
change, even when they know change may be needed. And, let's
be honest, innovation is hard work-you've got to plan for making
changes while still doing the daily work of the organization.
It's also easy to forget that people process information
differently-and that there are complex layers to making
change. So a few other practical takeaways (questions) I was
reminded of at Insights include:
* How well do I really "test" to see the level of understanding of
the various members of a team?
* Are they aware of and understand what we are trying to
* Can they see how it impacts what is important to them?
In leading change or helping others understand the need for
change, I was also reminded the importance of communicating
change from different angles-and what might be important to
others. For example,
* What might make it logical?
* What might make it emotionally engaging?
* What might make it tangible and practical?
I also want to thank Jen Blenkle of Frameworks, who did a
terrific job facilitating Insights. She works with associations all
the time on making innovation happen and you can contact her
Finally, for those of you who like to read, I thought I would
share some of the books that were recommended by Jen, such
as Collective Genius, The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation;
Creativity, Inc., Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in
the Way of True Inspiration; andTeaming: How Organizations
Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.
C a l S A E ' s TH E E X E C UTI VE - M A Y / J UN E 2 0 1 6
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Executive - May/June 2016
At a Glance Tech Tools: Create the Ultimate Video Marketing Plan in 4 Steps Blog Spot: Three Principles to Awaken Your Association Force Leadership by the Numbers: Safety & Security at Meetings
Calendar of Events
Selecting Edtech That Deepens Learning
How to Maintain High-Touch Relationships in High-Tech Times
Innovation, Technology and Change: The Future Is Here Now
How to Start or Grow Your Career Management Site
Advancing Associations: The Power of Past Presidents
Member Spotlight: Alan Wald
Index to Advertisers
The Executive - May/June 2016