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Charting the Course: Strategies for Fostering Innovation in Your Organization

There are so many resources out there on the topic of innovation, I thought to myself, “what can I possibly add?” Probably nothing, but I reflected on my nearly twenty years of leading boards and staff and made a list of what has worked for me to move conversations forward and drive change in my organizations.

1.      Learn Something New

The universe is throwing so much at non-profits, it is OK to say we don’t know about this and bring in an expert. Don’t have the resources for an expert? I have had boards watch YouTube videos, read articles and books, or had staff research and present findings. I try to incorporate learning into every meeting whether it’s related to a topic or just leadership development. Its fulfilling for board members and elevates the conversation.

2.      Ask Too Many Questions

Have a questions-only session on a topic. I was recently working with a board that was struggling to articulate their member value proposition. We spent 45 minutes creating a list of questions that we need to answer to articulate our value. It was a powerful starting point because it got them out of their own experience and thinking about how other members relate to the organization.

3.      Create Space 

Often rushing to a solution is the enemy of innovation. Start a conversation by saying we are not going to decide at this meeting, so everyone knows they goal is to explore not arrive. The opposite of a truth can also be true so for groups that are reluctant to decide, having a deadline for a decision can be powerful, too.

4.      Representation Matters

If a board is talking in circles about a topic, I look around and make sure the people we are deciding for are represented. How many young professional groups/programs created by non-young professional boards have flopped! Make sure there is diversity on your board and that you have gathered feedback from those impacted by the program or policy!

5.      Build Trust Through Transparency

A big killer of innovation is a group of people who do not trust one another. Or a board that doesn’t trust staff or vice versa. To have innovation, you must have trust. The best way to build trust is by being transparent. Share information willingly and often. Schedule time for board members to get to know one another. Ask board members to share their backgrounds, experiences, and even their motivations.

6.      Ideate 

Brainstorming doesn’t work (See article from Adam Grant)! Egos, apprehension, group think, all get in the way of ensuring you generate a divergent list of solutions to any given problem. Make sure to incorporate ways for solo ideation through pre-meeting surveys, small group discussions, and writing.

7.      Acknowledge Fear to Step into Courage

There is power in saying “this is hard” or “this is scary”. Acknowledging a challenge or fear takes away a little of its power and prompts people to be more courageous. Having a back-up plan is good, too.

There is not a bright, beautiful yellow brick road to innovation and growth for an organization. It’s a midwestern road in spring – full of potholes and construction! I hope these strategies help your organization navigate the rapidly changing landscape a little bit better. 

Picture of Kim Paugh, CAE

Kim Paugh, CAE

Kim Paugh, CAE, has been with the RGI team since 2004. With her expertise in strategic planning and financial management paired with her experience in commercial real estate, engineering and amusement and vending education, Kim provides strong leadership to the associations she serves. She also serves as Director at Large on the board for Indiana Society of Association Executives (ISAE).