Future Focus: When Looking Ahead, Talk to Members First

As part of an initiative to examine future forces shaping the corporate real estate profession, CoreNet Global spent time interviewing its members worldwide. The effort resulted in a new study forecasting industry trends that will affect members and the association by 2025 and beyond.

As an association leader, you likely do some form of thinking ahead, whether you’re crafting a tactical 90-day plan or taking a longer view to create a five-year strategic plan. However, even the best-laid plans often change due to unforeseen forces largely outside your control.

To think more broadly about transformational change in your industry or profession, it helps to consult your members, who likely can help you see the forest and not just the trees. That’s what CoreNet Global CEO Angela Cain recently did. She spearheaded an 18-month campaign to consult with CoreNet Global members, who work in corporate real estate worldwide, to pinpoint specific trends that will give shape to their profession in the next decade.

The findings were released last week in a report called FutureForward 2025. Among the key trends, it identifies are the rise of employee experiences, the growth of the gig economy, the impact of automation, and the growing desire for personalization and instant intelligence.

If these topics sound familiar, that’s because they’re similar to drivers of change identified in the ASAE Foundation’s ForesightWorks research initiative. (A year ago, my colleague Mark Athitakis and I provided an early look at those trends and how they’re affecting associations in Associations Now magazine. We only scratched the surface, examining six of the 50 drivers of change predicted to transform associations in the coming years.)

“I really believe associations have to focus on having foresight when they are in a position of strength,” says Cain, who consulted with ASAE on CoreNet Global’s research effort. “That’s the time to pay attention because the next big disruptor could come out of nowhere, and we believe you not only need the foresight but also the hindsight and insight to lead the association forward.”

Cain shared three practical tips for any association considering similar member-focused research:

Issue an open invitation. The research started with an open invitation for members to participate. Cain says the message was crafted to have “a grassroots appeal, ensuring that every member had a voice in the experience.” During the 18-month project, CoreNet Global facilitated several in-person focus groups in designated regions, and it used online member surveys and virtual focus groups to gather input from those who could not attend in person.

Involve chapters. Many members were motivated to participate by chapter leaders who served as local ambassadors for the research. CoreNet Global supplied all of its 47 chapters with toolkits that explained the process and methodology for conducting focus groups and in-person interviews and gave information on how to collect and upload data to headquarters using an online portal.

Tap third-party experts. This wasn’t just a navel-gazing exercise, Cain says. CoreNet Global also brought in third-party experts to poke holes in members’ commonly held assumptions. These included futurists, economists, sociologists, and association industry professionals to weigh in on the findings.

“We brought people in to share what other organizations were grappling with,” Cain says. “That diversity of thought and engaging outside partners was critical to our success.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on September 9, 2019.

(Josh Russell/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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