- Posted by Famcare
- On June 14, 2017
- 0 Comments
Organizational leadership and management training don’t usually include the following, but they should: “Challenge and adversity are meant to help you know who you are. Storms hit your weakness, but unlock your true strength.” (Roy T. Bennett). Nothing better reveals the character and strength of an organization than how it navigates unexpected storms.
Not that far behind us and certainly not forgotten, the Great Recession was devastating. In less than 18 months, 8.4 million workers lost their jobs, the unemployment rate more than doubled, and real income for middle-class workers dropped by nearly 12 percent. The Recession also had a crippling effect on public sector finances. Funding for essential human services and health and safety programs was brutalized. No one except the ultra-wealthy were spared.
As a not-for-profit operating on a shoestring budget without an endowment or rainy day fund to fall back on, the recession really was a storm that slammed full blast into our weakness – finances! Having gone better than a decade without any Cost of Living Adjustment in our rate-base programs, we were now hit with a 10% rates cut. Contract amounts were frozen or reduced, grant makers were tightening their purse strings while competition for limited funding soared, and there wasn’t a lot of extra cash in people’s pockets to support organizations like ours.
At this point, I told my Board and Executive Committee that we would not falter, we would ride this out and figure out a way to maintain service levels without compromising quality or outcomes, and without laying anyone off; and then I swallowed hard!
Over the years, I have always felt a special gift of faith, strength and resiliency in times like this. In fact, I’ve always viewed challenges as opportunities and this was no different. And so I threw down the gauntlet and summoned my most effective weapon: SYNERGY!
There are few things that excite me more than mobilizing the collective genius of the group process. This approach has absolutely been one of the “secret ingredients” in the Family Care Network cauldron as we have endeavored to brew up success in people’s lives. And it was now the time to re-deploy this weapon.
In January of 2009, the storm clouds were beginning to gather. The Governor’s proposed budget was an ominous sign. Throughout the spring “budget wars,” it was clear that many were going to be left fighting to survive. In July of that year, I took the time at one of our quarterly all-staff meetings to let everyone know what we were facing, and encouraged everyone in the organization to begin thinking about ways that we could reduce our expenses without compromising services or laying off staff. We also let folks know that salaries would be frozen and reduced for new-hires, and that we were placing a hiring freeze on certain positions.
Several months later, I convened a half-day, all-staff brainstorming session–which was remarkable! The creativity, innovation and positive energy people displayed was not only amazing, it was incredibly productive. As a result of this effort, I was able to produce a comprehensive six page strategy, consisting of 65 activities within eight cost categories necessary to accomplish our goal to reduce expenses without compromising services or having to layoff anyone. Our survival was now dependent on rapid response.
Given the urgency of our circumstances, we really did put our foot to the metal and thrust forward full steam ahead. Our aggressive plan included cost-cutting measures in staffing, travel and transportation, meetings, office space, IT/equipment/facilities, supplies and anything else that didn’t fit within these categories; plus efforts to maximize revenues.
This process really caused us to put our entire operation under the microscope. We were able to improve efficiencies in multiple areas, consolidate, eliminate redundancies and improve worker productivity. For example, we improved how we assigned staff to cases in order to reduce travel and mileage expenses. We renegotiated facility leases or found new, less expensive locations. We improved automation, infrastructure and IT support to allow greater staff mobility, increase staff productivity while also reducing mileage reimbursement. We significantly ramped up digital documentation to reduce paper and copying cost. We implemented a much more thorough risk-management training program designed to reduce our very expensive Workmen’s Compensation expenses. Basically, we reduced or eliminated any “non-essential” expenditure. We also did a much more aggressive recruitment effort for volunteers, interns, tutors and mentors to help us accomplish our mission without additional staff cost.
As you can imagine, I also became much more engaged in advocacy with our state legislators regarding program rates and funding. In spite of the dire economic circumstances, a small group of us were successful in preventing the Legislature and Governor from cutting the funding to our transitional housing programs for foster youth.
Yes, there were some painful cuts which negatively impacted our employees–but nobody lost their job! And after all was said and done, it really was a positive experience for the Family Care Network. We came out of it much more efficient, cost-effective and cost-sensitive.
One of the most valuable lessons from this challenge was learning the importance of SYNERGY. We had universal participation and buy-in–a true sense of collective ownership. Everyone did their part in creating and delivering solutions; it was a quintessential team effort!
And the most remarkable outcome through this struggle, was that we were able to accomplish our goal to ride out the storm without compromising the quality or effectiveness of our programs, and without laying off staff. Our program outcomes for 2009/2010 were amazing. We served 1,324 children, youth and families through 14 programs with a 93% success rate! We averaged 160 plus employees per month and we had a record 1,085 volunteers donate over 28,000 hours of time to our mission!