Strong Identities, Thriving Associations

That old adage you can do anything as long as you don’t care who gets the credit can be a smart strategy for leading change. But when a profession or industry is invisible or under-valued, their associations will struggle to attract members and exercise influence.

Two very different current clients illustrate this challenge well. One is a scientific society whose discipline has lost its distinctiveness in multidisciplinary science. This is a long established field with a history of contributing to medical science. The other association represents individuals struggling to assert their professionalism and their impact on their organizations, communities and the larger world.  Their differences makes it easier to analyze and generalize what might cause these identity problems and how to overcome them.

  • While both have a distinctive body of knowledge and methodologies, neither have a well-defined and extensive presence within academia.
  • There are many ways into the fields and many career options and pathways once inside.
  • Prospective employers aren’t differentiating their knowledge and skills from what others may offer and often hire people with what they judge to be comparable capabilities. 
  • They are vital enablers of significant accomplishments, yet their specific contributions to these outcomes is not well understood or heralded.

If their leaders are willing to move from victim mode into adapt and thrive behaviors, they have a bright future.

  • So the world is now multidisciplinary and others can claim some of your members’ capabilities, This opens up the opportunity to invite them to affiliate with your association members or to gain access to the knowledge you offer. It might require taking a hard look at your current demographics and sending clear messages that who you seem to be right now is not who you intend to serve in the future.
  • So people don’t understand that what your members do has impact. How have you tried to explain that impact? Do you have the quantitative or qualitative research to make your case? Are you using your most exciting pioneers and heroes to tell their stories and champion your success?
  • So some of your members are active participants and recognized leaders in other associations. Have you considered using them as ambassadors who can translate the value of what your field or discipline offers to these related fields?
  • So other fields seem to have the most exciting new tools and knowledge. Are you helping your members innovate and keep up with the latest developments to bring that sense of excitement into your ranks?
  • So prospective employers don’t value your members’ capabilities over what others might offer. What are you doing to turn your association into a talent market that understands what employers need and connects them to people with the ability to solve their problems?

Identity problems are rarely self-inflicted, but they can be self-sustaining unless professions and industries are willing to change with the times. For more insights into this very familiar challenge for associations, also read:

The Change Challenge in Your Current Identity. This blog post offers some good questions and ways to discover what association members believe about their identity.

This Identity Crisis Brought to You by the Future. This blog post explains how changes in the environment bring on these identity crises and how they can be resolved by envisioning what the identity needs to become.