President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan reflects on how LeadingAge is using three lessons from the pandemic to lead the way to a brighter future for aging services.
Throughout the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I gave much thought to the kind of support LeadingAge members would need to get through a health emergency that had disproportionately impacted our residents and clients and challenged our sector like never before.
Now that the crisis phase of the pandemic is behind us, my thinking—and the thinking of my teammates at LeadingAge—has shifted somewhat. We’re still here to support the members who continue to struggle with the residual effects of our global health crisis—full stop. At the same time, we have our eyes focused squarely on the road ahead because we know many of you are struggling to regain organizational strength.
We’ve learned many lessons since March 2020. Three of those lessons have led us to introduce new opportunities for members that, we believe, will lead the way to a brighter future for us all.
Our first lesson: Strong organizations build their capacity to anticipate the future.
The last 32 months have taught us that major challenges can upend an organization’s equilibrium at any time and without warning. We were understandably surprised by the power of the pandemic. But we now have a new appreciation for tools that can help us anticipate and prepare for the next challenges—and the next opportunities—that cross our path.
It all comes down to vigilance, strategy, and governance. An organization’s board of directors must work with the executive team to continually scan the horizon for emerging trends, think deeply about how those trends might impact their organization, and act in a strategic manner to ensure that unforeseen events don’t catch the organization by surprise. This doesn’t happen automatically. It requires a formal commitment to strategic governance, a solid education to ensure that board members and leaders have the knowledge and skills they need to engage in forward-thinking discussions, and a willingness to seek guidance from experts in the field.
How are we leading the way? LeadingAge has developed a robust collection of self-guided tools that support strategic governance. We firmly believe these tools can help members build strong and effective boards that will, in turn, help their organizations successfully navigate our changing aging services landscape. To supplement these resources, we offer LeadingAge Consulting to support members as they adopt a strategic governance model.
Our second lesson: To get where you’re going, you need to know where you are right now.
It was common during the early months of the pandemic to use boating metaphors to describe our organizations. We envisioned ourselves as captains of boats caught in a dangerous storm. We struggled valiantly to make sure we had “all hands on deck” to meet the challenge. We worked overtime to navigate our organizations to shore.
These images remind me of a maxim I heard at this year’s Annual Meeting: “You need to know where you are right now if you have any hope of getting to where you want to go.” Fortunately, organizations like ours have a reliable tool called benchmarking to help us track our current performance and use that information to move our organizations forward.
How are we leading the way? LeadingAge is launching a new national benchmarking opportunity, through which small cohorts of member organizations will share data about their operations, receive a report on their self-assessed performance, and see how their results compare to national benchmarks. Members taking part in the process will have an opportunity to participate in a workshop that will guide them in using their data to improve their readiness to navigate through uncertainty and to steer their organizations in the direction of health and sustainability.
Our third lesson: No one is better equipped than us to solve the big issues facing our field.
LeadingAge members bring their dedication to mission and their years of experience to the work they do. They know their residents and clients well, and they understand better than anyone how to meet the growing need for safe and affordable housing and high-quality services and supports. Many members have developed innovative processes or solutions to address pressing issues. Our challenge as nonprofits is to spread and scale those innovations for broad impact.
How are we leading the way? LeadingAge is preparing to launch the LeadingAge Solution Studio, a nine-month process that will bring together groups of 12 to 20 LeadingAge members to find durable solutions to the thorny problems facing our sector. We’ll be guided in this effort by Quantified Ventures (QV), a B-Corporation that works with a variety of organizations, including several LeadingAge members, to design, capitalize, and scale investible solutions to pressing challenges faced by individuals and society.
We believe LeadingAge members have unlimited potential to find innovative solutions to problems that have challenged our sector and our nation for years. The Solution Studio, and our partnership with QV, represents a very promising way for us to realize that potential.
The last few years have been challenging for all of us. I want you to know that LeadingAge is working hard to ensure that we all emerge from the pandemic with resilience and strength as we tap into the power of strategic foresight, data, and innovation.