In my previous blog article, Things Change – Change in Associations and the Role of the Association Leader, I explored the catalysts for change in associations, and how changes can be internal and external. I went through the types of change, as well as the different leadership styles which an association leader can adopt, depending on the situation.

The change process is uncomfortable, and people tend to resist it, yet change is constant in life, and associations cannot escape it. Associations that have a culture of continuous improvement and use a strategic process will find it easier to implement change.

The Change Process

Associations may use a three-step approach to change:

  • First is the unfreezing step which can be the most difficult step in the change process. Most people must be convinced that change is beneficial and that it should be supported. Creating awareness of the need to change, gathering information, garnering support, assessing readiness, identifying the most effective approach, and identifying the barriers to change will tackle difficulties that come with most change activities.
  • The change step is where new systems, resources, and relationships are identified and put into place. This step requires analysis, and a lot of input. The association leader should encourage buy-in as well as deal with leftovers from the unfreezing step.
  • The freezing step is used to put the change in place and prevent backsliding. It requires action by the association leader to ensure that the change process has been implemented as planned. In this step, activities should revolve around creating ownership and support.

Resistance to Change

The biggest threat to the successful implementation of new ideas or ways of doing things in an association is resistance to change. Resistance can occur when people don’t understand what is happening or why changes are taking place. Getting people to participate in strategic processes for change will help bring greater clarity to possible change and reduce resistance. It is important for the association leader to provide accurate information throughout the process. When information is communicated, change should be presented as something positive rather than a threat.

Getting past resistance to change can be accomplished in different ways. The fastest way is giving and enforcing orders. This approach usually results in a high level of resistance with a low level of commitment. The information or education method involves convincing people of the need to change. This method usually results in a higher level of commitment but is slower and requires a lot of extra work – ultimately, it will meet with less resistance. The involvement method of change is seen as the most beneficial. With this approach, people are invited to participate in the process and plan details that impact their area of responsibility. This method requires a lot of communication which clearly states the purpose for change and includes regular updates on progress.

Barriers to Change

  • Association board and volunteer structure
  • Tradition
  • Human nature, fear, etc.
  • Restrictive legislation
  • Downturn in the economy
  • Finances
  • Lack of buy-in and commitment
  • Absence of a clear vision for the association
  • Demographics

Reducing Resistance

It is important for association directors, staff, and members to be provided the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about change. Individuals also must fully understand if they are expected to perform a new role for the association, the skills that are required, and long-term stability. Individuals should be encouraged to participate in making decisions that affect them.

This means providing a clear, timely, and continuous flow of information. New roles should be defined quickly, and support should be provided to prepare people for any new skills or knowledge required. Understanding the type of response for the source of resistance is important. A list of resistance and suggested responses are below:

Source of Resistance

Suggested Responses

Fear of the unknown Information and encouragement
Need for security Clarify intentions and methods
No felt need to change Demonstrate problem or opportunity
Vested interests threatened Enlist key people in change planning
Contrasting interpretations Provide valid information and group sharing
Poor timing Await better time, if internally motivated
Lack of limited resources Provide resources or reduce performance expectations

Understanding how people react to change is critical to the successful implementation of change. It is part of human nature to resist change. People prefer the security of familiar surroundings and often don’t react well to changes in their environment.

Best Practices & Making Change Easier

When the need for change is identified, the association leader should ask why it is needed. How could the benefits be best communicated? How does it solve a persistent or difficult problem? Is it consistent with association’s values? In responding to these questions, here are some best practices that association leaders can use to help make the change process a bit easier.

  • Present the change in a clear and easy-to-understand manner.
  • Ask for input on how it can be easily implemented and who will champion the change through the association. Work closely with informal leaders.
  • Lead the change with a respected individual or team with a high level of commitment.
  • Use a leadership style that is humble and courageous. Recognize and understand how to deal with resistance.
  • Create a learning environment; invest in the required training and information.
  • Celebrate the past and provide opportunities to talk through thoughts and opinions. Part gracefully from the old ways.
  • Empower staff and teams, and link with accountability.
  • Provide communication with a clear understanding on why the change is necessary.
  • Ensure the process is continuous and is completed within a realistic timeframe. Set change goals that are attainable and measurable.
  • Celebrate successes.

Resistance to association change needs to be met head on as it can interfere with the work of others. Resistance can occur when people don’t understand what is going on or why changes are taking place.

  • Ensure you are keeping the association board and members informed and that a clear vision and plan is put in place and that there is two-way communication
  • Provide progress reports along the way
  • Be transparent
  • Avoid drawbacks that will make change difficult such as: not understanding the time demands on people, failing to provide training tools to get the job done, using a leadership style that is not conducive with the situation, failing to recognize that transformational change is required

Associations will differ in size, values and membership, yet change is unavoidable. If the change is properly presented to staff and stakeholders and the process is appropriately managed by association leaders, the association will better adapt to the change and continue to grow as a high performing organization.

For more on change in associations, visit my colleague’s articles on managing change, and the pace of change in associations:

Managing Change within an Association

The Rapid Pace of Change: The Association Challenge