79% of association CEOs/executives say their organization encourages staff to take risks and/or test new concepts that require money or staff time.

Taking risks and pushing boundaries have become a lot more than aspirational ideas jotted down during strategy sessions, they’ve become a mode of survival for many associations over the last three years.

It’s easy to see why. Many organizations’ playbooks were pitched out the window and it was time to move beyond what had worked well in the past and begin exploring new ideas, which has not always been a strong suit for associations. But a lot of them embraced this idea, many times out of necessity, which is promising. After all, as the saying goes, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

A few specific advantages of embracing risks include:

  • Increased efficiency. Empowering staff to take risks and experiment with new concepts encourages them to test new waters, explore new ideas, and come up with creative solutions–beyond traditional methods that may no longer be as effective as they once were, but are sometimes institutionally ingrained.
  • A competitive edge. Fostering an environment where taking even small risks is encouraged and accepted can make organizations more competitive in their industries and professions. By seeking new ideas, associations can set the course rather than spending their time trying to catch up with competitors.
  • Better skills, happier employees. Being more creative as they try to solve today’s challenges can help staff members develop new skills and expand their knowledge. By thinking experimentally and conceiving new ideas, they are more likely to feel engaged and fulfilled in their work, which means higher job satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose.

Many organizations continually try to reach that one great idea. However, that can seldom be possible if the likelihood of failure is great, because so many cultures punish failure. An example of one company that rewards risks is SurePayroll. Michael Alter, former CEO, shared this interesting comparison, “If you think about baseball players who bat just .300, the negative is that they strike out seven times out of 10. In fact, [their results are] negative more times than they are positive. In business, people try to do something different, they try to get higher results. But, why would your odds be better than the top baseball players?”

He adds, [at SurePayroll] “We talk about them, and what employees learned from the mistakes. We try things and sometimes they don’t work; we then ask questions like ‘How can we do this better?’”

The book, The Art of Membership, explains why you need leadership that encourages and supports taking risks and allows for some failures, and a culture that embraces untested waters –like SurePayroll. You need to know your industry better than your members, prospects, or your competition.

Associations are on board with building risk-positive workplaces. According to a recent poll conducted by Avenue M in early March with 28 association executives, 79% shared that their organization encourages staff to take risks and/or test new concepts that require money or staff time, 11% said they don’t, and 11% said they are unsure or don’t know.

When asked how this decision has helped–or held back–their organization, one CEO/executive panelist, who said their organization supports taking risks, said, “It’s about changing the culture to encourage risk taking and increase innovation.”

Another executive, addressing whether risks would require money or staff time, said that any monetary expenses would have to be approved by the board, which tends to slow things down, but “if it takes time, then we go for it,” the executive said. “We always remind people that ‘fail’ is the first attempt in learning.”

Another association leader, who doesn’t know or is unsure, said the associations they manage are still recovering from pandemic repercussions, so money is an issue. “However, any risks regarding staff time and any innovation sessions are most welcome!”

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To get some insights on hitting the right balance between taking risks and reaping rewards, read our quick summaries of the following articles and click the links below.

Encouraging Employees to Take Risks
Encouraging employees to take smart and calculated risks can lead to future success for an organization. When employees are comfortable enough to make mistakes without fear of reprisal, they are more apt to take risks. Allowing employees to take risks sends a message that the organization is excited to listen to their views and suggestions.

Organizations can create a safe space where innovation and improvements can take hold by acknowledging staff and communicating that sharing ideas and trying out suggestions is welcome. From the C-suite down, a curiosity mindset should be established to encourage ideas because empowering employees to take risks benefits both the organization and the staff.

How to Welcome Failure at Your Association
The first step in creating a culture that fosters innovation and progress–and rewards judicious risk-taking–is to remove the stigma around failure so employees feel comfortable acknowledging their shortcomings without fear of punishment.

Position failure as a learning opportunity and encourage constant communication and feedback so employees feel supported and know how to learn from their mistakes. Reward risk-taking to empower employees to try new things and acknowledge employees who take initiative. Make it a point to publicly celebrate their efforts, even if they come up short.

However, discourage reckless risk-taking, but instead encourage employees to try new things– backed by research and with buy-in from the organization. When employees are set up for success, they will be more willing to take risks in the future.

Work With Disruptors—Without Being Disrupted
Leaders should ensure their staff is well-positioned to handle change and understand that risk is OK. Associations need to adjust the disruption by finding appropriate venues for it, giving disruptors a sense of ownership, and delegating authority to them.

Allowing disruptors to change something can help an organization find areas of improvement while minimizing risks. Some tips include:

  • Fostering divergent thinking to create a culture of exploring and testing many possible answers.
  • Empowering the whole team with the support, structure, and time to do thoughtful, careful, creative testing to stimulate a culture of innovation.
  • Normalizing failure rates to align the team’s perspective with the reality of actual achievement and eliminating fear, which helps drive innovation.

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Contributors: Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, & Lisa Boylan

(Image: Adobe Stock)