3 Key Steps to Go from Innovation to Implementation

By Sarah Sain, CAE • January 31, 2018

Innovation has been a common buzzword for the past few years – and not just in the association world. There’s been a lot of talk about how organizations can create a culture that drives innovation, how great leaders can spur innovation and how associations need to innovate to survive.

We all now know that innovation can come from anyone, anywhere. New ideas should absolutely be encouraged at all levels of your association, from staff to the board to new members. However, one of the biggest traps with innovation is that most big ideas never become more than just that – ideas.

So how does your association take an innovative idea and implement it in a way that leads to successful and sustainable change?

That will largely depend on the kind of innovation your association wants to put in place, but there are three key steps that need to happen to get any new idea off the ground.

  1. Identify the innovation(s) you want to see happen.

Not all innovation is created equal, and not all ideas can or should be implemented. Driving innovation is critical for organizations from the top down, but innovation will come in different forms for each association. For innovation to be truly impactful, it has to address a real need within your association. Every association needs to ask themselves a few questions before taking the initial steps to implement any innovative change:

  • Will this innovation solve a problem we are facing?
  • Does the solution to our problem already exist?
  • Who will this innovation benefit?
  • Does our association have the resources to support this innovation?
  • How will we know this innovation is a success?

According to a recent Association Adviser poll, 57 percent of associations are looking to innovate their membership efforts in 2018. For those associations, the innovations they need may look vastly different based on their needs, whether it is a total overhaul of their membership model, a revamped new member onboarding process, or a volunteer drive to get more members engaged with the association.

How will you know what type of innovation your association needs? Keep asking questions. Start with the five above, but then ask five more questions, and then five more ….

  1. Get the right people involved.

To get an idea into action, you need someone to lead the charge. Appoint one person to lead implementing your new idea who is organized, driven and invested in bringing the idea to fruition. This may be your CEO, but not always. While CEO support and involvement is essential, they don’t need to take the lead on each individual project for it to be successful. Depending on the idea and what aspects of the association are involved, it may make the most sense for a department or committee head to take the lead. For example, if the idea is to add a new print magazine to your association’s overall communications strategy, your director of communications could, and most likely should, be your decision-maker.

Speaking of committees, it may be a good idea to create a short-term committee or task force focused solely on implementing your innovation and the immediate aftermath. Having a small group that represents different aspects of your association will enlighten you to how this innovation will affect others on staff and within your membership, allowing you to address questions and concerns earlier on in the process. Committee members can offer insight and ideas beyond the initial concept based on their own experiences and knowledge.

Finally, before fully implementing your idea, you’ll need to get buy-in from staff, members and all other stakeholders. Understand that you could face some resistance; after all, an innovation is a change to the way things have been done, and change can be difficult for people. This is where your committee can step in to reinforce how this innovation will bring positive change to the association and your membership into the future. Create a plan for how you will share this new idea you’ve implemented. Going back to the magazine example, you might create a video or series on Facebook Live where different people introduce the first issue and share what they found most compelling. Build buzz and excitement, and be clear how your innovation will benefit everyone.

  1. Test, evaluate and analyze every step of the way.

The final step, and one not to be skipped, is to monitor the progress of your innovation throughout its development and then for a period of time after it has been implemented. Implementation on its own is not full success. Set the bar for what success looks like early on using measurable standards that you can reevaluate in the short and long term. Start testing on a small scale and increase the size of your test groups as you get closer to implementation. Use the data you collect to continually build on and improve your original idea as you go throughout the innovation process.

Another good step is to survey members after they’ve had a chance to use the innovation in practice in their daily lives. Get members’ feedback on the success they’re seeing and experiencing through multiple-choice and open-ended questions. Between the data coming in and real-world stories from your members, you’ll get a complete picture of how your innovation is truly impacting your membership value.

Lastly, if you’ve tested, evaluated and analyzed results and surveys during and in the months after implementation and you’re not meeting the bare minimum of what you’ve determined is a successful outcome, you have to be willing to walk away. This can be difficult, especially for those leading the charge, but innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t move your association forward. Don’t be afraid to fail when it comes to innovation – it’s necessary. Instead, take the lessons learned and focus your time and energy on other improvements or innovations in your pipeline.

About The Author

Sarah Sain is a senior content strategy and development manager with Naylor Association Solutions who works exclusively with allied societies and meeting professional organizations. Email her at ssain@naylor.com or follow her on Twitter at @ssain7.