This month, I celebrate 5 years at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, a 112-year-old organization. Some regard this chamber as an institution, while others view it as an “old” organization with fading relevance. I know this because shortly after taking the position, that was the feedback I received. So how do you reenergize and rethink an organization without losing its core and long-time Members? How do you take the fading relevance of an “institution” and infuse it with changes that generate value for the next generation of customers? It starts within.
Our organization is made up of close to 1200 Members. Some have been Members for over 50 years! When I came in to this organization in 2014, I knew smart change would increase value to our Members and the community. Change would also shift the paradigm for those looking for an innovative business resource. Change is always a challenge, but there’s excitement in developing an organization that’s set to attract and retain the next generation of business leaders, while still providing meaningful value for long-time Members. Takeaways from our transition.
- Don’t try to be something you’re not. This holds true for any business trying to change. For example, if you’re a Mom-n-Pop restaurant, don’t try to compete with a large chain. Utilize the strengths that come from a Mom-n-Pop, combine that with a unique quality product. In my case, I run a Membership organization created to be the voice and resource for businesses. That will not change. What will change however, is how the voice communicates. This voice has shifted due to technology as well as changing needs for new businesses. Therefore, we must make sure we’re not only an effective voice, but a voice that represents our diverse constituency. What businesses needed to be successful 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago or even 5 years ago continues to shift. We must make sure we’re providing resources that are impactful while not losing who we are.
- Attrition will happen. With change comes natural attrition. The saying, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” holds true whenever there’s a shift. Although I’m determined to do my best to listen to what our members need, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. We can’t be all things to all businesses, but we can be a valuable resource for most businesses.
- Don’t lose sight of your beginnings. Businesses joined chambers 100 years ago because they needed resources and community connections to grow their business and their reputation. That has not changed. This chamber has had a hand in developing leaders over the years. Building leaders is part of building a great community. Don’t lose sight of why you started, as it will always be the core of why you exist.
- Create a culture of listening. As CEO’s, we may think we know what our customers and employees want, but assuming is irrational. If you don’t deliver, your business won’t succeed, it’s that simple. You can only gain understanding through listening. With millions of other choices people have, if they feel under valued or taken for granted, they’ll move on. Now more than ever, we must be clear on what our customer and our team members want and do what we can to exceed their expectations. That can only be done with intentional listening.
- Stay curious. When you stay curious about what your organization can do better and create an environment of “the sky is the limit” you have a business with unlimited potential. Developing a team that’s “curious” fosters enthusiasm and opportunity. At the chamber we seek out unique and risky ideas, some work some don’t. But what we all learn during the questioning and exploring phase is what will help to keep our organization relevant and our team engaged. Losing curiosity is losing the wonder of business.
I had a business for 25-years before starting this position. When I look back on how many times I had to update, recreate and make sure my business was relevant, it was probably four times. Staying curious, holding true to my core business while constantly listening and learning was key to my success then and it still holds true for success today. What are you doing to reenergize?
“You should never cease from exploration, and at the end of all exploration, you arrive where you started and know the place for the very first time.” Satya Nadella- CEO Microsoft