Making things normal in a time of abnormality
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
It is now three weeks since the UK went into 'lockdown' and less than six weeks since the first Covid-19 death in the UK. But it feels like a lifetime ago. If you're frantically trying to secure the future of your charity or social enterprise while meeting the needs of your beneficiaries, customers, staff and volunteers, it will have been an exhausting time. Now is the time to draw breath and find new energy.
As a leader in the for-purpose sector, you have a lot of eyes on you. Your staff and your volunteers, your clients or beneficiaries and those who commission your services, as well as your family and friends. You will probably be feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, but be trying to put a brave face on it to give everyone else confidence, even if you don't feel it yourself. There isn't a magic pill you can take to keep you going at full pace, and instead it can be more effective to rely on creating and following some standard processes that will give you the space to devote your remaining energy to the most important places. With the UK lockdown almost certainly extending for at least another three weeks, you don't want to run out of steam.
Revisit and revise your emergency plans
Early in March, I published a guide on the 600 strategy LinkedIn page that was intended to help charities, community and voluntary organisations quickly get prepared for the possible disruption that was to follow. I advised that discussing scenarios was a useful exercise, and that one scenario should be 'doom and gloom' and another should be 'bright and optimistic'. Well, sadly the doom and gloom scenario was probably closest to the truth.
While it is standard practice to prepare these plans during the good times and deploy them during the crisis, many organisations will have found that their plans weren't sufficient and that had to devote a lot of energy on creating new response actions as they went along. Now is a good time to take stock of what went well and what lessons you can learn. This type of retrospective can be crucial in helping you focus in on the things that have been working well, and turning them into a standard way of operating during this crisis.
Settle into the new normal
None of us want this pandemic to be normal, it is anything but normal. It is horrible and scary and so many of us are just wishing it would go away so that we can 'get back to normal'. Unfortunately we know that it is with us for at least several more weeks, and the impact of this crisis will be felt for months or years into the future. Coming to terms with that from a personal point of view is difficult, but it is vital to do it from an organisational point of view.
In a blog I wrote at the end of March, I talked about 'building a bridge back to normality', which had three key elements:
Keeping on delivering impact
Emerging from the crisis fit for the future
By now, most organisations will know how long they can survive for and will have worked out whether to furlough staff, seek to raise additional funds or potentially to run until they fail. The government's announcements for businesses and charities have broadly been welcomed, and were never going to be completely sufficient for the needs, but it will be desperately sad to see some charities and social businesses going bankrupt as a result of this crisis. I've shared updates on the 600 strategy LinkedIn page pointing to the various schemes available, and other organisations like the NCVO and Social Enterprise UK have done the same.
Now is the time to be moving more of our attention towards keeping on delivering impact, and emerging from the crisis. Keeping a weekly review of financial health during the crisis will be sufficient for most organisations now (accepting that there might be other financial issues that emerge suddenly that need to be taken account of).
If you reviewed your theory of change or service delivery model and came to the conclusion that you need to change the way you operate, you'll now have at least a couple of week's worth of good insight and possibly data on how well it is going. Now is the time to review how well things are working, whether there are any groups or individuals who are missing out (e.g. a sudden shift to digital services may mean that the digitally excluded are being adversely affected). It might also be a good time to look for new partnerships and collaborations that can help you achieve impact, or at least give you access to lessons usefully learnt by others.
Where things are working well, lock them into your ways of working. But where they aren't working, try something different - experimentation is innovation and not everything works as you hoped or thought it might. Keeping a lessons learned log is a good way of tracking these things - and it will be a rich source of intelligence as you start to develop your plans on how to emerge from the crisis, fit for the future.
This crisis isn't going to end quickly, so we all need to prepare ourselves for the long-haul. Here are my top tips to help you, as leaders of charities, community and voluntary organisations or social businesses, keep on delivering your mission:
Take a pause and reflect on the past few weeks. What has worked well for you personally and for your purposeful organisation, what hasn't worked so well. Seek the views of others.
Standardise your operations as much as possible. Where something is going well, label it as the new way of doing things so that everyone knows to stick to it. This will allow you, and others, to put their energies into the areas that need your focus.
Keep on talking about future scenarios. Your business continuity plans will be based on different scenarios of the future. If you have a daily or weekly team meeting, talk about the future and the various possibilities. Encourage everyone to think 'doom and gloom' and 'bright and optimistic' to be prepared for every eventuality.
Shift out of survival mode. By now, you will have a much clearer idea of how long you will be able to survive during this crisis. However long that is, now is the time to focus on delivering as much positive impact as you are able to. Is your new way of delivering benefits going well? Keep innovating, adopting good operating models into your standard way of doing things, and jettisoning those experiments that have failed.
Keep learning lessons. Most of us have been put well outside our comfort zone over the last few weeks. That space outside our comfort zone is our learning zone. Keep track of the lessons you have learnt, they will be invaluable when you discuss how to emerge from this crisis fit for the future.
600 strategy is here to help
If you found this blog useful, get in touch to start a conversation. I set up 600 strategy to help purposeful organisations make progress towards their missions. We provide services around strategy (e.g. strategic reviews, governance support), change management (e.g. practical change support and project management) and facilitation (e.g. ideation and staff engagement).
During the coronavirus crisis, I am offering free and confidential conversations with leaders from across the for-purpose sector to help you continue to make progress in spite of everything.
Get in touch via the contact section of the website and we can set up a call.
But most of all, keep safe and well please.