Navigating Association Management: The Sweet Process of Incubating New Ideas & Strategies

This year’s theme for Holiday Showcase was INCUBATE. Here, member Jakeeva Lee shares what incubation means to her.

By Jakeeva J. Lee, CAE, CIPS, AHWD

Light bulbs on blue background. One is turned on.

NOTE: This article appeared as the final column in the Winter 2023 issue of FORUM Magazine. We asked Jakeeva J. Lee, CAE, CIPS, AHWD, director, External Affairs, DEI & Fair Housing for the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, to reflect on the issue topic of “Incubate.” 

When I think of incubation, I think of all the innovations that exist to support our fast-paced world. We have access to curbside services, the option to complete store returns from our cars (Target), and the item you ordered via Amazon Prime at 7 a.m. is on  your doorsteps before 3 p.m. All these services are available to accomplish one thing: to expedite our time and convenience.

Recent groundbreaking services in accessibility have completely reshaped organizational processes, and thus, transformed global industries. You can even feel the ripple effect in associations.

Incubation in Association Management

As one can imagine, these new business ventures didn’t happen overnight. Someone had an idea to fulfill an unrealized desire of the consumer. The process of idea to reality is incubation.

Incubation in association management strategy refers to the process of nurturing and developing new ideas, initiatives, or projects with the goal of eventually launching them as successful programs or services.

Years ago one of my mentors told me that “in order to hit a goal, start at your end goal and work backwards from there.”

I never forgot that conversation and since then, I’ve been mindful to apply this tactic in a variety of ways. In my opinion, “working backwards” is the critical incubation period.

This year’s theme for Holiday Showcase is
INCUBATE, and as we enter a new year, I’m excited that Association Forum reminds us to challenge ourselves and take time to hatch fresh ideas and concepts.

Embracing Incubation as a Strategic Tool

When I started working at my first association as a member engagement coordinator, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the organization. I did know that I was passionate about my role.

Further, I had a curiosity to understand how the organization operated and thrived. That curiosity deepened when I happened across the association’s strategic plan.

Woah. How did this relate to me? My role? What did all this mean for the organization?

I dove in and became fascinated with the bigger picture. With my newfound understanding, I started to incubate tactics that aligned with the goals of the organization.

Since then, I always advise those new to the association world to dive into the strategic plan. If you can’t locate it internally, ask! I also encourage association leaders to ensure all staff members and volunteer leaders are abreast of the direction of the organization. Empowerment comes when you realize how your work fits into the larger ecosystem. Thus, advancing true buy-in.

Fast forward to last year when I led the first robust strategic planning process for the CAR Foundation, the 501-c3 charitable arm of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. Input across all organizational channels was necessary to generate creativity and diverse thoughts. We landed at four strategic areas to drive our business decisions and impact. This includes:

  • Long term sustainable and transformative community investment
  • Aggregator and interpreter of industry research and data
  • Strengthen diversified funding sources
  • Re-visualization of scholarships

With these new strategic goals, allowing the sweet balance of incubation and innovation to intersect is where our plan comes alive!

How to Intentionally Incubate Your Career

Much like incubating ideas, incubating your career requires both patience and deliberate effort. There’s an infamous quote that states “the journey itself is as valuable as the destination.”

Here are some key lessons from my own journey:

  • Reflection: Just as ideas need time to gestate, our careers benefit from regular periods of reflection. I regularly set aside time to examine my goals, strengths, and areas for improvement. This practice helps me align my career path with my values and long-term aspirations.
  • Embracing Failure: While difficult to digest, I’ve learned to view setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than as failures. Each misstep is a chance to learn, pivot, re-educate myself and refine my approach.
  • Networking and Collaboration: Incubating successful ideas almost always involves seeking input and collaboration from others. Building a network of mentors, colleagues, and peers has enriched my perspective and helped me make more informed decisions.
  • Continuous Learning: Just as ideas and concepts require ongoing research and development (R & D), our careers demand the same. I make it a priority to invest in my skillsets and to stay up to date with industry trends.
  • Take Risks. The status quo can be the biggest roadblock to progress.

Navigating Incubation

The beauty of the process of incubation is that it allows you to reset and reassess. We can curate a culture adaptive to change, responsiveness, and continue to proactively shape the future.

In 2024, tell me, how will you nurture a new or existing service or product within your organization?!

About the Author

Jakeeva is Director, External Affairs, DEI & Fair Housing for the Chicago Association of REALTORS®.

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