Rising levels of stakeholder participation and revenues are great indicators of a services organisation that is creating value. Yet for many rural organisations, while you are ‘hitting above your weight’ with services, stakeholders and members are not engaging and revenues are declining. Your situation becomes akin to the fax machine – still working, but not needed, used and valued like it was in the past. There is an uneasy sense that terminal decline has set in.
In an era of rapid and disruptive change in the global, national and rural economies, the ability to adapt to change is perhaps the most significant challenge facing rural leaders. The revolution in markets, business models and technology leaves rural services organisations vulnerable to being overtaken and left behind.
It’s not that past functions such as representation, advocacy, innovation and knowledge services are no longer important. In fact, it’s mostly the reverse. It’s just that the playing field and the game have changed, so old tactics and equipment have become irrelevant.
The level of communication activity and flows of information today is unprecedented in human history. Yet your fax machine, if you still have one, now plays a very small and diminishing role.
A critical question is whether your rural service organisation is becoming the fax machine of your niche. Experienced leaders will first look for insight and evidence at a strategic level to understand who is really lagging with innovation – is it you or your stakeholders? Or both? How you view the problem then shapes what you do about it. Do you innovate, exit or endure?
Four defining questions can help you make a quick assessment of whether it is your organisation and not your members or stakeholders that need to change:
- Reframe in a new unit of time. If you had the freedom to set up your organisation from scratch today, how would you design it and why? It’s counterproductive to dwell on the shortcomings of an entity established at a different time in response to a different operating environment. Instead, step back and reflect on what you would do if starting completely afresh and were all powerful. Would it look very different to what exists today?
- Stakeholder satisfaction. Despite all your hard work and commitment, are your stakeholders disinterested and/or your membership declining? Are the influential and innovative players largely disengaged? If so, are businesses in your industry, State or region also forming new groups and organisations instead of using your services?
- Competitors. Are other interest groups that oppose your stakeholder interests now setting the agenda and positioned as the key influencers in your field, leaving you to react and play catch-up?
- Your reaction. Have you tended to view the problem as: ‘how can we convince people to fund what we do now’? If so, has your experience been akin to selling fax machines today?
If you tend to answer yes to these questions, it suggests that your future pathway will involve business model innovation. Your alternatives are exiting or enduring the slow road to extinction.
Like the fax machine, traditional rural services organisations are not selling like hotcakes these days. Rural businesses are not buying. Is it time for your organisation to innovate?