How to Lead in a World Reshaped by COVID

foundation_world reshaped by covid July 13, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

A forthcoming ASAE ForesightWorks action brief looks at how the pandemic has shifted the future of association management and offers concrete steps leaders can take to navigate a post-COVID landscape.

If you were a sentient human on Earth in 2020, your life changed. Your work changed. The way you experienced the world changed. It’s quite possible you experienced terrifying moments or tremendous grief. If nothing else, you possibly thought about things you’d never thought about before and took precautions that would have seemed excessive in another time. 

And now, at least in many parts of the United States, there is the sense that things are returning to “normal.” But what does the future of “normal” look like, and what does it mean for association leaders?

A new, soon-to-be-released ASAE ForesightWorks action brief, “A World Reshaped by COVID,” identifies probable shifts and provides guidance for leaders.

Forecasts for the Future

According to the brief, the emerging consensus forecast is that COVID-19 will be largely controlled over the course of 2021, at least within the wealthiest nations. However, vaccine ingredient shortages, export restrictions, and the unequal distribution of the vaccine means that many countries, particularly in Africa, are falling behind on vaccination schedules as COVID surges. For this reason and others, it is forecast that COVID-19 will become endemic, permanently circulating among people around the world.

Another forecast from the brief predicts that work will not return to its previous state. Instead, telework options will expand, affecting “career paths and pay, business location and office use, and the structure of cities and suburbs.” While the likelihood of returning to the office at least part time has kept many people from pursuing cross-country moves, there has been more significant movement away from major city downtowns to suburbs, which will have short- and long-term consequences for those places.

Finally, the pandemic has shifted consumer expectations for remote services of all kinds, which will place pressure on businesses to make them permanent. Association leaders are already facing this challenge with meetings and training.

Actions for Associations

According to ASAE focus group participants, association leaders will need to be nimble, innovative, forward-thinking, and empathetic in a world reshaped by COVID. These focus group conversations identified actions leaders can take to prepare for, mitigate, or capitalize on this driver of change, which are captured in the brief:

Use scenario planning to build agility. When facing an uncertain future, consider—and consider your preparedness for—multiple possible futures. How ready is your organization to capitalize on surprise successes or respond to emerging threats? Use learnings to develop flexibility, nimbleness, and agility in your operations and governance structure to assure sustainability. Refresh your continuity plans, policies, and procedures to mitigate risk. Start conversations with members about the potential for future disruptions.

Evaluate your association’s value proposition. Assess the relevance of your membership model, the programs, products, and services you offer, and your advocacy positions. Be willing to abandon old norms, think differently, and actively pursue new strategies that align with where you—and your members—will want to be in the future.

Focus on innovation and entrepreneurialism. At the start of the pandemic, many associations experimented with new and modified programs and services. Apply lessons learned from these initial efforts to build an internal infrastructure to explore and bring new products to market. Identify new skills that staff and volunteers will need and provide the appropriate training. Find collaborators with similar interests with whom you can partner.

Address staff and member burnout. Focus on resiliency and empathy and look for opportunities to support staff and volunteers’ emotional, mental, and physical health. Consider how your organizational culture—among staff and members—can be strengthened to support teams and members through disruptions. Develop responsive support mechanisms, reskilling programs, and advocacy strategies.

Clarify association and chapter roles. The shift to virtual programming blurred service boundaries between headquarters and chapters and between associations supporting a particular industry or profession. Seek to delineate the value delivered by each entity. Find new ways to collaborate and support each other.

Like all ForesightWorks action briefs, “A World Reshaped by COVID” also includes descriptions of related uncertainties, supporting trends, data points, and strategic insights.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.