Empowerment can be defined in many different ways. To me, it’s about trust, trusting your employees, giving them the autonomy to make their own decisions with minimal guidance and, equally important, being trusted by your leadership.
Like many other associations, the pandemic has impacted our daily work in many aspects. The business model which was working well for years had to be quickly adapted, projects had to be put on pause or simply stopped, and many events moved to the digital realm. Needless to say this required a new agile mindset, being open for change and the acquirement of new skills – all this while making sure everybody working in the organization stayed engaged despite limited face-to-face contacts.
What has been key to continue most of our activities was the spirit of making it all happen.
Surely there have been very difficult moments, but just like in any other organization. Nevertheless, we made sure operational progress kept going through genuine human connections, as we navigated these disruptive times. We did so by highlighting and promoting inclusivity and empowerment, by enabling and encouraging open dialogues, by sharing good and bad experiences, and offering room to authentic employee experiences strongly supported by our leadership. All this ensured the smoothest running of our organization.
The global pandemic compelled us to explore resourceful and new ways forward. The association successfully entered the EU Horizon and Grant program landscape which expanded our views and skills. This recent capacity-building experience, together with several new skills we had to learn, have clearly been instrumental take aways for the future.
Looking at the future
Recently, the environment where we operate in has changed significantly. We see a different behaviour in the membership community with decreasing numbers where an ‘engagement’ fatigue, if I can call it as such, can be observed. At the same time, we are confronted with growing competitiveness.
Continuous advancements, especially in the technology field, require new business models and increased versatility. The world of digitization has evolved, with hybrid events and more online education opportunities. Those digitally-fuelled changes in the offering associations can provide have transformed participating rates and revealed a number of new trends. In the very near future industry will make choices, our members will be more selective and so do we, hence it’s important to differentiate ourselves and look for new offerings and solutions. Most importantly, we will have to dare to stop projects and events which have become less strategically important.
Empowering staff & CEOs in a changing environment
One starting principle is to make sure we know and understand ourselves, what drives and motivates us, what are our individual strengths and needs to perform well. I believe it is important to have individual development plans in place and regularly evaluate if things require a brush-up.
Spending time on how nurture a growing mindset and keep the curiosity and energy high is equally important. With regards to individual development, I really support the 70/20/10 learning and development model, meaning 70% of learning happens through on-the-job experience, 20% through social interactions with colleagues and peers and 10% via formal training experiences. This can of course change depending on one’s individual needs but overall this works very well.
Within our association we strongly encourage employees to step in other departments when the opportunity arises. This not only helps the organization in dealing with high workload periods, but it also encourages employees to discover new roles and tasks supporting a process of a growing mindset and developing a new suite of knowledge, skills and behaviors.
The next step is to make sure everyone is aligned with the strategy and business priorities. Clear communication across the organization and the willingness of our leadership to collaborate with staff, as well regular moments for brainstorming and feedback, can nurture a high level of engagement as it provides a deep understanding to what we offer and why we do it.
Operating in an ever-changing environment, all organizations must increasingly be versatile and have the ability to adapt to changes, which means continuous learning is key. Complex problems do not always have simple solutions. We must dare to try new things, sometimes fail and learn quickly, give feedback and learn from each other and most importantly recognize employees who continuously improve and gain knowledge.
No leader can do it all. Ensuring individual accountability and autonomy and making sure we keep questioning what is good, what can be improved, what to start doing and what to stop are key. Involving the whole team in complex situations will drive value and partake of learnings and improvements.
Looking back at the last three years and reflecting on how CEOs can be empowered I rely again on the key principle of trust. A trusting, open and transparent business culture helps maintain strong bonds with the team.
Leadership is often about emotional intelligence, understanding empathy, and the ability to read the needs and desires of others and adapt to them. Continuous learning, repurposing, welcoming knowledge and investing in yourself are part of the process as well.
But leadership is also about guiding and supporting know-how for everyone to take greater ownership of their destiny. An association culture based on trust helps build a more resilient organization. The team has an essential part to play. An association is only ever the sum of its parts, and its parts primarily should be empowered people.