Strategic Thinking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Rachel Luoma, MS, CAE

Back in January when I decided to write this blog, my intended topic was staff training and on-boarding.  Given the current climate with COVID-19, however, and the fact that many organizations had to furlough or lay people off, the topic just doesn’t feel relevant.

We are experiencing unprecedented times right now and need to help our associations navigate these challenges.  As association professionals, we have to think differently and act quickly. Given these changes, I want to instead write about strategic planning and thinking in times of a crisis.

Now, more than ever, the association landscape, heck the world, is evolving and we as organizations must evolve with it.  What may have been our association’s bread and butter before – meetings/events, membership and advertising – may not cut the mustard anymore.  Associations have to pivot, like they have never had to pivot before.

So, how can we think and act strategically during a time of crisis? The good news is that while the world is changing, the process of strategic thinking has not, but the speed at which we must perform it is faster than ever.

What process you may ask? The process of SPIE:

ScanRachel - Blue Gif




But, alas, you must start with the scanning process as you consider strategic changes you may need to make within your association. Strategic thinking and planning is about paying attention to your environment and the changes taking place, and then planning, implementing and evaluating your activities to adapt to the changing environment.  In today’s climate, that environment is shifting faster than it ever has.  So, you must constantly scan your external and internal environment and make the needed changes to keep up with the changing times.

What should you look for in your environmental scan?

  • Economy: What is currently taking place in the economy and how can that impact your association? What projections are forecast? Think both from a local economic and a global economic standpoint.
  • Politics: This is not meant to be a political post, but what is happening in politics and how can that impact your association?
  • Regulation: Politics definitely influences regulation. So, while you are scanning the political environment, it is important to focus on the legislative/regulatory environment as well.
  • Trends: What shifts and trends have you seen in general? What are other associations similar to yours doing? Data is very helpful in these instances. I know I am reviewing recent data from Association Laboratory, the American Society of Association Executives and the Florida Society of Association Executives in order to identify association trends.
  • Competition: What is happening with your competitors? How are they shifting and adapting? What programs and services are they offering and how does that impact your market segments?
  • Technology: What are new technology trends? How can your association leverage current and new technologies?
  • Members/Customers: What is happening in your members’ worlds? What changes are they seeing? How are they adapting? How are their customers being impacted, as that can influence your members as well?
  • Governance/Structure: How nimble is your association governance? Is your organization able to adapt?
  • Finances: What do your association finances look like and how does this impact your ability to change?
  • Strategic Plan: Does your organization have a strategic plan? Are the items in it still relevant or does the plan need to be adapted given all of these other environmental changes?

Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers; but I do have a lot of questions. Asking these questions and more is possibly most important part of strategic planning/thinking.

The truth is that during these challenging times, environmental scanning is a constant that does not stop during the planning, implementation and evaluation phases of the strategic planning process.Rachel SPSISE

So it really looks more like SPSISE than SPIE.

Is there anything I missed? If so, please leave a comment or let me know your thoughts.

Good luck and stay strong association friends!

Rachel Luoma

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