“When the going gets tough…..you find out what you’re really made of!”
OK, so that’s not really how that expression goes. But it’s still true, right? When things are going well, it’s easy to be kind and generous – a good friend, partner, employer or neighbor. But when crisis strikes, what happens when our visceral instincts for self-preservation kick in? Does our vision turn totally inward? Or not?
For over 25 years, the CARE Award has been recognizing companies that have a particularly keen focus on the welfare of their employees and the surrounding communities in which they live and work. Washington, DC is generally considered to be an affluent region more recession-resistant than many other parts of the country. There aren’t many instances of true crisis than invade our region and certainly not to a greater extent than might be felt throughout the rest of the country.
Until the government shutdown.
Of all the economic or social events that would seem to have the DMV squarely in their crosshairs, you couldn’t do much better than that. What a perfect opportunity, we thought, to see how these community leaders really do react when the going gets tough…as the saying goes. So, we surveyed recent CARE winners, many of whom rely on government contracts for their livelihood, to see how they addressed this real crisis situation.
One such story emerged from Evans Incorporated. Evans is a management consulting firm that had employees who were both directly and indirectly impacted by the shutdown. Entering the shutdown, their overarching corporate philosophy was a) to keep people working on productive and interesting things for as long as possible, and b) to absorb as much of the impact corporately as they could, before potentially impacting the lives of their employees through things like mandatory PTO, mandatory leave without pay, or other scenarios. To accomplish this, Evans asked employees to focus on “bench work” (i.e. funded through company overhead and G&A budgets) to ensure employees were working effectively and continuing to be paid for valuable contributions, rather than just keeping busy. Benchwork included working on items from their strategic plan, particularly focusing on improving corporate culture and procedures. One of their talented project managers was assigned the role of “bench manager” during the shutdown. She administered a spreadsheet with over 75 projects and assignments on it and held daily “bench calls” for staff when they were newly placed on stop-work orders by the government. This proactive attentiveness to the management of their internal work allowed them to be nimble in their approach to what staff worked on, and essentially compress 6 to 9 months of internal initiatives into a few short weeks.
They also used the time during the shutdown to develop some innovative tools that they thought would help their customers within the government once it re-opened. These innovations were developed using Evans’ own resources, with no expectation for sale or reimbursement. Rather, they felt it was simply the right thing to do. First, they designed what they termed the “Re-Start Manifesto”. This was a 2-page 11×17 infographic-style communication tool similar to a poster, and it helped remind managers of some employee engagement basics to help them re-acclimate their teams coming back from furlough. It focused on mindset, employee support, communication, making time to reconnect and other tools and suggestions for government managers and leaders. Second, they built a program re-planning tool in Excel. This tool was designed to help their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) program manager clients holistically assess the impacts to their acquisition programs, including impacts to finances, contracts, milestones, planned future investments or acquisitions, stakeholders (both internal and external), and the like. The tool was designed to easily aggregate this information within and across programs, to offer simple portfolio-level summaries of the information at the Group or Enterprise level where helpful. 3. Both of these investments were well received by their customers and actively used within the government once the shutdown was lifted.
All in all, the shutdown cost Evans about $730,000 in revenue that it cannot reclaim or otherwise recoup in any manner. In total, they invested about 3600 hours in PTO and internal “bench work” for employees during the period covering the shutdown. This equates to a cost, for those staff (in PTO and overhead), of approximately $210,000.
Where’s the upside here? It depends on how you price corporate branding and goodwill. For example, George Mason University School of Business learned about the “Restart Manifesto” through mutual clients and met with Evans to talk in detail about the contingency actions and planning outlined in the document. They planned to use this information for a research paper and presentation it was preparing to share with state and national leaders. Further, because of Evans’ effective and creative use of their human capital, employees did not use more PTO than they had available, and nobody went without a paycheck.
Would there have been easier ways to deal with the shutdown? Sure. But was the extra effort Evans put into the creative ways they took care of their corporate brand and their employees’ welfare worth it? Even more important, if this was really their true colors shining through and a simple manifestation of their corporate DNA, was it really “extra” effort at all?