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4 ways to foster digitally-ready leaders in your membership organisation

As membership organisations strive to get to grips with technology and the disruption it often brings, the need for leaders who ‘get’ digital and can lead related initiatives effectively is only growing.

In the latest Digital Excellence Survey, professionals from a broad cross-section of UK membership organisations and associations admitted that their top four operational challenges all relate to technology. They also told us that, although some are making progress digitally, many are experiencing ongoing challenges relating to areas including personalisation, analytics, self-service, CRM systems.

The pressure is on to transform digitally: “We need an app to engage members!” or “A chatbot would really make us stand out!” are frequent refrains. However, simply looking to adopt the latest “shiny new thing” is unlikely to lead to a sustainable technology approach that supports key strategic goals such as increasing member engagement, acquisition and retention.

To do so, organisations need to get a whole lot more strategic about digital – this begins with fostering digital readiness among its top leadership team. Digitally-savvy leaders have a realistic picture of both the opportunities and risks associated with digital transformation, they are prepared to experiment and learn, and act as advocates for new technologies - all while keeping both organisational strategy and member needs firmly in their sights.

Here are four ways to foster the digital leadership your membership organisation needs:

1. Improve digital literacy

The days when leaders could avoid technology (perhaps boasting that they leave that to their secretaries) are well behind us. Yet PWC’s 2018 CEO survey[i] found that 70% of CEOs are worried about the digital skills of their senior leadership team. This presents a fundamental problem for digital transformation initiatives in all kinds of organisations, with leaders pointing in one direction but not leading the way themselves.

Finding ways to improve the awareness, knowledge and use of digital tools among leaders can have a ripple effect in the organisation – after all, where they go (digitally or otherwise) others in the organisation are likely to follow.

Yet it may be awkward for senior people to admit that they haven’t quite got to grips with the latest technologies. Digital literacy initiatives such as digital leadership bootcamps or reverse mentoring programmes can help leaders get up-to-speed with technologies in a way that is non-threatening.

2. Embrace a digital mindset

Competence with the tools is an important foundation, but leaders need to go beyond skills to develop a digital mindset. In other words, they need to view digital as being at the core of everything they do, helping them retain relevance with their members, rather than as an add-on or unwanted distraction.

Embracing a digital mindset involves listening deeply to what members and employees need, using data and evidence to help drive decisions, fostering empowerment and accountability among their team, as well as encouraging an open and learning culture throughout the organisation. While not being about the technology itself, developing a mental framework that includes these elements will help leaders approach digital transformation effectively.

3. Develop digital vision

A danger for membership organisations and associations is progressing the technology agenda in the absence of a clear digital vision and strategy. Leaders with strong digital skills and mindset are in a good position to see how ‘digital’ can be woven into the organisational strategy, enabling key goals and objectives rather than distracting from or derailing them.

This generally means evolution rather than revolution, with ongoing, incremental development to the organisation’s digital platforms and tools in order to keep pace with members’ needs. Placing these needs and requirements at the forefront can help ensure that technology choices provide real benefit to the organisation and its members.

4. Advocate for the digital agenda

Leaders need to not only define the strategy and sign off on the budget but also visibly advocate it throughout the organisation. That means helping others through the digital transformation journey by leading the cultural change. A key aspect of this is being digitally present and approachable via digital tools such as blogs and social channels – being digitally distant or (worse) absent sends out a message that the digital agenda isn’t that important.

This may involve reviewing and adapting their leadership style to a more participative or democratic style that aligns better with the openness and transparency afforded by digital tools. This is critical, as leading digitally means empowering others in the organisation, rather than having a rigid focus on control and rules.


For membership organisations and associations grappling with digital change, helping leaders to digitally upskill, develop a digital mindset, and define and advocate a digital vision are key enablers for staying relevant in our technological society.


This entry was posted in Membership, Technology, tagged Membership, Technology and posted on October 31, 2018

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