The New Playbook
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Organizational Strategy

What Should You Keep From Your Pandemic Pivot?

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Changes born of necessity last year may be keys to your organization’s future success. As the COVID-19 crisis finally begins to abate, consider which new ways of thinking and working are worth holding on to.

When the pandemic began to spread in the United States last March, Beth Brooks, CAE, was scrambling. As executive director of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians, she was working to get scarce supplies of personal protective equipment to members, finding ways to support weary first responders, and turning its annual business meeting into a virtual event.

At the end of the year, with cases spiking, TCEP’s needs were still acute. But Brooks says she has developed partnerships and digital strategies that have helped the association survive the crisis—and will make it more resilient in the future. Early in the pandemic, Brooks began sitting in on daily calls with the Texas Medical Association (TMA), which occupies the same office building. Eventually, more state medical groups participated in the calls, which helped TCEP coordinate its own responses.

“Every TMA department reported out: Here’s what communications is doing, here’s what legal is doing, here’s what advocacy is doing,” she says. “Committees were being formed to work on public health, legal and legislative clarifications, PPE. We got to hear what TMA was hearing and what was happening at all the specialty societies.”

Over time, the COVID-specific calls diminished to once or twice a week, but Brooks says she considers these regular check-ins essential to TCEP’s work now. At the same time, calls with the board have ramped up and are staying that way: Quarterly meetings became monthly Zoom calls, conversations that are part strategy session, part wellness check. “We talked business, of course, but we were also just hearing how everyone is doing,” she says.

TCEP also saw the power of countering disinformation during the pandemic. For the first time in years it hired a public relations firm to encourage people who needed emergency care to head to ERs instead of staying home due to fear of exposure to COVID-19. The messaging was so relevant—and reassuring to members—that TCEP plans to keep PR in its budget in 2021 to encourage vaccinations.

To better suss out what needed to be its chief priorities, the Consumer Brands Association convened—and now continues to convene—regular online calls with industry executives, gathering 30 CEOs every six weeks for conversations.

Shifting Priorities

The Consumer Brands Association isn’t a medical society, but the pandemic has taught it the virtues of triage. Entering 2020, one of CBA’s top priorities was tightening regulation around CBD products, but the arrival of COVID-19 changed all that. The association shifted gears—speeding up research, ramping up advocacy efforts supporting essential workers throughout the supply chain, and rolling out public-facing tools like a “clean classroom calculator” to help schools determine how much disinfectant they need.

“CBD was a priority for our organization, but during COVID it became a back-burner issue,” says Geoff Freeman, CBA president and CEO. “You had to make those trade-offs early on of what was going to be a front-burner issue and what was going to be a back-burner issue.”

To better suss out what needed to be its chief priorities, CBA convened—and now continues to convene—regular online calls with industry executives, gathering 30 CEOs every six weeks for conversations.

“The best education we’ve done this year is facilitating those discussions about issues they’re confronting,” Freeman says. “Maybe it’s the emergence of e-commerce, maybe it’s innovation in an environment where you’re reducing the number of products on the shelf. We’ve created a constant kind of real-time education for CEOs.”

But getting better at what activities to cut, Freeman says, may be as meaningful an effort for CBA going forward.

“There are so many things that associations are doing because they’ve done them before, and COVID has really given permission to associations to stop doing those things, or do them in a different way,” he says. “Tolerance for those legacy programs will only be lowered further. It’s forced all of us to be more nimble organizations.”

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.

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