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10 Principles For Managing Change In An Organization: Stay Relevant To Your Association Members

Do you feel like your association welcomes change? Most associations are dangerously slow to adapt to change due to outdated traditions and poor volunteer management. The truth is, today’s association members aren’t looking for the same things that they were looking for 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Do you feel like your association welcomes change?

Most associations are dangerously slow to adapt to change due to outdated traditions and poor volunteer management. The truth is, today’s association members aren’t looking for the same things that they were looking for 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

Today’s associations need to learn to adapt to the changing business environment if they want to continue to stay relevant–to focus on providing value to members and spend less time on the association’s operations. In doing so, association leaders will see your job satisfaction increase and the association start to thrive again.

This phenomena has lead to the phrase “Dynamic Association Leadership” which means that the organization is led by people who consistently evaluate their organization and steer the group’s collective activity toward creating more value for their members and their industry.

If you’re spending your entire leadership term or executive career focusing on organizational operations, PAUSE and take a look at this process.

I’ve identified 10 principles for managing change in an organization that provide the framework for steering your association through organizational change. And, as is custom of any good association leadership process, I’ve come up with an acronym to help you remember these 10 key factors.


  1. Why

  2. What

  3. How

  4. Inspire

  5. Evaluate

  6. Lead

  7. Board-Focus

  8. Adapt

  9. Recognize

  10. Consider

Let’s look at the first 3 factors:

1. WHY: Recognize the emotional belief that drives the existence of your organization.

Define your members’ “why.” Why are your members coming to your association? What is the feeling that your members get when your association fills their deepest professional needs? Clearly defining your member’s “why” will give you a clearer picture of what your organization should be doing.

Example: An association is struggling to add new and relevant value to their members. When asked “why do individuals join your association?” the conclusion was made that their members really wanted the association to fill three basic needs:

  1. Connection: To be able to connect with, and rely on, a community in their field. They wanted to feel like they had a place where they were understood and felt a sense of belonging.

  2. Protection: To have a voice in the legislature to protect their profession.

  3. Growth: To be successful and fulfilled in their career. To feel like they are making a difference.

Accordingly, this association’s new battle cry became “We believe in connection, protection, and growth for professionals in our industry.”

This “why” statement reminded volunteers and members of the big picture. It’s the reason for every board meeting, every strategic planning session, and every decision the association makes.

Action Step: A great video to solidify this concept is Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk “Start with the WHY”. It will help solidify the concept. Now, look at your mission statement and try to extract a few key concepts that might explain your members’ WHY.

2. WHAT: Identify mechanisms and create a system that addresses your members’ emotional belief.

Does your structure support the “why” defined above? Set up systems and processes that ensure that your members’ emotional beliefs are remembered and supported and that your activity aligns with those beliefs.

Example: A large and growing association was becoming less relevant because their traditional governance structure was not accepting of change. They had a 27-person board of directors, and regularly had over 28 tactical items on their board meeting agenda.

By re-imagining their organizational structure they shifted to a 7-person governing board that specifically focused on strategy. They also installed a larger Operational Committee that was specifically responsible for the tactical implementation of the strategy set forth by the governing board.

Action Step: Take a look at your organizations chart. Is there a clear hierarchy for focused strategy and a clear place for focused tactical work? What will happen within the structure when a change is proposed?

3. HOW: Use your system to produce products and services that align with your members’ emotional belief.

Now that you have a purpose and a structure to support it, it’s time to align your programs, written content, online activity and other initiatives with the emotional belief.

Example: ABC Association discovered through their data analysis that only 20% of their members are consistently reading their print newsletter. The majority of their membership still wants news about the industry, but was becoming accustomed to consuming content online. In addition, the members didn’t find the newsletter’s content to be valuable. To meet their member’s needs, the association reevaluated the value of their content. They restructured their publishing team and started interviewing members about how they run their businesses. They also started using blog posts, email campaigns, and social media to reach their members for effectively.

Action Step: Think about your programs, products, and service. What is your organization afraid to change about these things? Write them down and use your org structure to help you make these changes.

So there you have it; I’ve walked you through the first three factors in managing change in your association. What will you do to plan out the additional 7 steps? For help, check out the full 10-step process and download your free guide from IntrinXec, “The Secret to Staying Relevant.”


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