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To Serve or Not to Serve?

Written by Stylianos Filopoulos, General Director of the Wine in Moderation Association

I often hear stories from association peers expressing their frustration over having to serve the contradicting needs of their members. The frustration grows even bigger if you consider the intensity that these needs are expressed by members who would often argue that being served “right here – right now” is an inalienable right of their membership.

Does this sound familiar?

Regardless of your role either as an association executive or as a member, frustration is not a good thing and often demonstrates a lack of communication and understanding. A situation for which international associations are famous for.

These problems may arise from the strategy rather than the operations of an association, and more specifically the value discipline that an association stands for.

We can identify three value disciplines: operational excellencecustomer intimacy and product leadership, as those described by Authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma in their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders (1997).

To su mit up, we can say that operational excellence is about the ease to use reliable products/services with the lowest price thanks to optimized processes and reduced costs. Customer intimacy is about providing tailor-made solutions to your customer by customizing products/services to meet personalized needs. Product leadership is about offering the best possible experience by understanding the needs and by innovating.

Acknowledging on the one hand that it is hard to set up for more than one discipline and on the other that the association world contains a variety of structures, a good way to guide ourselves in the value discipline question is to look at the type of membership.

Operational excellence will fit more an association with a large base membership but with a small level of complexity (e.g. a professional society)Product leadership will fit an association that is more purpose-oriented and has a high capacity to innovate (e.g. an NGO or a professional society)Customer intimacy will fit more an association with a small base membership and with intimate relations with members, that knows well their operations and can offer a high-value creation by solving problems (e.g. trade associations)

Often associations trying to serve the contradicting needs of a diverse membership are stuck in the middle, trying to do everything… and in the end nothing. At least nothing of high quality and real value. Fully understanding the complexity of an association, the value discipline approach might prove helpful to support strategical thinking as well as the understanding of its everyday reality.

So, you might like to ask yourself what is your association best placed for? Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy?


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