[Part 1] Forward to the new normal

A few days back, I was asked what a U.S. State should consider as it contemplates reopening its economy. Below is an overview of my suggestions and insights.

First up, strategy.

While a transition plan is required for reopening (part 2 of this article), taking the time to note what could have worked better, or didn’t work at all, must be done now, during the crisis, while you remember it. It’s just too easy to forget details once the emergency is over. Jot down the gaps you are living with and a brief description of the resulting problems to remember later. Aggregating insights helps when creating a transition plan. You won’t be tempted to promise something there is no capability or capacity for. This you can do now, whether you’re in business or either a state or local government.

With notes in hand, we need to create long term contingency plans to handle the unexpected.

There is a lot of discussion about how to restart and get everything back to normal.

My belief is we should not get back to normal.

We should go forward into a new normal.

What that is and will be involves planning.

The planning to move forward gives us the chance to think through what we want to change, how to enable change, and when to implement change.

Old thinking you used to use won’t work anymore; we have new types of problems. We need creative thinking to create tomorrow’s success. Our notes are the data we’ll start with.

The first plan needs to be big picture. Detail comes once you know what you are aiming for.

Many people equate the future’s big picture with digital technology. That’s part of it, but digital is a tool set. There are bigger issues that we need to highlight, discuss, and think through before organizing digital aspects to support the future we want.

For instance, during the Covid19 crisis, we found:

  • glaring shortcomings in the U.S. healthcare infrastructure
  • a lack of understanding of what supply chains are or how they function. This lack of understanding helped fuel panic and impulse buying (shortage gaming) resulting in gigantic and very noticeable product fulfillment uncertainty
  • the capacity and capability of expensive, U.S., internet infrastructure was inadequate and insufficient for the reach and bandwidth required (even after millions/billions spent to enable both)
  • that without a competent Plan B, chaos ensues. Many organizations were lacking contingency and continuity plans coming into the crisis. Once the crisis hit, their workers were left uncertain, anxious, and stressed because there was no plan.

But we are where we are, and now is the time to begin plotting where we want to be.

Back to the big picture view:

Strategy is built to meet stakeholder requirements and leadership vision.  The work to develop performance strategy exposes constraints requiring mitigation.  If we want our strategy to be successful, it must be based solidly on how to deliver what the customers value and expect from us. While there are many customer segments with varied requirements, solutions do exist that cut across these segments. Solutions that promote fuller engagement and integration within and between citizen groups, varied business communities, non-profit communities, and larger regional communities.

Designing and launching a contingency solution with these requirements in mind allows governments to plan and develop additional surge capacity and capability during times of great stress, promote wider networking and formal connection between often disconnected members of the various communities. Contingency planning also reduces the time it takes to initiate a valid, strong emergency response with activated emergency teams.

The risk at this point is in creating a solution too fast, thus leaving out many important facets. Facets that you must adjust for as a crisis flares up. This causes chaos and pulls well made, but insufficient, plans out of sync.  Solutions must include more than making tools available. Back to our example, many proclaim digital technology as if it was a full solution. It’s not. Remember, digital technology was encouraging/enabling social distancing long before people had to stay 6 feet away from each other. There are places for digital technology, and the correct application can be very powerful, but we must design the strategy and the supporting toolset requirements first, not let the toolset dictate our requirements and strategy.

During this crisis, what has become apparent is that states and regions will have to design solutions to meet the need for …

  1. meaningful social interaction – which in part points to robust, ubiquitous internet service
  2. real options for face-to-face business interaction. This includes digital technology and internet services as well as redesigned emergency policies and procedures
  3. improved, expanded, and updated business networking. Well-designed networking is a proactive and critical activity that can be designed to provide seamless interaction between companies. More importantly, it can enhance relationship building between people in different companies of different types and sizes in good times. Those relationships become part of a larger social and economic safety net in bad times.
  4. instigating cross-business collaboration so that all survive and thrive.
  5. revised views of and definitions for statewide infrastructure. Infrastructure including healthcare, communications, systems to move money rapidly including into economically disadvantaged areas, services into remote/closed areas, and collaboration with critical non-profits.
  6. updated training and training grants.

In short, we’re rebuilding today’s version of integrated, cohesive communities that can be self-sufficient when required, but can also work collaboratively across geographic borders for the majority of times (united we stand, divided we fall).

What would this look like?

A state entity would become an integrator of capabilities, blurring business boundaries within its business and non-profit communities to enable the building of emergency task teams to deploy in times of crisis. These teams will provide critical products and services. Think of it like deploying the national guard except we pick up the pieces ourselves and don’t all drive similar vehicles.

While some will worry about nationalization of businesses, that’s not what these ideas are about. They are about lending critical infrastructure resources when things fall apart. Think of it this way: huge numbers of talented people are furloughed or laid off, while rapidly rising demands leave a state government overwhelmed with shortfalls in capacity and capability. Businesses and non-profits are overwhelmed wondering if surviving and restarting is even possible. Non-profits and manufacturers of critical products are stressed trying to quickly fill the surging need for supplies and resources. Homebound people wonder when the crisis will end and they can go back to work. Lots of needs, but also lots of mismatch built into the current system. Instead of the mismatches, what if, when …

  • a state government has to deal with the huge influx of calls for help across a variety of economic and personal issues, laid off customer service personnel from various companies answer phones and questions dealing with: how to navigate government systems, policies, and procedures; answering hotlines; and so on?
  • provision of food to economically disadvantaged school children is needed and non-profit food pantries need help, furloughed supply chain teams are designated to manage supply and delivery of the correct food amounts to the correct locations at the correct times?
  • overwhelmed hospitals and care centers need additional emergency administrative help and data collection, laid off receptionists and admin’s become emergency intake personnel? What if out of work data analysts become emergency data managers and analysts providing real time data on the crisis to assist government entities in making crucial decisions?
  • shortages of critical product are scheduled to occur, businesses experiencing a slowdown start a predetermined transition to the manufacturing of the critical product? If needed, businesses not experiencing a slowdown would supplement critical product production if there was an earlier agreement to manufacture this particular product during emergency times.

I’m sure you can think of more based on your notes of crises gaps.

During planning, evaluation of government interfaces and needs during a crisis, including how the crisis affects different communities, is required. Using past data, and perhaps some simulation with help from a university, the levels of need can be determined for personnel, job types, locations of need based on type of crisis, and the current shortages of specialty skill sets. This becomes the foundation for building statewide emergency teams. Teams that are built from corporate personnel and deployed to meet emergency needs. In DoD, this is called billeting.

In the above scenarios, your tax money is being used to pay your customer service personnel, receptionists, data managers and analysts, and a host of other team players that used to be on your payroll before the crisis. By assigning talented, but out of work/furloughed people to emergency teams that will utilize their much-needed skills, people keep their skills current. Even better, all of them stay off unemployment. The crises teams help reduce the work load on traditional state employees to manageable levels. Win-win.

What is a state committing to with this type of contingency plan, where corporate citizens are deployed as emergency team members in times of crisis? Here are some examples:

  1. Payment of emergency personnel during deployment
  2. Payment for and conducting of personnel training for each position needed in an emergency. This allows personnel inside a business become familiar with government systems, hotline scripts and call recording, how to check out state tools, what documents are needed to ship product, the laws around government fund use, etc. before the crisis hits.

As a bit of motivation, what if this training was performed similar to reserve training. Cross-business emergency personnel meet in their teams to train on a pre-scheduled weekend and are paid for their time. A lot of people have been hurt financial during this crisis, and that hurt will not be over soon according to experts. This would be a way to help citizens financially while also gaining state benefit.

  1. Scheduling, corporate integration, and administrative work around emergency personnel training and teaming.
  2. Keeping personnel assignments current. Perhaps businesses can submit a role title – not a specific name – for chosen emergency teams. This allows for personnel movement as well as filled emergency teams. The intent is to not remove all employees of one type from a single business at any time (thus hamstringing the business for that skill set). Instead, cross-business teams are created. Emergency teams would be made up of skilled personnel from a variety of businesses and business sizes. This integration strengthens a state’s business support system. The integrated collaboration and cooperation become part of a community building exercise that strengthens a state’s economy at the same time it is strengthening its businesses due to sharing of ideas and problem-solving techniques.
  3. Infrastructure preparation for times of crisis (including remote capability) such as administrative privileges, addition of new seats for software and system use, expansion of phone systems, IT cyber security upgrades for integration of non-governmental electronic devices into governmental systems, warehousing expansion, and risk mitigation planning when things don’t go as planned for any of the above.
  4. Purchase and maintenance of critical emergency inventory placed in strategic, forward positions to easily supply required product when and where needed. The inventory should be sized to cover the expected time it will take to get replacement stock, not the entire crisis. That time, the lead time, will partially depend upon the speed at which state businesses can transition to manufacturing critical product. It also means critical raw materials, not just finished goods, need to be evaluated.

These adjustments radically change requests from “Can anyone do this for us?” to “You chose to create this product in emergency situations and this is an emergency. Let’s talk about quantities and delivery.”

Even better, working like this in emergency situations allows purchasing to aggregate critical supply and service purchases across the state or region, for both businesses and government. Better pricing and order delivery are only part of the benefit. A single, central procurement group in times of emergency ends much of the pricing increase/gouging enabled because companies and governments are forced to compete against each other. Aggregating purchases in times of crisis provides purchasing power, saves taxpayer money, and reduces stress on businesses and citizens.

Stress increases when states are stretched beyond their limits and essential activities are not completed in time to handle emergency activity. A couple of stress increasing examples: anxiety and frustration from not getting through to needed resources; temporary structures not being built; IT not deployed to setup communications in remote emergency centers; funds are not received and no one knows or has the time to find out why, food not delivered into communities… These types of stressors are eliminated and customer service levels increase if cross-business teams fill surge capacity gaps.

If you are wondering about the cost, remember this: workforce development funds paid by state taxes, and sometimes federal taxes, are already used to help businesses train their personnel. This new use for grant funds would pay to train business personnel to perform specific job functions in emergency situations. This is of benefit to a state government (additional surge capacity and capability) as well as a benefit to businesses – new skill sets are developed and disseminated between cohorts in different businesses.

But what about those larger infrastructure pieces, you ask.

Emergency teams and processes can be developed without knowing the larger systems picture in the beginning. It’s a Band-Aid approach. Band-Aids must be reviewed and replaced as necessary as new systems and procedures are developed and launched. Again, the best time to start the planning and requirement capture is during the crisis when you have to grapple with the shortcomings daily. Document the Band-Aids so that you know what you changed.

Once infrastructure, capacity, capability, and requirements aspects are thought through, they need to be placed in a big picture plan, also called a strategy. Now is the time to begin the digital review of where can technology will realistically make a huge and needed difference. All technology requirements will include the abilities of system operators in times of regular activity and emergencies. Contingency supply chain adjustments can now be designed and implemented statewide as required.

As the strategy becomes part of everyday life for people and companies, states can begin slowly increasing the skill levels required. They can then use those skill levels to attract companies and industries that fit into the state’s economic plan. The message sent to potential companies interested in relocating? “Application and integration of advanced and traditional skill sets are just a way of life here. Not only will you prosper when times are good based on our highly trained workforce, we’ve got you covered when times are bad.”

Government and corporate alignment reduce enticement dollars offered when competing for corporate relocations because you’ve already made the investment companies are looking for. Win-win again.

By this point, you may be thinking that, while contingency and continuity planning are good ideas, a state simply can’t get all of this done during the time of crisis.

You’re right.

Next article I’ll dive into tactical activities and tools you can use to restart and protect supply chains, operations, and your workers. They are the Band-Aids that will work now but may need to be changed later.

Share your ideas on continuity and contingency planning in today’s reality in the comments section.

And please, stay safe.


Keywords and concepts: contingency planning, continuity planning, emergency planning, task forces, cross-business teams, risk, strategy, governmental strategy, economic planning, community building, billeting

Cynthia Kalina-Kaminsky, Ph.D. is the President of Process & Strategy Solutions  She helps tech, tech enabled, manufacturing and logistics companies with growth, transition, and transformation. Watch our FREE: Keep Your Business Healthy video series



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