Q&A: Strategy and Infrastructure in a Changing World

With COVID-19 giving us a quickly changing world, associations are faced with tough choices on how to innovate through change. RGI President Leslie Murphy, FASAE, CAE, outlines how associations can take this moment to analyze their operations and thrive in the future.

Q: Due to COVID-19, many associations have seen seismic shifts in their market size and the way in which their members operate and interact. Many may find their strategic plans and goals seem irrelevant or outdated as they deal with this forced reality. Where should associations start in addressing this challenge?

A: As always, everything we do is about the mission. Start by looking at what your organization’s mission is, and run every decision through a filter by asking if it meets your mission. If it is not critical to your mission, it is time to make some tough decisions. The “sacred cow” or “this is the way we’ve always done it” is something that you do not have time for now. To be effective, your decisions need to serve the majority of your members. With budgets being stretched, it is important to get rid of the “fluff” your organization no longer needs. You can rebuild later, but nobody has the budget to take new, necessary actions while still holding on to “old baggage”. To help take that step, ask yourself, “If we created our strategic plan today, how much of the old one would we keep?” Then get rid of what you do not need.

Q: What are some creative ways people are meeting their mission in the face of new challenges and changing world caused by COVID-19?

A: We are working at a speed that we have not seen before. This break-neck pace doesn’t allow time for “analysis paralysis” or overthinking or delaying options. Association staff and leadership are working together much more quickly out of necessity. Despite these changes, all decision-making should still be about what moves the individual member forward. What makes them money or helps them advance? What allows them to move forward and pivot? How can we as an organization leverage emerging technology to enhance member engagement? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask.

Q: What do you think returns to “normal” after the COVID crisis ends, and what do you think is forever changed?

A: This situation gives people permission to operate in a different way. Organizations will not be able to afford using their income ineffectively. I think it means that people will become lean and mean and will need to figure out what that looks like for their organization. This has forced many organizations to a more digital format as well, which is a good thing for those organizations that avoided becoming more digital, as it opened many doors for them. That is a good outcome and one that should change those associations for the better. Being able to nimbly adapt to change has always been the hallmark of great organizations; and is crucial for associations right now to survive.