Change is a broad concept for associations and association leaders to work through. The world is changing at an alarming pace, which is affecting the way that boards and association leaders operate in many ways.

I recently attended a session put on by the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) on managing change. The presenter, Josée Lemoine, President of Pivot Performance, walked us through some change models and how they can be incorporated into plans when dealing with change in your association.

Change Happens

How do you respond to it? How do you navigate through it? How do you allocate resources in a changing environment? Which outside sources (consultants, professionals) do you need to engage to assist your association? How can you manage it?

The presenter shared a model of change that resonated with me.  This model focused on vision and strategy. Associations spend time and resources on developing the mission & vision for their association. From these missions and visions, strategies are developed to guide the organization through an ever-changing environment. The following is the definition of a vision statement:

Vision Statement: (Desired End-State) A one-sentence statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization or program’s work. (source:

When creating a vision statement, Boards can look at programs and offerings that best suit their members and must adapt as times change. There are critical success factors that will need to take place in order to attain the organization’s vision, but there will also barriers that will make it challenging to get there too.

What are some of the factors that you need to consider when assessing and approaching how you will manage change?

Demographics is an obvious factor that affects associations and triggers a need for change. Baby boomers and millennials look at the world through different eyes. This affects membership offerings (each group might want to receive information in differing formats; millennials being more tech-savvy than boomers) and also might affect the pool of volunteers (millennials are not as apt to volunteer as the boomers are). Understanding your organization’s membership demographics is important when making changes that compliments it.

Your association staff affect how you will manage change. They may resist needed change for the following reasons:

  • Fear of the unknown/surprise
  • Mistrust
  • Loss of job security / control
  • Bad timing
  • Predetermined ideas on change

How do you deal with the challenges you might encounter from staff when you are implementing change?

Two important elements are communication and inclusion.

The association staff must be part of the change and involved in creating the solutions for implementing it. Communicating why the change is necessary will help staff overcome any fears/questions they may have surrounding this upcoming change. Planning for the change and including the employees responsible for implementing it will help them understand why it needs to happen and why it needs to happen now.

One assumption the presenter made during the session that I thought was important is as follows: most employees will make decisions that are similar to those of management if they were provided with the same information and context as them. When you approach change making this assumption, and communicate clearly with staff, implementation will go much smoother than if they are not given all the facts.

There was a couple of things that I learned from attending this CSAE session. I know change happens and many of my association management clients have conversations about adapting to change all the time. This session provided some context and process for approaching change. When your changes are being made, make sure there was for a reason for it and that it was not just for the sake of change. Who is the member and why and how are you servicing them must always be priority number one.

Reviewing and measuring change is important to ensure the change is doing what it was meant to do. It is also important to keep staff and the board accountable for the change and the only way to do this is to review and measure results.

Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner is an internationally recognized expert in change management and author of Launch, Lead, Live: The Executive’s Guide to Preventing Resistance & Succeeding with Organizational Change.

She points out that “documenting and communicating a clearly stated, detailed intended outcome puts the goal of the change in focus for the organization and the individuals affected”. She goes on to provide this advice about creating a powerful intended outcome statement.

“Three questions to help get you started in defining an intended outcome for your organization:

  • When your organization has successfully completed the transition how will it be different?
  • When the organization has successfully made the transition to the new environment, what will be different about how the affected individuals do their work?
  • What will your customers/clients say about the organization when the change has been successfully implemented and the transition is complete?”

You can read more of Dr. Turner’s advice on organizational change at

Planning and communicating change is as important as the change itself. Spend more time in the planning stage so you know how it will be rolled out. What you communicate, the frequency, consistency and transparency are also all important factors to consider. You will need to determine who you communicate to: association employees, members and other stakeholders and the frequency.

Communication is an essential aspect of implementing change. By ensuring that staff, the board, and the membership are all on board, and understand the changes being made, change in your organization will result in an optimal outcome.