People at the Heart of Crisis Planning
22nd April by Roger Smith OBE
Since AAW was created three and half years ago, we’ve had the great pleasure and privilege to work with a number of health charities that are doing vital work here in the UK and globally.
We’ve always enjoyed working with the wonderful team at CLIC Sargent – the UK’s leading cancer charity for children, young people and their families. It’s a charity that has enormous reach and impact, and provides support and care at the most desperate time for many families.
When the cataclysmic impact of COVID 19 became clear last month, our thoughts immediately went to charities like CLIC Sargent, who are working on the frontline of health care and support.
As part of our special series of blogs and interviews with leaders from our vital and wonderful sector, today we hear from Roger Smith, Director of People and Learning at CLIC Sargent.
Roger tells us about the impact the crisis has had on the charity and its workforce and how the current decision-making of the Leadership Team has been faithful to both the critical operational and financial needs of the organisation and also crucially, the humanitarian values that sit at the heart of people management.
Surpassing Scenario Planning
COVID 19 has followed the same path of many critical incident scenario planning I have participated in in the past. Roughly, this follows a three-point exercise.
- You identify a critical incident, set up the response team and off you go.
- Every half an hour during the exercise, the trainer adds an escalation, a limitation or a new crisis.
- All you can do is respond according to your experience, using an approach which is systematic but focused on operational imperatives and protecting the values and objectives of your work.
COVID 19 however, jumped quickly from being ‘a response to a pandemic’, to suddenly being a whole organisational threat.
One day, we were changing our sick leave policy to compensate for longer self-certification and looking to ensure we had enough anti-viral gel and cleaning products, the next we had lost millions of pounds in potential income from all of the cancelled fundraising events that fund our critical work.
The impact of the crisis seemed relentless.
Rising to the Challenge
With half of our staff and volunteers unable to work because shops and homes were potentially closing, and many more unable to do their job because the work had dried up, we were immediately faced with choices about layoffs.
Once the impact of the crisis had become clear, we swiftly formed a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT).
CIRT drew on three things immediately:
- Our organisational values
- Our operational need
- Our shared experience in the charity
By using this criteria, we are able to pull on people’s strengths and compensate quickly where there were gaps.
Crucially for us, was the critical decision not to 'knee-jerk', and to to use some of our available cash and small reserves to take a couple of weeks to cushion against what could have been wrong decisions.
The Chancellor then ‘came good’ and allowed us some recovery time.
Crisis Planning in Action
CLIC Sargent has been ready to meet this monumental challenge because we had a process that could be escalated when necessary. Therefore, we were able to quickly establish a hierarchy of principles on which to base our staffing decisions.
- Protect our frontline services to children, young people and their families going through the cancer journey in even more anxious times than usual
- Keep grants going, build on our NHS relationships, and keep our homes (which are next to the hospitals) open whenever we can
- Ensure the social care support to families continues, albeit at a distance
- Keep critical support services going in order to continue raising money where we can and build new income streams; whilst still engaging, paying, consulting with, responding to and supporting our staff; and continuing to process money in and out, keeping the homes open and undertaking necessary analysis in order to know what’s going on and build recovery.
- Only furlough those who we would have had to make redundant on the basis of affordability, those who can’t work from home, those whose place of work is closed and those whose work has dried up.
We applied these criteria, but critically not from the centre.
- Teams on the Ground: We asked the operations leads to tell us what was possible and what wasn’t, and in turn they consulted their managers, not rushing but still giving time to engage. Each team pulled together to deliver what we needed. We actively played to our strengths: a values- based, people-focused, service delivery organisation.
- Corporate Partners: We sought support from our corporate partner Morrisons, who offered to employ some of our staff. Some of the non-HR support has also helped massively
- IT &Technology: We ensured we could find loan laptops for those who needed them, and as such stepped almost immediately into a homeworking culture. We benefit from creative use of fairly simple IT systems, and our data is accessible and accurate. This means that the financial modelling easily accessed our HR data, and that in turn enabled our assumptions to be tested.
- Communications: We used our intranet well, uploading plenty of FAQs but also adding good news stories, messages and anecdotes from our service users. We communicate with staff daily and also have a non-work portal for furloughed staff. More than 300 of our staff (66%) have either been furloughed or had changes to their contracts, and there will be further changes to come.
A Humanitarian Approach
The Executive Team know that the culture of the organisation will be impacted by this, and that how we treat our people now will have a legacy when people return. We know we won’t return to how it was.
For staff and their families that have been directly impacted by this, it is financially tough. Of course, people understand the rationale for the action that has been taken, but we as an Executive have to reflect on staff’s psychological welfare and the ongoing morale.
There have been some immediate questions such as ‘Am I dispensable, or less important than others, or not valued?’, ‘Will I be the first to go when this ends?’, ‘How would you have treated me without a furlough scheme to fall back on?’, ‘What criteria did you use?’, ‘Is this fair?’ and ‘What will my colleagues think?’
All of these are all valid and deserving of answers.
In essence, this has therefore been a crisis response deserving of a humanitarian approach.
In making these tough decisions we decided not to impact those on sick leave, or anyone either on maternity leave or soon to be returning from it.
We tried to find work for those not eligible for furlough and have invited people to talk to us about their individual circumstances, including any shielding or childcare needs. We have also decided to protect the Living Wage, even though emergency legislation suspended it.
This sheer workload that has been a result of this crisis has forced us in HR to ask managers to step up to the plate and work with their teams without our direct support. And boy have they done that well!
We have accelerated our wellbeing at work and developed policies that will endure.
CLIC Sargent Post Crisis
So, what been the main outcome of this period? None of this is radical or creative, but there are three things that strike me as notable:
1) The change curve has changed. Our people all get it - they don’t need to be drawn into the rationale or to buy into the process. Rather than being angry because things they love are changing or their way of life is now different, they are sad about the potential loss, seeking solutions and actively participating in helping make changes. There is a strong sense of pulling together at every level and in every function like I have never seen before.
2) A leadership team truly can be a ‘SuperTeam’. A Team just as Khoi Tu describes in his excellent book!
We have a new CEO, a new Director of Corporate Services and a new Income Generation Director, two of which are internal appointments who both started in the first week of this crisis. Of the other three existing directors, two are also internal appointments.
We have a new Chairman who started in January. Our previous CEO, Kate Lee, only left in April. She had been with us for some time and had been an excellent leader, so of course given we are such a new team there were some reflections! The new Leadership Team has, however, bonded, grown and is truly high performing. There are no edges, no blame, no resentments and no discordance. There is good constructive challenge, trust and great support, a true sense of purpose and real focus on healthy survival ready to thrive at the other side.
3) There is a way of operating that can be both compassionate with the workforce and business-focused at the same time. For us, this hinges on balancing four considerations:
- Constantly reflecting on and knowing the organisation inside out (people, cultures, values, purpose, stakeholders, processes, finances, strengths and weaknesses).
- Continuously re-modelling both income and expenditure, so that you can invest and protect your people who are going to be the pathway to recovery.
- Truly believing that what you do as an organisation is of critical value and your stakeholders are behind you.
- Getting ahead of the game, so that the recovery isn’t as challenging as the crisis itself.
Let’s see how it goes next month.
Crucially we will need to be keeping a close eye on those making the tough strategic and operational decisions. In the next few weeks, their initial energy surge will take a hit after this first ‘acute’ phase.
Its vital leaders have the space and energy to keep making decisions that live up to the hope in the hearts of our colleagues. Given the experience of the last month, I have every confidence that this will be the case.