Four Leadership Takeaways From #ASAE20

A new sense of urgency defined the conversations at ASAE's 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting, with implications for years to come.

Things are moving fast for associations.

That’s not something I’ve said very often in the better part of a decade of writing this blog; I’m certain I’ve used the phrase “slow-moving ship” a lot more. But one theme that emerged from the sessions I attended at last week’s ASAE Virtual Annual Meeting & Exposition is that a newfound sense of urgency has taken hold.

Of course, I wish this change might be happening under more positive circumstances. As it is, the combination of a global pandemic, an economic recession, and national reckoning with racial justice has prompted associations to do the necessary work of updating their thinking on a number of fronts. And though there was plenty I’ve missed, there were still many examples of the ways associations are stepping up to lead. Below are a few.

The first step is starting with rapport.

DE&I is top of mind, but still a challenge

The summer of Black Lives Matter protests has prompted many organizations to deliver statements of support. But what comes next, and how to put that goodwill into action?

The move to remote work, convenient as it is in some ways, presents a further challenge to associations that are trying to improve their efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Cushman & Wakefield’s Debra Moritz pointed out in a session titled “The Future of Workplace for Associations,” remote work can preserve longstanding biases about who typically gets heard in an organization; those who had already been feeling unheard may have that feeling exacerbated.

And though organizations may want to rush to have difficult conversations about race, it’s important to read the room. As Society for Personality Assessment Executive Director Nathan Victoria, CAE, pointed out in the session “Disrupting Biases,” “The first step is starting with rapport. You can’t just jump into these conversations. You need to make sure that everyone is ready to be vulnerable.”

Corner-Office Job Hunters Have Work to Do

As Jeffrey Tenenbaum told me in an interview before his session “Association CEO Employment Contracts,” associations want evidence of innovation in their CEO candidates more than ever, now that the recession puts fresh ideas at a premium. At the session “Fire Fighters: The CEO Who Chooses the Hot Seat,” panelists acknowledged the sudden shift and noted that job hunters will want to take a closer look under the hood of potential employers too. Consultant Suzanne Berry, CAE, advised them to look at what’s being said about an association online, the history with CEOs, and the kind of turnover the organization has experienced. Turnover isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but be mindful of a revolving door in the C-suite.

Advocacy Has Adapted to the Zoom Era

Government relations professionals know it can be hard to get the ear of a policymaker on a normal day. The physical distancing forced by COVID-19 has made the challenge even harder, and organizations have had to pivot. At the session “Advocacy Beyond Government Relations,” Emily Reineke, CAE, of the Consumer Brands Association noted that they shifted from the slow-moving process of getting guidance out on AI—lots of meetings, lots of talk about buy-in from stakeholders—and rapidly produced a book on the subject and gave members the leeway to connect with policymakers on their own.

Future Focus Needs to Happen Now

It’s been conventional wisdom that a COVID-19 vaccine should be available in early 2021. But what if it doesn’t show up until 2022? Or 2025? Nabil El-Ghoroury, CAE, executive director of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, noted that his organization is scenario-planning that troubling prospect as a way to better handle future changes. An all-virtual environment impacts IT budgets, staff expectations, how board meetings are handled, and what the culture of an organization will look like. Distressing as the problem might be, he says, “we have to be prepared. We have to have a business continuity plan for our association.”

What were your biggest leadership takeaways from #ASAE20? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Ben Rosett/Unsplash)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!