Dealing with the unexpected is a big part of the job for a chief staff officer and board members in the association world. Adapting and problem solving are valuable skills when running a successful association. As an association management company (AMC), we work with many associations and dealing with the unexpected is inevitable.

I recently attended a session at the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) annual conference where the presenter, Jennifer Spear, President & Creative Strategist at Clean Slate Strategies, conducted a session called Lead Unscripted. The session was very informative, showing association leaders how to deal with the constant rate of change and how to deal with the unexpected.

Challenge Your Assumptions About Your Association

I found the session very relevant, as I work with our clients to challenge assumptions that exist around membership, growth, practices, programs, policies. The purpose is toget them thinking about how they need to look for new and innovative approaches to programs within their associations.

By challenging assumptions with your association’s board you are encouraging them to change a lot of their preconceived ideas and to think strategically and differently in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

Attitude is Everything

Once the assumptions have been challenged it is important to have the right attitude when looking at and solving problems. Problems can be opportunities. The speaker talked about managing problems with a positive attitude and talked about the three words that we should all have in our vocabulary, “I got this”, which signals to your board and members that whatever change is coming we are working to embrace it. Change is the constant and is happening faster and faster each day. How you approach change will dictate how successful your organization will be at adapting to it.

The Approach

The best part of the session was how the speaker taught us to approach change and how to navigate through it. The speaker showcased this by talking about improv skills and how to incorporate improv principles and techniques so you are better able to problem solve and manage the unexpected.

We have an association client that is over 100 years old with membership numbers on the decline. The problem is clear but the solution is not. The board needs to approach the problem in a fashion that looks at the issues and then challenge assumptions that exist around membership, growth, practices, programs, policies and start thinking about how to affect change to create more value for being a member. It is not an easy discussion but a necessary one to have. The plans that worked in the past aren’t working any longer. Our client needs to look at their membership and assess what the current member needs are, versus what worked historically.

Unscripted is a good concept. I attended the session at CSAE as the title of the session resonated with me about the environment we function in as AMCs and association executives. Each of our clients is grappling in some way with rapid change and approaching it unscripted makes a lot of sense. We all need to think differently on how members are recruited, serviced, programmed and how to maintain and raise revenues.

The big take away from the session was focusing on the assumptions we make about problems and then creating an attitude that contains the three words “I got this” which will forge the path and approach you need to take to solve your problem.