Which Came First In Innovation – the Chicken or the Egg?

August 17, 2021
August 17, 2021 Staff Writer

Marketing General recently released its 13th Membership Report, and again included a section on innovation. The innovation findings are fascinating, and they raise a question that’s very much like the old “which came first, the chicken or the egg” question. This time it’s “which came first, innovation or growth?”

More about that in just a minute. First here are some of the findings taken directly from the MG report:

  •     29 percent of association executives believe that their organization is very or extremely innovative, up from 20 percent in 2020 and 13 percent in 2019.
  •     Associations are most likely to support innovation by focusing on communication and collaboration (62 percent, up from 53 percent in 2020), providing encouragement to innovative employees (52 percent, up from 38 percent in 2020), and driving innovation from the top down (45 percent, up from 41 percent in 2020).
  •     40 percent of associations support innovation by hiring the right people, and 37 percent do so by forgiving mistakes.

Those results are not surprising, and it’s great to know that associations are increasingly seeing innovation in their own organizations. The report, however, goes on to address several disparities between associations that are doing well and those that might be struggling.

Here is more information from the report:

  •     Association executives at organizations with overall renewal rates and new member renewal rates at or above 80 percent, and those reporting increases in their membership over the past year, increases in new members, and increases in overall renewals, are significantly more likely to consider their association to be very or extremely innovative.
  •     Associations reporting increases in membership over the past year are significantly more likely than those reporting declines to provide encouragement to innovative employees and hire the right people. Associations with new member renewals at 80 percent or higher are significantly more likely to indicate their innovation support is driven from the top down.
  •     Compared to associations reporting membership declines, associations reporting increases in membership over the past five years are more likely to have a specific process in place to support innovation (22 percent vs. 17 percent), or are working on developing a process for innovation and new ideas (28 percent vs. 25 percent).
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So, here’s the chicken-egg question we couldn’t help but ask: Are growing associations doing well because they are innovative OR are associations able to innovate because they’re doing well and have resources to support innovative initiatives? Does success make innovation possible or does innovation help generate success?

The answer becomes even more important if your association is struggling. And after the past year, we find that many associations are struggling. Does that mean innovation is not possible until your overall renewal rates and new member renewal rates are at or above 80 percent?

For the record, we don’t believe that innovation is, by definition, an expensive endeavor that only profitable associations can support. We think all associations can foster cultures that encourage and reward new ways of solving challenges.

The MG Report is designed to be a benchmarking report. It allows associations to judge where they are in comparison to other associations, but it doesn’t have data sets to answer the chicken or egg question. Instead, it gives stable or declining associations a window into the efforts of those that are growing.

So let’s assume for a moment that growing associations are doing everything well. How can a struggling association begin growing again?

The answer may have more to do with culture than revenue.

It may be time for an honest assessment of where your association is today. What is your reason for being? Where do you want to go? How can you get there? What challenges must you overcome?

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Answering those essential questions will give you the direction you need, but they won’t give you the tools to move forward. Your culture will determine how you proceed. Because of this year-long disruption, right now might be the best time to re-define your purpose and examine how your culture either helps you achieve it or works against it. At PROPEL, we use the WorkXO Culture Assessment to capture what it’s like to work at your organization – the patterns, the experiences, even the contradictions inherent in how you do things. The assessment takes your employees 15 minutes to complete, and the results come back in just a few days. The platform allows you to slice and dice the data any way you’d like.

We define culture as the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and “stuff” that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued inside your organization. Your goals may be the same as they were, but the way you accomplish them may be different because you and your employees have changed your perspectives. It might be time to build a culture that values growth.

What Are Your Next Steps?

We have developed a Growth Mindset Bootcamp that teaches leaders to foster boldness and innovation both in themselves and in their organizations. We can lead a bootcamp in your association or you can work at your own pace using the self-directed version. Either way, you can begin the process of creating a growth mindset.

Through a combination of live sessions, recorded content, peer-to-peer interaction, and concrete application exercises, we’re offering a unique opportunity to up your leadership game.

We’d love to talk about it with you. Contact us to learn more.

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