Fostering Innovation at Your Association

Kate Jones

Today we welcome a guest post from Sig VanDamme, Chief Customer Officer, NimbleUser & Dan Stark, Director of Product Strategy, NimbleUser. Nimble AMS is an enterprise association management system based on the world-class Salesforce App Cloud.

What is Innovation?

“Innovation is a new or better idea that meets unarticulated needs, new requirements or existing market needs.”-Wikipedia

Innovation is critical to the success of associations. It is essential for association leaders to foster a culture of innovation. For many associations, innovation is difficult and elusive due to:

  • Governance Structure – Association leadership transitions on a regular basis and this affects continuity and the direction of an association. It is critical to get volunteer leaders to relinquish some power so the staff leadership has the authority to pursue innovative solutions to their logical end.
  • Functional Area Depth – Large companies have bigger departments that bring a depth of ideas, experience, and backgrounds to solve problems. In associations, these functional areas are smaller and therefore less diverse. Be sure to bring other stakeholders or departments to the table when trying to address important issues so you expand that depth of knowledge and diversity.
  • Risk vs. Resources – Associations have limited resources and tend to be risk-averse. The reality is part of being successful, as innovators, are to be willing to take risks and fail.
  • The Right Tools – For a long time, associations haven’t had access to innovative tools that big businesses have had access to.

Can an Innovation Culture be Fostered? Yes!

Culture cannot be created but it can be cultivated. As leaders, you can put things in place to foster innovation. Here are a few “Innovation Rules”:

  • Check Your Attitude on Failure: Failure is an option. The innovation path is paved with failure! Think of anything great (the original iPhone for example) and it likely did not come without failure (the Apple Newton) because it is through failure that lessons are learned and progress is made. You have to have a comfort level with failure, as failure is part of progress.
  • Assume You Are Going to Get Disrupted: Always think this way! Well-known organizations like Kodak and BlackBerry have been disrupted. If you stay the course and don’t do something differently, you will never be innovative. Someone will do it better, faster, and completely differently.
  • Get Real: As a leader, if you make a mistake, fess up to it. By owning your mistakes you are letting the rest of the team know that it is ok to make a mistake in the steps toward progress. For example, go over a failure and the lessons learned in a staff meeting. Share important failures with new employees during orientation. Talking about it lets staff know it is part of innovating and growing.
  • Think Big but Start Small: Do things in an agile manner. Start small and iterate rather than trying to address a massive problem. For example, instead of fully revamping a new offering, event, or dues structure, start by identifying the riskiest parts of the project and prototype there. The idea is to thoughtfully test new programs or ideas in bite-size chunks and over time with individual groups. This allows you to gather valuable feedback and adjust along the way.
  • Risk is a Conscious Leadership Decision: Systematically identify risks with your new initiative/idea and identify ways to mitigate those risks. Part of taking risks is being comfortable with ambiguity. Things will not always go the way you expect them to go but preparing for it makes it easier to manage.
  • Boost Your Situational Awareness: Merely thinking about what risks exist will boost your situational awareness. Examine all possibilities and every angle so that you are aware and ready to handle the unexpected.
  • Don’t Fixate on the Competition: Do you want to be “them” or do you want to surpass the competition? Chart your own path in order to truly do something different and innovative.
  • Do Less Better: Focus on what you do and do it relentlessly well. Simple!
  • Dismount. Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers: The adage goes, “When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” Stop making excuses (buying a stronger whip, changing riders, saying ‘This is the way we have always ridden this horse.’) Make conscious decisions and make difficult decisions today. Destroy something completely, start all over again and open your eyes. Slay the “Sacred Cow” (something that has been there a while and has not been performing.) This alone can change the attitude of your entire organization and those around you!
  • Humility – Nothing Great is Done Alone: This is true with innovative efforts – no one department or person can do it alone. The organization needs to work together. Behind every great innovation or effort is a team of people who helped to make that happen.

Additionally, it is important to weigh perfection vs. excellence. What is the difference between perfection and excellence? The difference is that excellence is achievable. Perfection is often the enemy of getting it done and out the door. Steve Jobs had a saying, “Real artists ship.” He was referring to the fact that everyone has ideas, but real artists deliver on them or ship them.

It is important to realize that pushing the envelope may mean failure for you or failure on a team members’ part and there is humility in accepting that as well.

What Role Does the AMS Play in Innovation?

You may create new and innovative programs, but if you aren’t supporting them with innovative processes and technology you may not be as successful. “Race for Relevance” outlines 4 groups of technology efforts, one of which is “Emerging Technologies.” Associations need to experiment and explore new technologies to stay relevant. If you wait to see what is tried and true, you will always be outdated and behind.

An AMS built on a true enterprise platform, like Salesforce, can spark innovation in a variety of ways including:

  • Moving IT from a break-fix mentality to strategic role by eliminating upgrade cost/pain/work, delivering the solution through a browser and handling performance requirements. IT can then focus on more innovative initiatives versus maintaining the status quo.
  • Delivering superior extensibility through integration frameworks, well-built APIs and even through an App store (like the Salesforce AppExchange.)

How Can I Tell if an AMS Has a True Enterprise Platform?

The primary benefit of an enterprise platform is the ability to “stand on the shoulders of a giant,” leveraging innovation of some of the largest technology and software companies on the market today.

True Cloud Vs. Fake Cloud

There is a huge difference between a hosted application and a true enterprise cloud application (one that is a true multi-tenant application with unlimited scalability). To deliver speed, mobility, security and more at the scale required an enterprise cloud (i.e., thousands of servers in multiple data centers around the world.) A big indicator of the TRUE CLOUD is that all customers are on the same version. In the FALSE CLOUD, customers can be using multiple versions.

Network Effect

The network effect is a phenomenon whereby a good or service becomes more valuable when more people use it. A good example of this is the Salesforce AppExchange; developers build apps on the platform because there are so many customers (over 160,000 with millions of users) using it. Conversely, organizations choose Salesforce because of the number of apps. The platform creates a virtuous cycle for associations, partners, 3rd party applications and consultants.

Want to Keep Innovating? Check out the whitepaper, “Future Forward AMS: Key Success Factors in an Innovative AMS” and webinar, “Why the AMS Platform Supersedes All Elsehere.

Thanks, Sig and Dan. Learn more about the Informz for Nimble AMS integration here. 

About the Author
Kate Jones

As Digital Marketing Specialist at Informz, Kate manages the company website, social media strategy, press releases and marketing collateral. Outside of work you can find Kate chasing her toddler and dog and laughing at the chaos with her husband.