REFRESH — The Balancing Act

By Erin Vanderstelt, CAE, DES

Associations require change to thrive, and are in fact a product of change – at one point your association didn’t exist at all. Individuals and organizations were inspired to better their profession or sector and united under a collective vision.

There are numerous books, articles and professional development sessions on challenging the status quo and seeking innovative new methods. Change management is often stressed in this material and experts often focus on the path through and to the end goal of the change. This can take many forms, such as identifying a champion on your Board of Directors, developing a communication strategy for members and stakeholders or setting a plan to scale back the old and build up the new.

What is discussed less often is the decision process around change. Are we careful to consider the known (and unknown) aspects? Do we tend to be afraid of change or embrace change for change’s sake? In recognizing our own bias we may ditch our own objections because we are fearful that we may be protesting only because “we have always done it that way.” How do we manage our biases without being dismissive to either ourselves or others when we are challenged? Here are three ways association executives can clean obstacle:

Listen Fully

We can get to know our boards, staff and volunteers very well, and while this is a positive, it can set us up to think we know more than we truly do. Don’t assume you know why an individual has broached a topic. Put your assumptions on hold, and listen to what is being presented.


Does your reaction come from familiarity – are you comfortable with things as they are? Are you pushing back because you had a bad experience with a similar scenario? Neither of these things are necessarily negative – you may be able to identify an increased workload that would take away from other services, or shed light on unexpected risks that may not be considered otherwise. If you can understand the why, you can weigh out the validity of your concerns.

Trust Your Instinct

If you sense that somehow this change would be a bad move for your association, honour that. If you cannot articulate what it is that could be a risk, it does not mean there isn’t one. Give the idea time to sink in, and allow yourself time and space to consider where the unknown lies. You won’t be stepping on any toes by asking for additional time to consider the implications.

Being open to new concepts, being aware of our own responses, and recognizing the unknown will help us to find a balanced and measured response that is fair to ourselves and others. Change is critical to the health of association, but only in the right place, time and with the right forethought.

Erin Vanderstelt, CAE, DES, is the Manager, Membership Engagement & Growth at the Canadian Anesthesiologists’ Society, and currently serves on the CSAE Trillium Network Council.