New organizations have an energy, an excitement, related to a new technology that has the promise to open up new global markets and significantly change or enhance the way companies or individuals use technology-based products or services. During the start-up phase, the founders likely have a clear vision as to the technology’s value, what benefits it will provide and a sense for how to differentiate the technology from both existing products and from other approaches being brokered by competitive coalitions. They want to build a collaborative organization that provides a role for large and small companies alike to contribute to the development of a standard(s), agree on a specification and get the word out quickly and effectively using all available communications tools. There is a sense of urgency: the more time that passes, the more likely it is that another solution could gain the competitive edge. Given a compelling message, competitors, contributors and adopters will come on board ready to write a check and volunteer resources to ensure that the technology gains maximum traction and that needed standards are in place to allow individual companies to develop and differentiate their products. The world can be a wonderful place for a new alliance or consortium.
Fast-forward three to five years down the road: the initial standards work has been completed and rolled out to the marketplace. There’s been some turnover in the leadership; some energetic founding Board members have left to pursue newer, more exciting areas. It’s become hard to get volunteers to sign up to head committees, working group attendance is down, membership renewals are lagging. Everyone agrees that a decision needs to be made on the future of the organization. Can it be resuscitated or is it time to shutter the doors?
This is a time when the leadership needs to take a good hard look at the organization and decide the best course of action, by working out the answers to tough questions like these:
- What would make members stay involved? What might increase participation?
- Are there new areas where the group could expand its footprint?
- Is the original mission/value proposition on target or should it be modified?
- Is there additional work that should be initiated relative to the standard(s)/existing specification(s) to maintain market growth?
- Is the message getting out to the market appropriately?
- Is there another group in a complementary area that might consider a merger or partnership?
- Are the dues at the right level? If revenues are down, what impact is there on the budget?
- Are there changes to the committee structure that make sense (“start/stop/continue” analysis)?
- Is the level of interaction appropriate given the current state (review the calendar)?
- If the organization is self-managed? Could efficiencies be achieved by outsourcing management services?
In addition to discussions at the Board level, consider conducting a member survey. A survey can provide additional perspective on how members are feeling about the organization as a whole and provide input on priorities and programs. Surveys can also help identify potential members who may have the energy/passion to become actively involved in helping get the group back on track. There are always a few individuals who take the time to provide additional comments or suggestions, which may signal their willingness to up their volunteer commitment.
The most important thing to remember is that most alliances and consortia (and technologies) follow a natural lifecycle. A savvy organization understands that activities that make sense during the initial start-up and growth stages may not be appropriate as the technology matures. But, even with discussion and survey results in hand, it may still not be clear what course of action is most practical in your situation. It’s often valuable at such a point in time to seek guidance from someone with lifecycle expertise, someone who’s “been there and done that.” A professional association management company with experience in helping organizations effectively manage through all stages of the lifecycle can evaluate your situation, help your organization figure out the best way to leave your particular doldrums behind, and then assist you with the necessary steps to get the “magic” back.