As staffing company leaders, it’s likely that we share a common experience during the pandemic. The past few months may have revealed strengths you didn’t know that you and your team had — and maybe some deficits, too.
In my own company, our healthcare staffing, search and technology businesses experienced tsunamis of highs and lows. As hospitals filled with Covid-19 patients, elective surgeries were cancelled and patients stopped going to the doctor, creating an imbalance that the industry had never seen. Thousands of healthcare workers were furloughed or laid off while hospitals and their partner staffing firms scrambled to find people who could care for critical Covid patients. Healthcare workforce planning flipped to crisis mode with a constant demand for clinical staff to care for drastic patient influxes and to stand in for sick or exhausted clinicians.
We experienced sudden, drastic changes to our business model. To survive (and thrive), we leaned hard into some organizational and operational beliefs that are foundational to the unique workplace culture that we’ve built. Here are a few of them.
Working ON or IN the business. In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney describes “the whirlwind” of the day-to-day that sucks you in: unending emails, virtual meetings, reports to read. We hate it because it is constant; we love it because we feel accomplished when we check things off the list. That’s working IN the business.
Conversely, working ON the business is strategy. It’s asking, “Are we doing the right things?” versus “Are we doing things right?” It is making sure that we truly understand the problems we are solving for our customers. It is innovation and improvement. Working ON the business means differentiating and becoming known for that difference. It means ensuring that everyone knows how we define success and how they contribute. It is solving issues before they become problems and ensuring that our associates win when the company wins. During Covid, working ON the business has meant taking a step back to analyze our customers’ problems, assess our core capabilities and create responsive delivery models.
Decentralize decision-making. Years ago, we purchased a company out of a distressed situation where the owner was misappropriating company funds. None of the managers had access to the (bogus) financials and as a result, they had no idea what was making money for the business and what wasn’t.
When the leadership received their first set of accurate financials, they lost no time in using them to make a number of changes that transformed their business.
The pace of change during Covid was too great for any one person or centralized group to manage. We were able to quickly respond to our thousands of customers because each individual and team was empowered with the authority and information they needed to respond. All we had to do was get out of their way!
Use smoke alarms, not fire alarms. There is only one sound that is worse than that of a smoke alarm in the middle of the night: a fire truck’s siren. Preventing a problem or detecting it early is significantly less costly than fixing one after the fact.
The smoke alarms we have in business — reports, sales funnels, surveys, reviews and meetings — are all designed to alert leaders when and where there might be a problem while it is still solvable. We were forced into a totally distributed workforce during the pandemic and, like many, are now contemplating a model with more hybrid options. Make sure you have alarm systems that provide ways to get insights into how people on your team feel. Employee surveys, meaningful employee feedback and review sessions serve as excellent smoke alarms that can catch a problem before it becomes unsolvable.
Having well-defined organizational beliefs and operational systems can serve you incredibly well in the best of times, and during a crisis, you’ll have the chance to hone those beliefs and systems so that they continue to serve you indefinitely.