It’s very common for associations to encounter problems with their technology and reach out for help, often looking for a “silver bullet” solution. However, in most cases, the problem is not usually with the technology itself, but rather with how the organization perceives and uses it.
One of the biggest challenges for associations is when their various systems are not integrated. For example, membership data is hosted in one place, but member engagement information is somewhere else. Siloed, or fragmented, systems tend to mirror the organization. They reflect how comfortable employees are with technology, and they are also indicative of when employees are insecure in their jobs and feel the need to hoard or hide data.
The human aspect of technology is always the most challenging, and the most important.
Why are associations and nonprofits particularly exposed to fragmented/siloed behavior?
Associations and nonprofits are known for having long-term, tenured staff. This is often due to the specialized skills and knowledge of their employees, who can be experts in public policy, membership management, events, publications, and even technology. Associations are mission-first organizations. The mission focus of associations underscores the need for institutional knowledge and relationships, which slows the influx of new employees. Over time, people tend to become protective of their areas of responsibility, and grow comfortable with highly customized, legacy systems.
In the end, the systems merely mimic how the organization has transformed into a stable, yet highly siloed environment.
How technology can transform association behavior
The nature of cloud-based systems is built on the premise of shared knowledge and scalability. Scoping a new system creates an opportunity for all stakeholders, especially non-traditional ones, to play a role. You might ask why would I need to include the membership team in the selection of a new financial system? Or why would the events team have an opinion about a new AMS? The answer is because association leaders need to create a collaborative, sharing environment and culture, and modern systems have cross-functional capabilities that legacy systems lack.
3 Must-Dos to transform your association through technology
Build cross-functional teams to contribute to user-requirements of each system.
Whether considering new technology or looking to better leverage an existing platform, form a team that represents multiple departments to define user needs and gaps, and to brainstorm on functionality that might already exist or need to be included in a new system.
Develop workflows without department or individual’s names/titles
Our work in associations is highly interdependent and removing labels allows the organization to focus on the end goals and best processes. This creates a more open, sharing environment that helps bring the walls down. Often, this is an early step to later organizational change based on best value to the members and stakeholders, not the siloed interest of staff.
Ban the use of “mine” and “can’t” when discussing technology.
People begin to associate themselves with the systems they use, creating a mind block on the concept of “ours”. Often this will come out as, “the system can’t do it.” In fact, many systems are much more capable than people know, as they’ve only used them for narrow functionality. Take the opportunity to reintroduce your systems to the entire organization, you may find some hidden capabilities that solve a problem that another department was also experiencing.
Partner with a IT Leadership firm to create an IT Strategy to transform your organization
Association leaders will know progress has occurred when a core system is used as a source of knowledge by multiple departments and is a critical path to staff performing their joint work, rather than a source of conflict. Partnering with an experienced IT leadership firm like Hartman Executive Advisors can help association leaders create and execute an IT strategy that considers your mission and focuses on bringing together a siloed organization for long-term success. Contact Hartman today to schedule a free consultation.