Exploring change management within a Professional Association: 4 Tips for your stakeholder management plan

Burke Turner
Do you want your business to be one of the 30% of firms that make change management initiatives succeed? The key is to ensure that you have stakeholder involvement.

1. Professional associations must engage their stakeholders

The process of change, ideally begins at the stakeholder management level. Professional associations must specifically engage with their members, a key stakeholder group, and allow them to become enthusiastic supporters of change. McKinsey&Company called employee engagement out 5 years ago in a leadership survey and the findings were clear. So what about membership engagement? The beauty of membership as a stakeholder group is that there will often exist an active level of conversation between the membership and their professional body. The opportunity exists for the membership to greatly impact the direction, and the success of, positive change through dialogue. If you are still unsure, remember that the conversation is happening right now on both owned (communities sites for example) and earned (such as LinkedIn) channels regardless of your direct involvement. When was the last time you spent 30 minutes 'lurking' on your membership LinkedIn group? If it was recently, what did you learn? The dialogue will also enable the organisation to communicate the motivation for change to the membership and to share what needs to be done. All organisations planning change management risk failure if they do not plan for effective initial stakeholder management and engagement. Critical messaging for the professional association undergoing significant change is that the objectives of the process include; improved relationships between the organisation and members; increasing value for the membership; and a lasting, more positive impact on the sector being represented. You share the future of the sector with your membership. You shape it together by shaping the relationship between the organisation and the membership together.

2. Check your digital (in)fluency

Training will also play an important role in helping a professional association succeed while on the journey of change management; there will likely be some degree at every level of the organisation. It is crucial that senior leadership are able to 'walk the talk' just as they are demanding so of their teams. By supporting the adoption of new skills at a high level within an organisation, leadership is demonstrating that the process of up-skilling is vital for the change process to succeed. Often change is focused around leveraging the best of digital, so while the saying goes that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you can certainly teach a CEO to tweet, endorse, snap, post, like, pin, and so on. Newly adopted behaviours have the added benefit of facilitating a very direct dialogue between leadership and employees, membership, and audience. As a (somewhat unpoliced) two way street this can be uncomfortable territory at first, but not as uncomfortable as the realisation that today's audience are far less likely to have the time or attention to read a considered contribution to the annual report. Audiences are increasingly demanding views, opinions, and answers in real time (and in 140 characters or less). Engage with your teams, engage with your members. Go to where the conversation is happening and be a part of it.

3. New ways of working should be celebrated

One of the biggest challenges facing any change management process is the inherent inability to embrace new ways of working. One of the most radical examples of driving new ways of working comes with the Atos story. In looking to boost productivity, one of their early findings revealed that some employees were spending up to 20 hours a week answering internal emails. As only roughly 1 in 7 of those emails were deemed to be providing value to the business, the decision was made to phase out internal emails, and Atos today celebrates their new ways of working. Big corp has already moved to Enterprise Social Media. Email is dead. Long live email. Surely an impossible ask without carefully considering stakeholder management and engagement and the right blend of top down encouragement and ample support to embrace new practice throughout the process. For the professional association, it is important to remember that not only your employees, but also your membership are most likely already adopting new ways of working in their own professional lives, and are most certainly embracing the best of digital in the home lives as well. Consumers are now conditioned to expect relevant multichannel interaction with brands and services in their daily lives, and it is a great opportunity for the professional association to also embrace these channels as they shape the future of their relevant sectors in conversation with their membership.

4. Build momentum and support for change with quick wins

Rome wasn't built in a day. Change management is a long term process. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, used a very powerful metaphor to illustrate the role that time plays in change management: “the Flywheel”. Explaining the findings of his research, Collins and team quantifiably found that breakthrough doesn’t happen overnight. “Building something great takes a long time... the average time from the start of the transition to the moment of breakthrough was 7 years. 7 years of turning the Flywheel, before you see a visible breakthrough”. And it's hard to turn that flywheel while your stakeholders are demanding results.. yesterday. Kotter's take on building momentum, namely 'Generate Short Term Wins', has greater complexity for the professional association, yet presents equally great of an opportunity. Through the careful generation of quick wins, and the sharing back to employees and membership, the organisation has the opportunity to build a massive groundswell of enthusiasm and support for change. To combine the metaphors: a flywheel requires small and regular turns to build up speed. One big push won’t get you very far, it’s the aggregate of the many little pushes over time that get the flywheel up to speed. The best part? A spinning flywheel is as equally difficult to stop as it was to start. Don't treat your members like idle witnesses to the change you wish to make. You will need the members as advocates. Choose instead to involve them from the beginning, to invite their input, to test your ideas with them, and to create and share quick wins with them. As greater percentages of your members will become millennials, you need to make sure that you are communicating in a way that is relevant to modern behaviours. Break down walls, encourage direct conversation, create advocates one by one off the back of meaningful exchange. Millennials are not afraid to speak their mind, so create experiences that convert your members into advocates, and the groundswell will come. Find the naysayers, the under cutters within your membership and engage them. Surprise them with pragmatism and a desire to communicate. The greater your organisational social voice is distributed the less you will feel like you have enlisted in this mission alone. One caveat, find out how to identify a troll and follow the golden rule: ignore, ignore, ignore.

Simple, right?

To recap, there are four issues to consider for the organisations with membership as a stakeholder when contemplating change management. 1. Engagement with members is key - there needs to be a dialogue about change and why it is happening rather than forcing change onto them. 2. Leadership must 'walk the talk' by embracing change to illustrate that this journey is a worthy one. Post your latest thinking and invite feedback. Retweet that employee's comment. Reply to that member. Post a selfie (ok, maybe not that far..) 3. The line between workplace and home are increasingly blurred, as are the ways in which people need to work in order to stay relevant. Find those stories about others who have embraced new behaviours and celebrate them. 4. Allow your membership and your employees to get a real sense of progress. Quick wins, often seemingly inconsequential in the short term, go a great distance towards building the momentum that is needed to sustain any change program. Finally, those leading the change management process must appreciate why people can be resistant to change - it might be a brave new world to you but to staff and your membership, it can feel like a threatening and unknown future.

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