Despite our best efforts, it can be easy for associations to fall into a siloed way of working. We can get so wrapped up in only thinking about problems and challenges we face specific to the work we are tasked with doing that often times we do not see the downstream impacts until much later. This causes work conflicts, strategic misalignment, and in some cases, lost hours of work. This way of working creates a barrier to thinking and working in more creative ways, especially when it comes to understanding what our members are challenged with and what we can do to help solve some of those challenges. If associations want to get better at problem solving and innovating, we must get out of our own way and get better at identifying what challenges we are actually trying to solve for, allow people the opportunity to explore solutions to them, and provide them the tools and support to move forward.
KNOW THE JOB BEFORE FINDING A SOLUTION
Clayton Christensen developed the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework, which enables organizations to take an innovative approach to determining how to serve their customers by asking, “What is the customer hiring my product or service to do?” For associations, is the job simply to collect a string of certifications or to get a membership through a professional association? Or is there a deeper need that we’re missing because we’re not asking the right questions?
If we ask the right questions – different questions – aimed at solving problems for our members versus guessing what they want based on what has always worked, it helps find the right solutions for the right people. That also challenges associations to understand who exactly it is they are meant to serve. The goal is not to find a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone who spends money with you, but to understand who your core customer is, what behaviors drive their engagement and then what job they need to get done so that you can create the right products/services/experiences that are going to provide the most value.
It’s the approach that my association took to better understand who our primary customers are and what it is they need to be more successful at throughout their career journey and as they engage with us. We had to take the time to remember that the value we provide to them has nothing to do with what we think they need. We had to understand who was coming to us and why. We had to understand the market, and what was ahead of them and the challenges they were facing. Without that insight, we couldn’t possibly continue to offer anything of deep value. The Jobs-To-Be-Done framework helped us start to change our mindset around innovation – both what it was and who we were innovating for.
EMPOWER THROUGH COMMUNITY
I believe that one of the major hurdles associations face when it comes to innovation is the hierarchical (and very siloed) nature of how work gets done. It seems to be ingrained in the way associations operate. When you have an idea or see an opportunity to solve an issue, you might spend an incredible amount of time figuring out who to ask for approval or who you need to get buy-in from to move forward. By the time you’ve checked all of the boxes, you find yourself in a situation where, in many cases, the opportunity to do something really impactful has passed.
If people don’t feel empowered to bring ideas forward based off of the unique insights and data that they have, how can they effectively provide solutions for customers or the association?
In order to get out of that rut, I recommend that associations take a close look at the transformative power of community to help remove those barriers and encourage people to work differently. If you want staff to start thinking differently about challenges and to work differently to create solutions, then you have to equip them with the right tools and conditions to do so.
Identifying the real challenges and embracing a more community-centered mindset thus helps create better problem solvers and positive impacts to culture, enabling more innovative and collaborative ways of working.