Now what do we do?

In the early days of March 2020, the TV series M*A*S*H kept creeping into my thoughts. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it was about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital near the front lines of the Korean War. Occasionally, the whole hospital would have to pick up and move to a safer location because the fighting had become too close: they called it “bugging out.” The process was to take care of the most susceptible, mobilize your team in waves, then re-establish order and communication. That is what it felt like as we attempted to stay in front of the recommendations for shelter-in-place due to COVID-19. Our M*A*S*H like transition was successful and I am so proud of our team and organization for not skipping a beat.

But after a couple of weeks I began to think “now what.” When do we return? Interestingly, should we return? Can we make this a sustainable operating model? I’m sure many others in my position are asking similar questions. I don’t yet know the answers to all these questions and certainly don’t want to wade into the pool of controversy about when to “return to normal.” However, I think there is value in asking these questions, considering other questions and being open to outcomes not even considered six months ago.

Time will tell what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the workplace. In my career, I remember how Y2K and 9/11 impacted business. Even events that we created for ourselves, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, changed how we operated. In all cases, the short-term impact was just that: short-term. These kinds of events, new laws, technology, and evolving social norms all impact how we do our work in the long-term, but those changes are typically incremental. This was decidedly not incremental but overnight. However, I suspect COVID-19 will be the same when evaluated over the course of decades vs weeks or months.

My perspective is that now is the time to evaluate your opportunities and think about the future strategically. As long as you have been able to maintain operations in this new virtual environment, there is no reason to rush back to the way things have always been. This is particularly true with the potential for a “second wave” later this year. Now is the time to keep the operation stable, or even better, to improve it!  When I refer to “opportunities” I really mean weaknesses. What a grand time it is to really do some self-examination, identify weaknesses, and take steps to dramatically improve. I am not suggesting a reckless “start from scratch” approach, but we have a window to try new things and to establish incremental change.

Initiatives to deal with weaknesses can also be built into strategic planning. How many times have you heard someone say “I wish the world would just stop for a minute so I could catch up/fix something/go back in time” or something similar? Guess what….it just did. Are you taking advantage of it, learning from mistakes, altering your future? The work we do now will potentially set the course for the next decade or more. There is so much to consider when you begin to think strategically, and the potential outcomes of one decision can dramatically impact other areas of the operation. The challenge will be to set a course that minimizes fluctuation in results and maximizes effectiveness. This entire paragraph describes my current frame of mind. How about you?

Finally, there has been much said and written about human interaction and communication in these times. Involve your teams at all levels to get their perspectives and opinions. Make sure you know what they need to better take care of your clients and to do their jobs. Emails, phone calls, video chats – the medium does not matter but the communication, questions, and dialogue do. In this new virtual world, there is no such thing as over-communication. It is my goal to have us all in the boat, rowing in the same direction, navigating these waves of change effectively!

Written by Craig Towner, Chief Operating Officer