Shift Your Thinking: Surviving to Thriving

For many association leaders, visions of growth and innovation took a backseat to a focus on maintenance and downright survival these past couple of years. For the world this was uncharted territory, so navigating these waters demanded an all-hands-on deck approach. The theoretical lines between governance and management were blurred as we relied on everyone’s collective creative brain power and resilience to find solutions.

So here we are today. We have come so far since 2020, and we know we’re not out of the woods quite yet. Even while expectations of social distancing and mask mandates are receding and we begin to return to in-person events of all shapes and sizes, there is still much work to be done.

Nonetheless, as the world around us continues to learn from the experiences of the past two years and take new steps forward, so must associations.

It is time.

It is time to begin thinking again about a future that is not merely grounded in survival.

It is time to start thinking again about the potential of our organizations.

It is time to start focusing again on the development of our members and the association’s role in helping them to be the best they can be.

It is time for leaders to move forward and refocus on the jobs they were elected or hired to do.

For those of us who serve on boards, this means we need to ensure we are intentionally shifting to strategic conversations and strategic thought about the future rather than current-day or current-year tactical and programmatic execution.

Some of you reading this may be thinking that you have already done this – and if you have, congratulations. Nonetheless, the challenge remains to continually review the discussions you are having and actions you are taking as a board; to regularly test the activities of your board to ensure you are intentionally focusing on the long-term direction of the organization.

The board’s responsibility to spend its energy and talent on the big picture strategic direction of the organization isn’t theoretical. It is the practice of successful associations of all sizes and scopes.

Why? Because if the board isn’t focused on the future, who is? While management is certainly capable – and typically plays a key role in advising the board – they can’t do it alone while managing the day-to-day. And doing so isn’t sustainable. Management needs perspective from the minds of the members to help design what your association of the future needs to be…and the reality is that our futures will not be what they were pre-pandemic, so the need for future focus is more important than ever.

So, what does this intentionality look like? It’s actually fairly straightforward.

Be purposeful.

Make time during every board meeting for intentional strategic / long-term / generative discussion. Put it on your agenda and make it early in your business while minds and attitudes are fresh. If the future is important, then make it important by keeping it top of mind. Push any tactical items to the end of the meeting when you’re not relying as heavily on the true skills and perspectives that your board members bring to the table.

Be strategic.

As part of those purposeful discussions, review your strategic plan or initiatives. Are they still relevant? Do they need to be revised or updated? If something else has come up that may have a greater impact, be intentional about determining which of your existing priorities will be replaced rather than attempting to pile the new idea on top of the initiatives already on your plate. It is proven that adding new priorities on top of an existing load lessens the likelihood that any will be accomplished. At the end of the meeting (or very soon after) review the actions of the board and confirm how strategically your time was used.

Be realistic.

We all have finite resources, so know your limits. Whatever the “new normal” is or will be for our world, it is not going to happen at the snap of a finger. Yes, it is time to move forward, but appreciate your capacity and take it one manageable step at a time. And recognize that as leaders you are in the thick of it – that you may well lack necessary objectivity – so don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified third party to help facilitate these conversations.


Do you need a little help with planning for your association’s future? Download our e-book to learn more about how you can create a successful strategic plan for your association and set your association up for success.