SmartBlog Insights recently published a two-part post I wrote — Upward-Facing Associations (part 1 and part 2) — about what we can learn from innovative companies like Lululemon. I wrote these posts for a readership of association professionals, but all of these ideas are ripe for picking by for-profit companies as well.

Innovative companies can be a source of new perspectives and ideas about organizational culture and customer (or member) experience. Lululemon Athletica makes hip high-quality clothing for yoga and other “sweaty pursuits” for their 100-plus stores. Last year their sales increased by 50%. Some of this can be attributed to the growing popularity of yoga, particularly among those willing to pay $98 for yoga pants, but there’s more to it.  Lululemon has been very intentional in how they brand their stores as community hubs where customers can learn about fitness and healthy living, take free classes, and, yes, buy cool tank tops. What can we learn from them?

Here are some of the ideas I shared with some additional thoughts:

  • Give staff the tools to grow not only professionally but personally too. Besides offering professional development opportunities, also provide career and personal goal-setting training, and other personal development resources. You may end up with an educated, forward-thinking, goal-oriented, centered and appreciative staff.
  • Encourage staff to have balanced and healthy lives. For example, allow for flexible schedules so they have time to include yoga, fitness classes and other sweaty pursuits into their busy schedules. Anyone who works out or practices yoga on a regular basis can attest to its effect on their energy level and outlook on life, a positive effect that influences productivity and attitude.
  • Review employee handbooks and other rules and procedures, and welcome change into your organizational culture. Step away from  Standard Operating Procedure. Society, technology and our lives have changed. Why are we still doing things the same way they’ve always been done?
  • Always strive to be a community hub that provides members with the tools they need — knowledge, relationships and advocacy — to have successful professional lives. The emphasis here is on ‘community’ — social media can be a useful tool to do this.
  • Use education to build trust, demonstrate your position as the preeminent source of knowledge and ideas in your profession or industry and develop relationships that result in recruitment and retention — content marketing. Again, social media is an excellent way to share and spread what you excel at already.
  • Check in regularly with your members about their current and future needs. Research the possible needs your members (and their customers) will have in the future. Eliminate stale committees or programs regularly to free up resources for more valuable programs and allow staff to spend their time and energy on things that really matter to members.
  • Consider partnerships with thought leaders, suppliers, service providers or anyone who can provide professional guidance, content or services to your leadership or members. Get creative about how you can bring more to your members. Sometimes collaborating with a competitor can really be a win-win for both of you. Don’t be scared.
  • Have staff spend time each year experiencing what a day (or week) in the life of your member is really like by going on-site or spending time in their office with them. Be open to having that new knowledge and experience inform your member service and programming.

If you know of other innovative companies that I should check out for future blog post inspiration, please let me know.

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