Making Association Leaders Matter | Octavio Peralta

January, named after the Roman god Janus, is a time of beginnings and transitions. It’s the first month of the year when you start planning and setting new goals. However, the pandemic has added a new dimension in the way organizations now plan and operate.

So when I read “What Matters Most? Six Priorities for CEOs in Turbulent Times” by Homayun Hatami and Liz Hilton Siegel on the McKinsey & Co. website, I thought their findings would resonate with associations, too.

1. Flexibility: The ability to withstand or recover quickly from adversity. The pandemic has made companies move much faster and for their leaders to spread speed across six dimensions of resilience: finance, operations, technology regulation, business model, and reputation. In the context of associations, these areas of flexibility include governance, member engagement, communications, branding and marketing, new service offerings, revenue diversification, and digital transformation.

2. Courage: Strength for adventure, perseverance, and dealing with danger, fear, or difficulty. The pandemic has caused some companies to backtrack, postpone initiatives, and scale back growth plans. However, the best leaders motivate their organizations to look for new opportunities and readjust their strategies in light of current volatility. Association leaders who followed the same style of bravely pursuing the upside (eg, active collaboration, nurturing people and skill development, hybrid working) rather than the downside of the crisis survived and even thrived.

3. Entrepreneurial spirit: The willingness to take risks and the confidence to start a business. More than half of the CEOs in the study considered building the business a top priority. They started out by setting very high standards and protecting the new business from “business as usual”. In the same vein, many associations have invested in new member offerings during the pandemic, for example, creating online communities, promoting educational and certification programs, and mentoring.

4. Technical prowess: Ability or depth of knowledge and ease of dealing with techniques. Building a new business means having the latest and best technology. This is true for all companies seeking to get the most value from their digital transformation. But technology is always evolving, so it is necessary to constantly monitor the latest technology trends. This is the case for associations that believe there is no way to grow but to go digital.

5. Focus on Sustainability: A business approach to creating long-term value by considering how the organization operates in the environmental, social and economic environments. At COP26, business leaders pledged to reduce nearly 90% of carbon dioxide emissions. Clearly, the net-to-zero transition is on its way. The associations follow suit by undertaking, among other things, advocacy for climate action, as well as legacy programs based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals when organizing meetings, conferences and exhibitions.

6. Re-employment of the Employee: Organizing a workplace experience for employees that creates an emotional connection with the workplace and their colleagues. Getting the hybrid business model right is only one dimension. CEOs need to think seriously about the office of the future, which is where workers want to be: to see friends, generate new ideas, and find meaning in their work.

Octavio Peralta is currently the Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact Network in the Philippines and the Founder and Volunteer CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Executive Associations, “The Association of Associations”. Email:

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