Did your organization leap or crawl into the virtual realm? The pandemic’s challenging circumstances demanded a quick transition that left many associations carrying unnecessary baggage to the other side. Trying to manage an analog culture in the digital marketplace requires heavy lifting. The new year brings an opportunity to lighten that load.

You may have acquired new software and added skills but having and using that technology does not equal integration into the digital environment. It only gives you the tools to get there. There is a significant difference between being digitized and digital. Gartner, the information and technology research consultancy, makes the distinction like this:

Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form.

Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.

If the results of a recent survey conducted by .orgCommunity, our education and networking partner, are any indication, most associations have yet to break the barrier from the digital to the digitized world.

Seventy-three percent of our survey participants agreed, or strongly agreed, that the pandemic is accelerating trends that will require fundamental changes in the role of associations, their underlying business model, and their strategic direction, and 54% strongly agreed that shifts in the environment will threaten the viability of many groups; Yet, just under half, or 40%, did not foresee any long-term revisions to their product portfolio. Almost 60% believe their membership models will resume pre-pandemic patterns, and 41% saw in-person networking opportunities returning to the status quo. Many participants also commented that their mission and vision would remain unchanged.

Why aren’t associations using the powerful systems at their disposal to take their business to the next level by:

  • Maximizing the interaction between member needs and technology to deliver value;
  • Improving user experience and engagement at every step in the member journey;
  • Leveraging expanded services and reduced cost to stimulate loyalty;
  • Using innovation to turn disruption into opportunity?

If it is difficult to imagine that subscription business models like Salesforce or Adobe and “freemium” services like Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Spotify could have a place in your product or membership strategy, consider that in the online world, these options are the status quo. Your members expect this level of flexibility. They also assume that, like Netflix or Amazon, you will learn more about them with every interaction, and that this growing relationship will be acknowledged each time you communicate.

So, what is keeping associations from flexing their digital muscle and approaching operations more creatively?  When I advise clients on how to begin digital transformation, these are some of the strategies I recommend to help eliminate their analog baggage.

Stamp IT’s Passport

Technology shouldn’t need a visa to travel around the organization.

Technology shouldn’t need a visa to travel around the organization, especially to the corner office. Every department has a role to play in moving from tourist to full-fledged digital citizen. Business units can provide guidance and focus by:

  • Executive Office—Championing the transition to a digital culture. If there are gaps in your understanding of technology, fill them. If you would rather watch paint dry than hear about systems and integrations, find enthusiasm in the benefits that streamlined technology will bring. And, if this positive approach doesn’t put fire in your belly, consider the significant impact a long-term technology deficit will have on your success.
  • HR—Exploring future workforce needs and strategies for recruiting and retaining top talent for in-person, remote, and on-demand work. 
  • Education—Understanding best online practices and applying those principles to developing innovative programs to meet members’ changing needs. 
  • Finance—Streamlining budgeting, forecasting, and business analytics, and making those processes accessible to employees across the organization.  
  • Marketing—driving the online customer experience and deeply understanding the customers’ evolving digital preferences and needs. 
  • All teams—Harnessing data as your best competitive advantage.  

Don’t Let the House Go Up in Flames

When the house is on fire, it’s already too late.

There is no better time to launch than the present. Don’t wait for circumstances to change or improve. The pandemic has made the price of inaction clear. When the house is on fire, it’s already too late. A  perfect plan isn’t necessary, but the willingness to take calculated risks, experiment, and iterate based on the results is mandatory. Digital transformation is an ongoing process. Embrace the idea of the minimum viable product and use it to move operations forward along a continuum to success.

Take Innovation Out of Lockdown

I repeat this post after post, forgive me. But it’s important. Innovation is not the icing on the cake. In the digital world, it is meat and potatoes or veggies and tofu if you prefer that analogy. Brainstorming and exploration are essential skills for staying on top of the market and ahead of competition. There are many simple ways to introduce innovation into your organization. The easiest is to give your team time and permission to seek alternatives, options, and efficiencies. In the digital marketplace, innovation is standard operating procedure.

Provide Amazing Experiences

Here is a sobering bit of information, according to Bain and Company research, 80% of companies believe they are providing great customer service, but only 8% of customers agree. Few complaints do not mean that your members love you or that there is no room for improvement. And one or two disgruntled members may just be the top of a deadly iceberg.

Customer experience includes the entire constellation of interactions that members have with your organization. It should combine intuitive software, readily available support, personalization, and active engagement at each step of your ongoing relationship. Take a little advice from Steve Jobs and, “Begin with the experience and work backward to the technology.” Smiling faces, voices, and attitudes are a prerequisite.

Discover and Empower the Leaders

Until an AI occupies the corner office, people will be the innovators and creators of fantastic customer journeys. .orgSource has identified three distinct types of leaders who are needed for a successful digital initiative.

The Strategist Scans the Horizon

The strategist sees around corners. This is the person who keeps an eye on trends and identifies potential opportunities or disruption. The strategist is aware of the organization’s overall digital capacity and is charged with maximizing strengths and addressing weaknesses. This leader also ensures that the association’s strategic planning meshes with and includes its digital goals and objectives.

The Innovator Discovers Opportunities

The innovator discovers opportunity.

Innovation should come from across the organization, but a leader is needed both to jumpstart the process and to direct creativity toward productive outcomes. Digital innovators help others to see beyond the status quo and inspire curiosity, problem-solving, and initiative. In a rapidly changing environment, they are the visionaries who redesign business models to capitalize on new demands and markets.

The Driver Translates Plans Into Action

Pulling all the threads together falls to the driver. The driver builds trust and collaboration across the organization so that projects unfold smoothly. Drivers must be able to manage the human and administrative stress involved in change while keeping initiatives moving forward according to schedule.

Ride Technology’s Slipstream

As you implement these recommendations, you will begin shedding analog baggage. Technology creates its own momentum. When you are a digital organization you ride that slipstream to new levels of purpose and engagement with employees, volunteers, and members. It is ironic that by becoming a lighter association, you also become a heavy hitter.