Associations have been an American staple for 100+
years. Today their primary value proposition, bringing together
like-minded professionals and providing them with the best education,
professional networking, and advocacy to be found, is being disrupted
by advances in technology and private sector competitors.

These member organizations are experiencing disruption on three fronts:
1. Their business
model is under threat.

Almost every trade association and professional society is built upon a
set of services that today is provided for free or a special interest
group. Technology has made it possible for anyone to start a group, a
community of practice, and deliver value-based education just-in-time
anywhere in the world for almost no price at all.

Many large private sector companies are doing both as loss leaders.
Further Governance is not making things easier with a revolving door of
volunteer leadership that puts even the best CEO to the test for
continuity and strategic execution.

2. Members’
businesses are under significant economic pressures due to technology
advances, globalization, policy changes like health care reform,
banking practices, talent development and acquisition.

As a result they scrutinize value that now appears to be optional even
though it was once accepted as part of doing business. They may cut
dues as a short-term measure to make ends meet. In many industries
M&As are shrinking the total number of members, cutting into the
base their associations serve.

3. Entire industries
are being upended.

Witness the massive disruptions health care reform is causing among
medical companies, professionals and institutions or the challenge
eReaders and iPads have created for the makers of printing equipment.

That said, there are bold leaders in the association field who are
rising to the challenge with a business mindset that does not
compromise on their double bottom-line of member value and financial

Here are three clearly 21st century priorities that are making a
difference among those who are leading the way:
Talent development and talent acquisition.

As always, getting the right person in the driver’s seat is premium.
This means developing those who are eager and have the capacity to take
on challenges, and recruiting top-tier performers, often from the
private sector. Bringing in high-level managers with a completely
different mindset can challenge the best organization dynamics,
requiring the rewiring of business processes and disrupting the status
quo among the senior leadership team, but so much is at stake it is
well worth the investment.

Business intelligence is a necessary investment.

Now is the time to (a) understand members’ challenges and desires like
never before, (b) survey the playing field to understand who else is on
it, the trends they are creating, the challenges they represent, and
the opportunities opening up, and (c) mine the collective intelligence
of thought leaders and practical visionaries.

As change speeds up, the event horizon for taking action (i.e., the
time available to respond competitively) shrinks. Long-term strategy
carries more risk while short-term responsiveness carries higher value.
Business intelligence mitigates the associated vulnerabilities.

Leaders must shift from an organization-centric view to a
market-centered view.

Instead of viewing those who are eating your lunch as the enemy,
recognize that something big is going on in the marketplace and find
your unique way to contribute to the action, with a laser focus on
value generation (as tested through your member-customers). Those that
are playing a bigger game, participating in and contributing to future
are seen as players and will attract market share as well as top talent.

Jeff Bezos so aptly illustrated this point just last week. At the
Consumer Report event in May he was asked when Amazon would release an
iPad killer. Here’s an excerpt from his response:

Most business is not usually like a
sporting event. It’s very common to read blog or newspaper headlines,
and the words “X Killer” is very, very common. I assume because it
works–it must get more clicks. But in real life industries usually
rise and fall together. When it comes to competing products, however,
success isn’t always so black and white. In a sporting event, there
really is a winner and a loser. I think in business people use that
metaphor–the sporting event metaphor is ingrained in us. Any kind of
new product introduction, probably the company is not hoping to
completely kill any other company. They’re hoping they can be part of
something big.

Like Bezos, leaders can read the market as a larger force and leverage
competitors to co-create the future.

The three priorities above are equally challenging within the private
sector. This is good news. It means associations are emerging from the
periphery of American business and moving out onto the main field. It
portends a shaking up in the sector, but hey–what’s not already

upcoming events

For Association CEOs:
New Business Models Working Today
Nov 15, 12:00-1:30, downtown Washington, DC
association business models are emerging around us – bold successes by
CEO entrepreneurs.  There are 8 Keys – You can put them to work
tomorrow. I am going to share them on Nov. 15. Event is limited to CEOs
only. No charge for
participation. If you are interested in
attending or the white paper series, send me an email.

For Independent
JumpStarting Business – Getting Things Going Fast
Oct 28, 12:00-1:30, Chef Tony’s, 4926 St Elmo’s Ave, Bethesda, MD
This the 7th in my ongoing series to teach the techniques behind my
successful consulting practice. $15 charge covers a meal by Chef Tony.
Topics at this event include Getting Engagements Fast and Exactly What
to Do when Things are Slow, Click
here if you are interested in