Measuring Success: Why We Should Focus on Cause Before Effect

Written by Garth Jordan on August 20, 2018

The measure of a project’s success tends to be in the quantifiable effects it produces. We might look to membership numbers or revenue, for example, to assess how successful our particular ventures have been at this level of effect. However, it is not always useful to focus on these final outcomes when implementing a project. Especially when the project is something more holistic like a digital transformation, the first line of success we should be focusing on is the experience it offers. This experience is ultimately causal, prior to more tangible outcomes, but if we concentrate on crafting an excellent member experience the effects (members, revenue, etc.) will come.

Focusing on experience is important because ultimately our plans should be constructed around member need. Digital transformation is really about designing a business with a digital core, the digital piece being an enabler of consumers getting what they need, when they need it, with ease and enjoyment. Looking at the evolution of the association model today, we can trace a development from a pre-technology model based primarily on networking and some resource-sharing, towards one in which we try to sell a lot of stuff to the same group of people – over and over and over again. Many of our associations exist within small specific populations, in which this concept of constant growth just isn’t viable long-term: people’s pocketbooks are only so big. Revenue diversification has been the mantra amongst many associations for the past thirty years, but while expanding and diversifying our revenue streams will always be important, it does not get to the heart of what our members actually need. Who needs to be nickel-and-dimed by the organization to which they want to belong?

Digitally transforming, I believe, means designing member experiences holistically towards what members actually need in their rapidly changing environments. Heretically, perhaps, it’s not about revenue diversification and product line development. Instead, it’s about creating one organization that integrates technology platforms, its own business structures (business processes and organizational structures), and a holistic business model meant to serve members where they are, in all intent of that phrase.

At my organization, we have been swimming slightly upstream to commit to a core philosophy centered on member need. We realized that our association was no longer giving our members and our not-yet-members what they needed. The only way to provide that for them was to transform: this meant transforming our business model, business structure, and our technology platform. Digital transformation became synonymous with organizational transformation, because technology is deeply implicated in the member experience and in the way we interact with and support them. We have therefore embarked upon a transformative process towards becoming an association that can be there when a member needs us – and when they don’t even know that they need us – at every point along their career paths.

This transformation has had an integral digital component, requiring significant investment in our technology so as to be able to deliver content, services, products and education as features of membership according to needs that arise along the career journey. It has also meant a move towards an all-inclusive, more subscription-based business model, in which a member can decide what features they want in their membership depending on their position. If a feature is not used, it will be updated or replaced – so this transformation can be a nimble and flexible one, really driven by member need.

Under this new philosophy, success looks a little different.

I believe that a digital transformation like this is successful if members can get exactly what they need – with minimal transactional and financial friction – using our offerings with ease and with enjoyment. It is about their experience with us and with their subscription to membership. If you can build an easy and enjoyable experience, then your transformation is a successful one. The rest will follow.