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Published on August 9th, 2013


Helping Our Association Change Course

By Joanne Charlebois, Chief Executive Officer, SAC
This article has been republished from the Summer 2013 issue of Communiqué.
Please note that this article was originally published when Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) was called the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA).

As we approach CASLPA’s 50th anniversary, we are not only reflecting on our past but looking to the future of our association. The Board of Directors is preparing for CASLPA’s next 50 years by planning key changes that will better serve our existing members and attract new ones.

Change is never easy to plan or implement; however, the results are often worth it.

Recently, CASLPA underwent two significant changes. In the spring, the Board of Directors approved a new professional development program, which reflects the changing landscape of continuing education. In addition to offering more online learning opportunities, CASLPA will now host its conference every other year.

Our announcement was very well-received by members:

“Congratulations on the proposed changes!”

“So happy to hear about the new program. Thanks for listening.”

“Great call on every two years for the conference!”

“This change is very exciting! I’m looking forward to more diverse learning opportunities.”

All the positive feedback we received confirms that we made the right decision.

The other big change occurred in June when we changed our professional liability insurance broker to BMS. It was a bit of a daunting task, but members expressed their appreciation for this change as well:

“[The renewal] was such an easy process. It took less than 5 minutes to fill in the online application, submit my payment and receive a copy of my insurance certificate.”

“The 10% [fee reduction] is an added bonus. I’m very pleased!”

“I just thought I’d send a quick note, as positive feedback is so precious! I really appreciate the online renew capability of the new insurance provider – eliminates many steps.”

“I just got the certificate and it indicates it is also a receipt for tax purposes!”

“Thanks again. I am already very pleased with the switch to BMS! Thank you for securing excellent coverage at a good rate.”

For association CEOs, there is no greater priority than to position their association for the future through innovations in structure, services and operations. In many cases, these changes are so significant and far-reaching that they are considered transformational rather than incremental.

Yet what is missing for many leaders is the realization that defining strategic priorities represents only 15% of our success. According to F. Warren McFarlan, a professor at the Harvard Business School, the other 85% depends on our ability to implement these innovations. What’s more, our actions as an association executive are the single most important factor in our ability to effectively implement transformational change.

A New Kind of Change

Over the years, our association has undergone numerous changes. We’ve invested in new technology to handle our members’ needs more efficiently and economically, offered services to attract and retain members, changed membership policies and adopted more effective internal procedures.

These changes were incremental improvements that caused minimal disruption. Now, we are contemplating changes of an entirely different magnitude. The Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act has presented CASLPA with a timely opportunity to review our governance and revise our by-laws. The changes coming down the pike are essential in order for CASLPA to remain a high-functioning, relevant and competitive association and to advance our mission.

Changes can be categorized by scale and complexity:

  • “First-order” changes make multiple improvements to what we are currently doing so that we can do it better, cheaper or faster.
  • “Second-order” changes require our association to change the way we operate by doing things differently.

Transformational change and innovation are second-order changes. They are large-scale and complex, regardless of the size of an association’s internal organization. As we move through the governance review process, we need to keep the following in mind:

  1. Transformational change can’t be done incrementally. Transformational change affects an entire way of operating; it cannot be done in small steps.
  2. Transformational change can’t be made guardedly. It requires a leap of faith.
  3. Transformational change means you can’t go back. Once you begin the process, you can’t change your mind and go back to the old ways of operating.

As your Chief Executive Officer — and yes, this is a title change from Executive Director as I am responsible for the management of a $2 million corporation with more than 6,000 stakeholders (members) — I remain committed to providing guidance to the Board of Directors through this period of change. The path ahead won’t be easy but, I am confident that with our members’ support, we can successfully prepare CASLPA for the next 50 years.


Joanne Charlebois
Chief Executive Officer, SAC

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