How leaders adapt in stress james mueller

Corona Conundrums – Adapting on the Run: Negotiate, Invest, and Focus

A number of clients called me this week, all asking for support on developing contingency plans to deal with the impact of the coronavirus. In particular, “What do we do about scheduled stakeholder events, board meetings, and managing staff—many of whom will probably work remotely?”

Today, I want to offer a few quick ideas regarding how to adapt to these situations.

Stakeholder Events: Negotiate

Board Meetings: Invest in video conferencing software

Managing Remote Staff: Focus on outcomes

Stakeholder Events

If you decide not to hold the stakeholder event—like every one of my clients right now—and you have already paid a deposit, empathetically negotiate, do not demand. Get on the phone right away, acknowledge to the business representative that you understand how difficult and challenging this time is for them. It must be really scary. Let them know you understand, especially the hardship their employees are experiencing. If you are aware of nonprofit agencies in the community that can help them, make a list of the agencies and their services, and offer to make inquiries if it makes sense. Then tell them you don’t want to cancel, but postpone. Ask if they would be willing to transfer your deposits to a future date—within a reasonable amount of time.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Use this opportunity to re-conceive an alternative donor experience—even if it’s just a way to keep in touch.  What might you do digitally? Is it about recognition? Is it about cultivation? Stir up your creative juices to think about what you might do through social media to connect with donors. What other digital or telecommunication approaches can you employ? How can you use the notice of event cancellation to strike up a meaningful conversation on the phone?  Or through email? Or can you offer a webcast? These are just a few top-of-mind suggestions. The point is:  don’t waste this opportunity to rethink business-as-usual.

Board Meetings

If your board is concerned about meeting, especially if they have to travel by air, use the opportunity to your advantage.  There are some terrific new video-conferencing software packages on the market that allow you to share documents easily.  It is worth the investment to put board members at ease.  Test them out in advance.

Again, is there an opportunity to innovate?  Maybe you can change the way meetings are run—changes that have eluded you until now.  Stay positive.  And use that energy to create.

Staff Working Remotely

This may be a new, if only temporary, reality for many organizations.  The major concern is how to stay productive.  Let me offer some topline suggestions.

  • Ask every employee to put together a simple work plan. The work plan should clearly articulate:
    • the priorities—not a laundry list, the top priorities
    • what outcomes they are seeking to achieve (and what success looks like)
    • the key activities that they and their managers agree to focus upon to achieve those outcomes
  • Create an activity log that is used by everyone and submitted daily (or at some regular interval). The activity log should focus on outcomes achieved, then actions taken.  For example, priority is “to increase annual average gift from my prospects by 10%.”  The outcome for the day might be:  “secured commitments for three gifts today (list amount increase/decrease).”  The actions would be: “spoke with five gift prospects today about their annual gift commitment.”  Activities are only important when related to outcomes.
  • Keep the forms simple and easy to complete. Some organizations also require the time spent on those activities, especially for non-exempt employees.
  • Set up a video conferencing tool and schedule regular check-ins. Ensure that the check-ins are focused first on the outcomes, second on strategies to overcome challenges, and third on processing issues of personal concern.  Keep expectations clear, focus on coaching rather than assessing.

We have tremendous digital tools at hand these days.  This is an opportunity to innovate and figure out how to take greater advantage of them…  and your own creative problem-solving skills.

As always, if you need a thinking partner or just some advice, contact us.  I’m offering a free 15-minute consultation to anyone who might need that support in these trying times.

Wishing you productive problem-solving!

AUTHOR - James Mueller

Jim Mueller is president of James Mueller & Associates LLC (JMA), a national consulting firm that provides services in the areas of organizational development, governance, and philanthropy. Follow Jim on LinkedIn.