The budget’s approved. The consultant’s contract is signed. Your existing data is clean. What else do you need to prepare for the successful selection and implementation of a new AMS? Yes, the title gives it away: you need a turnaround mindset.

Looking back several years to my last AMS selection and implementation, my association did not have a turnaround mindset – which probably explains why we drove our AMS support team crazy, and, even worse, imploded once the recession hit.

At the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville, Kevin Whorton (president, Whorton Marketing & Research) and Lance Clark (associate vice president of membership and student development, American Pharmacists Association) explained how to apply the turnaround mindset to association “business.”

Embrace your turnaround

The need for a turnaround is obvious when you’re faced with a challenge, for example, declining revenue or membership. Something has to be done if you’re going to remain in business. The need is not so obvious when leaders don’t see the gap between their perception of the association and the reality experienced by others.

Turnarounds also coincide with transitions, for example, governance restructuring, or a new CEO or new AMS. However, the opportunities that arise out of turnarounds will be squandered if you don’t invest appropriate resources – time and money – into them.

In hindsight, I would have insisted on hiring a consultant with business analysis and project management skills to help me gather and document AMS requirements, analyze business processes, make the right selection, and oversee testing and implementation We missed the opportunity to improve processes, break down silos and get the best AMS for our needs.

Turnarounds can be times of great opportunity, but Kevin and Lance recommend having a turnaround mindset every day, not just in times of transition or distress. By adopting the turnaround mindset, staff becomes more adept and agile at responding to and embracing change, stretching their comfort zone and trying new things.

People, processes and technology

Any turnaround or change, including an AMS implementation, is affected by three factors – people, processes and technology. You must identify how each of these factors affect implementation and are affected by implementation.

People: Who needs to be convinced of the need for change? Who are the influencers? Who needs to be involved in requirements gathering? Whose job will be affected by changes in process? Who needs additional training? Who needs to change their attitude?

Processes: Which existing processes are redundant or ridiculous? Where can streamlining or automation help? Which processes need a major overhaul?

Technology: Which existing systems need to integrate with the new AMS? Which existing systems will no longer be useful or necessary? Is the network infrastructure affected by this change?

Ingredients for a successful turnaround

Before embarking on a turnaround, establish a baseline so you can measure the effect of subsequent changes. You want to be able to prove that all the pain is worth the gain and show colleagues that change can be a good thing. The metrics you use will depend upon the project goals, but could include processing time reductions, expense reductions, user experience ratings, member renewals or satisfaction ratings, or Web traffic statistics. 
Politics and organizational culture play a huge role in change. Every turnaround needs a champion – a change agent – especially if you have to convince others of the need for change. Turnarounds must have leadership sponsorship and support and must be an enterprise-wide effort, otherwise staff will never become as invested as you’d like, and your AMS will always be the “membership database.” 

Communication will make or break a turnaround. Many stakeholders – staff, members and others – may not be aware of the need for change. Many of them may not like the idea of change – they were happy the way things were. You can’t communicate with them all in the same way. Your messaging content and style must vary depending upon your target audience and their relationship to the project.

  • Your staff project team have bought into the need for change – they’re easy.

  • Staff leadership must be encourage to continue their role as change agents and influencers.

  • The board and other member “insiders” have a different understanding and appreciation for the change.

  • Members and others who are “outside the tent” may not understand the need for and impact of the change.

Have a communication plan in place for each of these audiences. Write as a human, not a legalese- or jargon-using institution. Be very clear about the purpose for change. Make no assumptions about members’ understanding of association goals, strategies and operations. They could be completely clueless.

Manage expectations. Don’t promise more than your AMS will deliver. Make sure everyone understands what will be delivered (the requirements) and what won’t be delivered (their wish list).

Change is easier to bear when you can show incremental improvements. 

  • “This process now only takes X minutes per member. That saves you X hours a month, and it will probably get even better.”

  • “We’re receiving only X member service calls a week instead of Y because of this new Web function.”

  • “Our email open rate has improved X% because we can now segment and target our blast emails.”

Sustaining change is difficult. After a big turnaround (or implementation), take advantage of the momentum and find ways to continually improve processes and programs.

If you aren’t in the position to move your association’s culture toward a turnaround mindset, you can reap its benefits in your own work. Sometimes, just doing the fundamentals better has a big pay-off. Innovation doesn’t have to cost anything – experiment where you can. Change one of your own processes or talk regularly to members about ways the association can help them improve their business or advance their career.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who wishes she knew back then what she knows now. Sigh, don’t we all?