Now that you know about my propensity to cheer for the underdog you may understand why I was blown away by one of the key findings that came out of the innovation study I recently conducted on behalf of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Prior to conducting the research I, perhaps naively, thought that innovation was much more egalitarian. Anyone with the spark of an idea and the motivation to see the project through could innovate, I thought. And that is true to an extent. Within our scope of influence, generally within our authority, we have the latitude to change things and try new things. But for a coordinator or even manager to single-handedly kick-start a full organization focus on innovation, not so much.
To start or sustain an association-wide focus on innovation, the association’s CEO must be on board. Most of the time in the research I saw more than just the CEO’s agreement that innovation is a good thing, it was the CEO who was driving innovation. The CEO sets the goals, they support the staff with resources, they nurture the new culture, they enable the first responders, they celebrate wins, normalize failures and recognize innovative work. In large and in small associations innovation starts with the CEO. In some associations the CEO actually did some project work, at least initially. Then they passed off the work to a team or another staff person. At that point, even though they were no longer checking off the tactics, they still remained very involved in monitoring progress, gauging the mood and boosting the team up if need be.
You may find pockets of innovation at your association. Perhaps you have innovative VPs or department heads who are trying new things and improving member benefits whenever they can. However, to have an association-wide focus on innovation, you need the support of the CEO. The CEO needs to be an active participant in prioritizing, driving and cheering on innovation throughout the whole organization.
This is just one of the key insights that came out of NBAA’s Association Innovation Research Study. To read the complete study results click here: 2016 Association Innovation Research Report.