I’m Mr. Brightside: Looking for Opportunities in the Wake of COVID-19

March 23, 2020

This has been a truly bizarre week to say the least.  Although there is still a lot of uncertainty on how this current pandemic will impact not-for-profit organizations in the weeks and months to come, it will certainly change the way we operate in the future.  Although our clients and our own Firm are still adapting and working through our immediate response to the COVID-19 outbreak, I find myself looking back on this past week and am amazed at how quickly we can adapt and find new opportunities to do things differently when faced with an unexpected challenge.  In that spirt, I wanted to take a moment to list some of the brightside effects I’ve observed from the changes we’ve experienced as a result of COVID-19.

Innovation at Light Speed

One of the things that struck me the most about this past week was just how quickly I’ve seen our clients and our Firm adapt to changing circumstances.  New policies, new technology, changes in processes and work flows – all these things typically take weeks or months to make even a minor tweak when operating under our “business as usual” mindset.  But COVID-19 has shown us that we can innovate and make decisions quickly to adapt as needed to succeed.  We’ve seen colleges implement online learning programs in the course of two weeks, teachers reading books to their class via Facebook Live, and employees adapting their work hours, timing, and methods to respond to the changing needs of the organization. This crisis reminds us that every day innovation is often more impactful than big structural or organizational changes.

Using Data Analytics to Respond to Crisis

As this crisis unfolded, I had a quick check in call with our icimo analytics group and was amazed at how quickly our clients are reacting and making the most of the situation, by leveraging their existing data and applying business intelligence practices to answer critical questions on the fly.  One of our university client’s IT services group is evaluating bandwidth, timing of online courses and identifying geographical capabilities to ensure the transition to online curriculum delivery meets the high standards of their institution.  Additionally, a national not-for-profit organization wanted to engage and support their members during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Inside a 48-hour window, the client and our team were able to deliver a dynamic national situational dashboard which updates daily to their leadership.  This empowers the organization to identify trends and perform geospatial analysis, which enables them to prioritize their communication with the most at risk members, based on profile and interactivity proximity analysis within a radius of confirmed cases.

Adapting Communication

Changes in communication styles and methods has been the biggest adjustment I’ve seen in the past week, but I’ve had more meaningful connections and conversations with team members, clients, family and friends in the last seven days than I have in the past month, when I was actually allowed to be within six feet of them.  I was thankful when a Partner of mine forwarded these tips from Andy Bounds for dealing with communication in a time of crisis:

  • Communicate more than ever. In crisis time, communication is like healthy eating – “little and often.” So, maybe double the frequency but halve the duration. Make sure your colleagues know what your company’s doing, what your team’s doing, and what you’re doing. There’s enough uncertainty, without people having to guess what’s going on inside your head.
  • Empathy, not projection. You need to know how other people are feeling, and that you don’t just project your own emotions onto them. So ask them. Ask how they’re doing; what extra help they need; what changes they want you to make. Ask… ask…
  • Brilliant virtual comms. There’ll be less face-to-face and more virtual – conference calls, Skype, webinars etc. (I’m doing more webinars for my customers than ever before). So make your virtual comms as powerful as possible. Be clear on outcomes. Shorten the agenda and duration (nobody likes long conference calls!)
  • Better emails (but as few as possible). It’s easy to over-email in times like this. So don’t send stuff for the sake of sending it. And when you do email, include a clear action at the end – or the reader won’t act!

These tips allowed me to have a lot of short, but impactful check-ins with my clients and my teams.  If you don’t follow Andy Bounds on LinkedIn, I suggest you do.

Identifying the Opportunity for Change

For some of our clients, this pandemic has shed light on some weaknesses in business processes and technology.  One smaller organization that I spoke with was really struggling with how to get checks processed without sacrificing the controls they had in place which had been operating adequately until COVID-19 forced a work from home policy.  As expected, they adapted and implemented a temporary solution, but getting there was more painful than they would have anticipated.  One key takeaway for them was the need for software based controls as opposed to manual and paper processes.  Making that change will make them a stronger organization in the future which is a brightside from this experience.

I’m optimistic about the impact COVID-19 will have on how we approach, not only our business, but our personal relationships with those who live and work around us.  I can’t wait to see what opportunities present themselves in the week to come!

Matthew Socha, Partner
Leader, Not-for-Profit Industry Group

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