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In these unsettling times, refocusing on the future is both difficult and critical.
Over the past few months, we have been forced to face crises head on. We’ve had to quickly adjust to working virtually, rethink in-person events, lead our teams and families through massive change, and acknowledge and internalize the racial inequalities that persist in our country. It has been a whirlwind to say the least.
Will things ever go back to normal? Not likely. Nor should we really want them to. The events of the past few months have accelerated trends long on the horizon and exposed our consciences to realities we may not have previously considered. We will be forever changed. The question is not when will we go back to normal, but rather: How will we move forward?
After such a series of disruptive events, it may seem impossible to move forward. Looking to the future can be especially difficult in what feels like an extremely unstable environment with many unknowns and yet-to-be-seens. Yet we must do just that. We must define the future we want to create. So then: How?
As Simon Sinek famously advised: “Start with why.” Go back to the basics. Examine your vision, mission, purpose. Evaluate whether the reasons your association exists, its fundamental raison d’être, remains unchanged. For most, it will be steadfast. Let this be your solid ground, your North Star helping you navigate through challenging and unsettling times. Allow this to help guide your actions and prioritize your activities.
Once you have refocused on your why, evaluate the world around you. What has changed? How might that impact your ability to achieve your purpose? Have new opportunities come to light?
In August 2019, ASAE identified 50 drivers of change impacting associations as part of its ForesightWorks research initiative. Over the past few months, some of these, like the shift to virtualized meetings, have accelerated or amplified, while some became less likely. While we may not be able to pinpoint what exactly will change, identifying and understanding the drivers of change relevant to your association is an important step in considering possible strategic shifts. Consider these shifts and imagine the possible futures you would like to help create.
Having considered the change drivers impacting your association and your desired future, go back to your strategic plan. Ask yourself whether those strategies are still relevant. It is likely many will be because they were chosen to align the organization around achieving its vision and mission. Your purpose has probably not fundamentally changed. But there may be a new opportunity or change in the environment that demands consideration. In such a case, consider whether it is the goal that must change, or the tactics for achieving the goal. Deprioritize, modify, or reimagine one or more of your strategic goals or tactical steps accordingly.
For example, the shift away from in-person events (at least in the short term) presents an opportunity for some associations to offer more online programming that qualifies for continuing education units (CEUs). As a result, an education goal previously focused on expanding access to CEUs through pre-conference programs may need to shift to achieve the goal in a new way. Or, your diversity and inclusion initiative may need to shift from learning and dialogue to proactive action and advocacy. Note that the actual goal of expanding access to CEUs or promoting diversity, equity and inclusion remains constant, but the ways in which you achieve the goal shift as a result of the current environment. These are the types of critical yet focused shifts we see associations make as they refocus their futures.
Boards and executives have needed to be extremely tactical over the past few months to react and adjust to a rapidly changing environment. After so much reactive action, it can be difficult to make the shift back to a longer term, strategic mindset. But, the only way to prepare for the future is to imagine it and plan for it.
When we articulate strategy, we determine a plan to achieve the future we want to create. Start by refocusing on your why (vision, mission, purpose). Examine the environment and imagine the future through research, scenario building, and collective visioning. And then, consider and adjust your goals and tactics based on a renewed set of strategic priorities. Sure, pandemics and other crises may cause us to change course. But, with a clear strategy grounded in purpose, we can more easily refocus our efforts and retake our ability to build the future we want.