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Business as Unusual? Yes, Please!

From the desk of Dr. Catherine Cushinberry:

Many of us were thrown for a loop a few weeks ago when business was no longer as usual, but rather as unusual as most of us could even imagine. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown our nation where there are gaps in how we care for our citizens, educate our youth, and prepare for a health crisis by exposing how too usual business has been for our fundamental and most essential institutions. We have been relegated to work-from-home options for those who continue to be employed. For those who are essential services, the sanitary standards are significantly increased and improved and even volunteerism and fundraising look different from pre-COVID-19.

We are situated in a time when work-from-home is an option that many companies did not utilize in order to operate as usual. However, what I hope this moment in time is teaching all of us is that in the absence of “normalcy” the options that have been available to us much of this time, are not only viable, but efficient.

Yes, we miss the in-person time. Trust me, I lead an organization in Memphis that thrives on community and connectivity. The premise of City Year Memphis’ work is service, so I get it. I’m also an extrovert and an only child. I sure would love to hug my mom. That would be a treat.

However, in the absence of how my organization has conceptualized community building and for me, showing love to my mom, I have been forced and my organization has been forced to innovate. In organizations, we tend to witness innovation when there is a change in leadership, or in the case of nonprofits, when there is a new idea to extend our work and a funder is a thought-partner and resource.

In this moment of crisis, I’ve been most pleased with how much ingenuity we have shown as a nation. I’ve been proud of how my team has been nimble in organizing to meet the changing standards and policies associated with our work.

Yet, as I sit here typing and smiling with pride in this moment, I also have an underlying angst. Crises come to an end. They do. We are often forever changed in some way, but they come to end. My angst is rooted in the thought of going back to business as usual.

I sincerely believe that if we go back to business as usual, we will have missed an invaluable learning opportunity that this moment provides for all of us. We may miss out on the lessons of how to maximize technology, decrease overhead, innovate in fundraising strategies, build team and community, and operate and serve within our communities.

It would be a wasted opportunity if schools don’t incorporate virtual learning as part of their offerings to students. We will have lost the essence of philanthropy if funders can’t continue to trust organizations by continuing to say, “use the money as needed”. If as employers, we are not always thinking about the healthcare, well-being, and holistic care of our staff and their families, then we have not taken from the lessons we may be learning during this time.

Like you, I have to patiently wait for this time to pass. While I am waiting, I am assessing what about the ways we did business pre-COVID-19 were steeped in the mentality of “because we do it that way” and what are the ways I can lead and help my team navigate the lessons learned to be better prepared in the future for the “what ifs” and work even more efficiently in support of the Memphis community.

I challenge all of you to assess your organizations, work processes, communication styles, and policies and standards. Look how pliable they had to become for this time. Work and lead to imagine where the give should be in our “normal” processes post this crisis. What does your business as unusual look like that will make you a wiser leader and help your organization, business, or educational institution embrace the innovations for the future? How can you use this time to stretch your paradigm of what “normal operations” look like?

We will likely never be the same. And we shouldn’t.

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