When to Pivot from Crisis to Re-emergence Governance

by Emily Hendershot

As we continue with the rollercoaster of guidelines and re-emergence restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, it is only natural for associations to feel the tension while trying to determine how to operate within the current environment. One question we must ask ourselves is when to shift our thinking and focus from crisis to re-emergence governance, especially with the lingering uncertainty about the future.

Governing in a Crisis

When considering crisis governance, the timetable is approximately 30 days from crisis onset to assess the short-term impacts on your organization before moving to re-emergence governance, which can last up to six months or the end of your fiscal year. Crisis governance is the time to review multiple scenarios and respond to the impact of them on your organization. The goal during this time is to minimize damage and crisis resolution is the number one priority.

Focusing on Re-emergence

After the initial response to a crisis, it’s time to review your plans and see what needs to be revised in the longer term. This is the time when leadership must begin to make certain decisions, even though it can be difficult, especially because you may still be operating in a state of uncertainty. If the mentality during crisis governance is that of a firefighter, putting out all the fires of a crisis, the re-emergence mentality is that of a marathon runner – motivated, prepared, and resilient. This is the time to maximize opportunities and ensure your association’s mission returns to the number one priority. The shift here is the response, as it is about those impacted by the crisis as opposed to the impact on the organization.

What Happens to Our Strategic Plan?

In times of uncertainty, there’s a reluctance to plan because you can’t predict what the future holds. The role of the board of directors is to be out ahead of the organization, even if the organization is still in crisis response. Review your strategic plan to see if anything needs to be put on pause during re-emergence. Take this opportunity to shed a legacy program that may not be contributing to the overall mission. Assess what will impact your stakeholders because now is the time to choose what is most important and what will have the biggest impact on them.

In re-emergence governance, there is a need to be comfortable with uncertainty, knowing you may have to adjust and pivot as time goes on. Use this opportunity to focus on a plan you can work toward.

The Board Member Continuum

Depending on the crisis, your board members will be in different places within their own worlds and will bring those perspectives to the board room. There is typically a spectrum of the cautious, the confident, and those somewhere in between. If board members are in crisis management mode for their families or within their careers, it’s possible they may feel stuck there and won’t be able to truly contribute to making hard decisions. Re-emergence governance is an exercise in emotional intelligence. The board of director’s chair and the executive director may need to help others navigate personal response vs. response of the board as a governance team.

However, it is important for board members’ different perspectives to be heard and for the board to obtain a greater worldview. Giving decision-making weight to differing perspectives is challenging given the socioeconomic, geographic, industry and professional differences a crisis can draw out, but those backgrounds and the wisdom they create are essential to making the best decisions for the organization. The role of the board is to set the vision and instill confidence in achieving the mission, so the group must work as a team to achieve it.

Questions for Boards

Many boards have already had to make extremely difficult decisions this year regarding programming and events. Every board has different goals and priorities, so as we prepare for 2021, use the questions below to facilitate a conversation on re-emergence with your board.

  1. As a board member, how do you know it is time to start pivoting your thoughts from crisis to re-emergence?
  2. How do we assess the damage to our organization caused by the crisis? The damage to those impacted by the crisis?
  3. What opportunities are likely to emerge for associations and nonprofits?
  4. As our organization makes the pivot, where do we start?
  5. What will our board do if the damage to the organization is extensive?

Odds are the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first and won’t be the last crisis your organization will face. Organizations that thrive in these situations aren’t simply expecting the worst and hoping for the best – they are acting. With the impacts of a crisis on people and organizations often lasting longer than the crisis itself, deciding when to move to re-emergence governance is essential in ensuring your organization survives and thrives.

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