The first order of business is ensuring your people are safe. Articulate a clear policy for staff as soon as possible, be prepared to pivot and adjust. Circumstances are changing by the minute. Communicate to staff and board that you are tracking the advice and recommendations from national, provincial and local officials on working at home, social distancing, hygiene, cleaning protocols, and so on. Recognize that staff may have extraordinary family responsibilities with school and daycare closures. Your employees are critical. They can't go down. Be frank. Be truthful. This crisis is a time for leadership. Folks need that right now. Boy, do they need it.
It's time to dig out your continuity plan. Don't have one? Quickly identify critical functions. How do you communicate and to whom? If you can provide some sense of financial continuity, that would ease employee and board concerns. If you developed a contingency or "rainy day" fund, the rainy day is here. Cancel events or convert them to virtual events. Stop email blasts about the "Spring Dinner" and such things… you don't want to seem out of touch with reality. Deal with revenue and expenditure flows right away. Dig in; this thing is months, not weeks. Plan for that.
Game out scenarios for business impacts; best case scenario, worst case. Identify critical elements of an aggressive disaster recovery program. You will want to hit the ground running when we have achieved herd immunity from COVID-19. People have long memories of how individuals and organizations behave during this crisis. Your research, communication and business outreach teams just became indispensable.
Your Stakeholders and Business
This is a time for you to reach out to partners and local businesses with information on COVID-19, providing details on emerging government programs and how to access them, and profiles of existing programs that may be of use. Your organization is a curator and an information broker. Provide advice to business if you have those skills. Or be able to guide people to the information they need.
Communicate daily if you can. Make sure that everything is up to date. Partner with local media if you can. Leaving an out of date statement out there as your most recent communication makes your organization look out of touch and will do harm.
Fiscal balance is out the window. Revenues at every level of government will slow as consumers shut down, as unemployment surges, as businesses close. Government expenditures will jump as health costs surge. Cut government some slack on the small stuff (and almost everything other than COVID-19 is small stuff.)
Business is mobilizing to help. Help the media profile these community-minded companies. That will encourage more helping, and we need that. Try and plug into the local governmental response. They will focus on personal safety and survival. Your job will be to ensure there is an economic lifeline for business as well.
Stay safe. Take all recommended precautions and don't become a casualty. If you don't know where to start, there are resources out there. Reach out. As my colleague Paul Black recently said: “There is no user’s guide to where we find ourselves today, nor a roadmap to where we are going.” At the end of the day, we marshal our team and all of our resources and do our best.
Fred Morley is the Founder and Chief Economist at Rising Tide Economics