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Why integrating process design in the professional management of associations matters

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Written by Maria Teresa Scardigli, Managing Director & Marco Baldoli, Senior Association Manager at Kellen Europe.

Trade associations fulfil a significant role for industries and the members they represent globally. ‎Trade Association's participation in the democratic process of policy making requires ‎strategic planning and coordination across different levels to successfully create impact at different ‎levels based on their ‎vision, mission and goals‎.‎

In 2014, the third edition of the ASAE Handbook ‎“Professional Practices in Association Management”‎ ‎was published by John B. Cox and Susan S. Radwan. In the book, John Cox addressed the importance ‎of treating association executives like any other business professional and expressed why it is ‎important that they understand and effectively deal with complex organisational processes to manage ‎every aspect of an association or membership organisation.‎

We have listed what these complex organisational processes might include:

· Establishing and engendering support for a strategic view of the future where the association wants to be.

· Designing the organisation, which consists of the architecture, processes, and resources to support the achievement of the desired end state as well as the effectiveness and continuity of its operation.

· Creating effective policies and processes to implement the related required actions.

· Cultivating a collaborative and positive environment.

These processes are becoming more relevant for associations because of the increased complexity of the interests represented and due to the scope of activities. However, association executives may not always realise the importance of such processes and they find themselves facing substantial issues that might impact the capacity of the association to absolve its function and serve its members in the best possible way.

We have identified some potential red flags to look out for which indicate that something is not working ‎within the management of the association: ‎

· Lack of engagement from the members of the association

· Lack of time and resources to achieve the objectives set by the association

· Information overflow

· High turnover in the staff and in the membership

Association management professionals are more than acquainted with these adverse dynamics that often prevent the association from reaching its goals.

It is therefore extremely important to create a framework and even design a process that can support and materialise the strategic goals of the association by reinforcing a clear link between objectives and actions.

The fundamental parts of process design

While process design is typically a creative effort that is related to the specific characteristic of each association, it is possible to identify the key elements that associations’ executives must take into consideration when designing a process to support the work of the association:

· Analysis: identification of the association’s mission and vision; identification of the association’s key objectives; strategic analysis of challenges and opportunities, internally and externally. For this purpose we always recommend to formulate an in-depth SWOT-analysis.

· Targeting: assessment and segmentation of the recipients, members, and stakeholders, of the action of the association.

· Operations: evaluation of resources and resource allocation

· Measurement: drafting indicators that can provide feedback and foster adaptation. Here we also recommend working with key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure value that demonstrates how effectively the association is achieving their objectives.

Embedding Scaling in the Design

As these fundamental elements of process design must adapt to the actual needs of the association, the concept of scaling is especially useful. Scaling refers to a series of practices implemented as a means of prioritising and balancing priorities and internal resources to create a regimented, customised, and repeatable high-value process. Associations tend to enlarge the scope of their activities in an attempt of staying relevant to their members. This often leads to overall inefficiency.

Therefore, the association must be scalable, which means that the association can stay ahead of the shifts that may occur over time and adapt to the constant changing needs of the members and society. Scaling is therefore an essential part of the process design and will contribute to optimal performance and goal achievement over time.

A functional framework for decision-making

There are undoubtedly various kinds of processes that are needed to govern and grow an association. The processes all serve, directly or indirectly, decision-making. In the specific case of associations, this involves collective decisions, which are influenced by dependencies, competitions, relationships, and other types of complex interactions.

Looking at this complexity and at the several variables involved, it is evident that creating a process to support decision-making is not just a formality, it needs to be functional and fit for purpose. Process design serves the strategy and the objectives of the association and will over time advance the association to take it to the next level and ensure increased impact if implemented correctly and in close collaboration with members and the board.


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