In my last blog, I talked about attracting volunteers, where to find them, and why they are the unsung heroes of so many communities. This blog will focus on crisis management. 2020 changed the lives of billions of people around the world and those changes are not done just because we flipped the calendar to a new year. So while planning is always important, we will talk about how to recognize and handle crisis as a vital part of those planning efforts.
What Is A Crisis?
By definition, a crisis is a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. I think we can all agree that the last year and a half or so have proven to be exactly that for all of us in multiple ways. From the COVID-19 pandemic to economic uncertainty to personal and professional challenges, we have been in a time of protracted crisis for the last several months. For most people, that is something new and different, challenging the way they view the world and their approach to problems. So even though a crisis is by nature a future “unknown” event, you can plan on how you will respond to them.
Resilience In The Face of Adversity
The COVID-19 pandemic began a new way of thinking, especially in how we face adversity. Can workers be just as productive at home as they can be from the office? Do we need to offer more flexible arrangements for workers? Are jobs paying enough to recruit and retain workers in a new environment where personal needs trump profit?
At the beginning of the pandemic, this was not the case. There was instant panic and shutdowns, closing schools and a massive hibernation behind the walls of our homes. It was a scary time because there was not enough information out there for anyone to know what would happen or steps that could be taken. While some businesses and communities made the pivots faster, even those that were quick on the draw were not sure what to make of the changing environment.
Resilience is the power or ability to return to original form after being bent or broken. And this is what so many people have been focused on. How do we delete the past year and those experiences and get back to what life was like PRIOR to the pandemic? This is often what we teach and how we respond to adversity in our communities. We didn’t like that or it was the wrong decision, so how do we erase it from our memories.
Our goal shouldn’t be to return to a time with which we are familiar, but we should focus on recovering. This will be evident in our quest for vaccines, changing the business paradigm, recognizing how the economics of the situation have changed, etc. We need to start planning ahead, not only to recover from this crisis, but to plan for others down the road.
While most crises are individualized for people, the COVID-19 crisis was a global event, impacting every corner of the world. Large-scale crises give rise to the opportunities for communities, businesses, and non-profits to band together and work on course-correcting before the crisis gets out of hand and gives valuable insight to keep a future crisis from wrecking the system. I will look at each entity in turn and give some overall suggestions on how to combat a crisis, both now and in the future.
Cities are probably the worst in adaptation to a new reality. Cities are naturally reactive and they have a lot of rules to follow most times before they are allowed to act. Even though cities are the most likely to have some form of strategic plan, they are also the least likely to use their plans. They sit on shelves, gathering dust and being overlooked for the value they could bring, especially in the face of adversity.
COVID-19 has given cities a clean slate on being proactive in their communities. They know the community best, so act on what they think is the best option. A crisis is no better time to try something and improvise, to be innovative. However, cities need to be even more transparent in a time of crisis. WHAT are they doing and WHY? These three ideas can help in times of crisis, but they can also be great guidelines for future planning beyond the current crisis.
Businesses are probably in the middle of the road on adapting to challenges. Between workforce, supply chain, and competition issues, businesses are always looking ahead to try and overcome problems that arise. However, their main focus is on company productivity and profits, which can make reacting to a crisis outside their walls problematic.
Just like cities, businesses have the ability to change their dynamics thanks to the current situation. While a lot of larger and more global businesses may fit these ideals, many smaller businesses do not. The current crisis should be the inspiration for businesses to update to the 21st century, especially in terms of technology. If COVID-19 has shown nothing else, it has shown a growing dependence and need on technology for businesses of all sizes. Businesses need to be willing to experiment. A lot already do, but they take small and calculated risks. Yet, a crisis situation does not always allow for that, so you have to be willing to go bold and hope that the risk might pay out. Even if it doesn’t, taking the opportunity allows the business to think in a different direction, which will help when planning for reactions to a future crisis. Finally, businesses too need to be transparent about the WHAT and the WHY of what they are doing. Consumers want to believe that businesses have their best interests at heart, so by opening up and letting people know what they are doing, they can help encourage those feelings, even in failure.
Non-profits are probably the most readily adaptable to change in the environment. With a constant lack of resources, volunteers, and community support, they have to thrive on the fringes constantly, working hard to maintain the status quo while looking to expand and grow. However, that doesn’t mean that they are the best agents to watch in terms of a crisis. They are likely to handle it better overall because it is a pretty consistent mindset, but a crisis on several fronts, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can be hard to manage.
Non-profits need to tackle a crisis by being proactive. Some of those weird ideas or fringe theories need to be tested when people are more willing, more hopeful for a positive solution. They need to be the resource, the solution that businesses and communities are looking for in a crisis. Non-profits do this by getting out into the community, talking to businesses, removing other burdens. They might not play a direct role in crisis management, but they can help ease the pressure and that is an important role that not enough embrace. Non-profits need to upskill their staff and volunteers. Take the time to learn something new, to fill a knowledge void in the organization. As was shown in a lot of aid packages passed in the last year, being able to adapt and fill a gap is crucial. Not only in the way we do business, but so too in the information we know. Make sure that you are taking the time in a crisis to learn what you don’t know. It can help forestall a future crisis due to that knowledge and experience. Finally, non-profits need to showcase involvement. During normal times, many groups operate without another’s knowledge, plugging along to fulfill their mission as best they can. But a crisis gives the ability to interact with those that might not be seen as complementary to the missions of others, to work together, to open that coordination and cooperation to new heights. Not only can this help solve a crisis, but it can also help prevent future ones if the coordination continues.
We always hear that the two constants in life are death and taxes. But there is a third one that often gets overlooked and that’s change. We know that things change and that they always will, but we continue to fight to keep things the same, loving the ability to “know” what will happen. However, we always assume that change will be incremental. That it happens slowly over time, allowing us to adapt at our speed.
A crisis is the antithesis of that concept. A crisis is immediate and it is usually severe. Whether it is a personal one that impacts only you to one that impacts the entire world, a crisis is immediate. And it can be hard to contain and hard to prevent. But by working together, taking the lessons learned from this crisis, and planning with uncertain in mind, we can begin to harness our collective brainpower and will to make it easier to survive and persevere.
Watch For My Next Blog!
Keep an eye out for my next blog! I’m not sure what I will be discussing yet because I like to try and live in the moment, so stay tuned!