The Exciting Impact of Digital Transformation on Professional Development

“You need to deliver knowledge that you aren’t yet aware of, for jobs that don’t yet exist, to a group of people who don’t know that they will need it. And you need to do it yesterday!”

What do you think of this quote from futurist Jim Carroll? It’s ambitious, but it would make an excellent mission statement for professional development at your association.

Jobs are changing, required skills are changing, careers are changing, and, therefore, professional development programs must change too. You must keep up or you’ll lose out to well-funded competitors coming into the growing lifelong learning market.

How do you become an association that’s capable of identifying, designing, and delivering the education and credentialing needed by people in your market today and the ones who will enter it in the future? “Become” is the key word in that question. A digital transformation will ensure that your association is prepared with the right culture, operations, and technology for the future.

The essence of digital transformation

“Argh, I’m tired of hearing about digital transformation.”

Is that what you’re thinking? You’re not alone. The phrase is thrown around all the time, and the concept is daunting. What exactly is your association supposed to transform into?

You’re transforming into an organization that uses data and technology to deliver relevant value to members, customers, and others in your market now and in the future.

“Don’t we do that now?”

Maybe. But think about these questions.

•    How well are you engaging all members?
•    How successful are you at attracting the attention, interest, and business of your entire market?
•    How quickly can you respond to new market needs?
•    How well do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
•    Are you a market leader?
•    How often to you reflect upon and tweak how you define and deliver value?

Digital transformation takes your association from where you are now to where you need to be to deliver knowledge you aren’t yet aware of, for jobs that don’t yet exist, to a group of people who don’t know they will need it.

It’s not an IT project, or a one-and-done project. It’s a continual cross-departmental process. The finish line keeps getting moved further out as the world around us continues to rapidly change and the needs of your industry and profession change too.

Digital transformation is not just about implementing new technology—although that can happen. It’s about connecting and leveraging your data and technology to deliver more value to members and customers.

It’s a strategic philosophy that may likely transform your business model. It involves continually rethinking and refining your business and technology strategies so they’re relevant today and into the future. What makes digital transformation so challenging is the necessary transformation of your association’s culture, your leadership and employee mindset, and the way you work—that’s where the transformation must take place.

Why professional development and credentialing need digital transformation

Should you think differently about professional development and credentialing programs in the age of digital transformation? Yes, indeed. Online learning is no longer the junior varsity version of conferences and other in-person events. In the future, if not already, more people will access learning online than they do face-to-face.

In-person events will continue to play an important role for those who can afford to register and take time away from work and home because there’s nothing like connecting and building relationships in person. However, online learning will become the bread and butter of professional development programs.

Credentialing programs will take on even more importance because people will need to acquire and prove their mastery of new skills. Already, in many industries, technology like AI is causing a shift in required skills. For example, because AI has taken over many tasks that accountants once handled, strategic, analytical, consultative, and soft (human) skills are more in demand.

In this quickly changing workplace, your association can’t wait five years to review the competencies required for credentials. You need to increase the frequency of reviews to keep up with changing job skills requirements.

The digital transformation of professional development

Let’s get aspirational. How would digital transformation affect professional development? For starters, your association would have a good understanding of the educational needs of members and the rest of your market. You’d have ongoing discussions with industry employers about skills gaps and their customers’ needs, both of which drive the educational needs of employees.

Your association would respond nimbly to change and disruption. You’d assess and prioritize market needs, and bring new products to market in a timely manner. You’re the market leader, not some for-profit with deep pockets.

You take a coordinated approach to content. Staff aren’t working in a vacuum. An integrated education and content strategy drives content for conferences and in-person educational events, online learning, webinars, publications, website and other digital channels.

If someone wants to learn more about topic X, they can easily find magazine articles, workshops, recorded conference sessions, webinars, online courses, certificate programs, and related content about that topic on your website. They choose the content depth, delivery method, price, and time commitment they prefer.

Your association takes full advantage of technology. The LMS is used not only for online learning programs, but also for new member onboarding, association and chapter leadership development, and staff onboarding and training.

How to prepare your association for digital transformation

Except for a few brave explorers, no one heads willingly and cheerfully into the unknown, especially if it’s complex and confusing. To get people on board the digital transformation train, you must enlighten and educate them—and that’s right up your alley.

A shift in mindset is required, and it must start at the top. Many leaders aren’t fully fluent in ‘digital.’ They’re not informed about digital’s existing or eventual impact on your association, programs, and market. Leaders must understand the extent to which digital is already disrupting business as usual, changing how people access information and education, and favoring new competitors.

You’ll have to educate leaders about relevant digital trends and technologies, and new players in the market. Consider bringing in industry experts for lunch and learns. Start conversations that get people to think differently about your programs and marketplace:

•    “How can we make it easier for people to…”
•    “How does our business model change if people…”
•    “What does <product/service> mean in the context of <disrupter>?”

Expect resistance. It’s a natural and understandable by-product of fear. If your association begins to take risks, build new lines of business, and shift resources away from legacy programs, some people will perceive threats (real or imaginary) to their budgets and jobs.

In times of change, communication and transparency are musts. Keep everyone in the loop. Create the right conditions for cross-functional or -departmental collaboration. Provide support—best practices, forums for discussion, and professional development opportunities. Help staff build the skills and knowledge they need to build their confidence.

Staff (at all levels) must be committed to the work required for digital transformation. An experimental mindset and understanding of marketplace trends and issues is required. If they’re not willing to change, even after education, they may not be the right people to bring your association into the future.

When people realize the need for change, they often think technology is the solution and fall victim to the ‘shiny object’ syndrome. Technology is an enabler, but not a solution. Beware making poor technology choices without understanding your real requirements. Don’t try to implement new technology on top of a shaky foundation. Take the time to assess and change existing inefficient practices and processes.

Digital transformation is the only way for an association to fulfill its mission. It’s an opportunity to continually ensure your association is leveraging its people, processes, and technology to deliver the value your members and customers seek.

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