When Life Shifts, Adapt and Revise your Plan

June 25, 2020

When Life Shifts, Adapt and Revise your Plan

Last week, I went to my first group (socially-distant-appropriate) exercise class since the pandemic.  I started chatting about career and life with some classmates.

“Ugh, I’m really annoyed…I think I have to re-think my consulting practice…I thought I was done shifting.  I’m 40 years old!”

I was struck by a woman who had an incredibly positive outlook on her future and career, despite that pandemic: “Well, living life means always shifting.  We are never done shifting…and that’s what makes life so exciting.”   Her optimism made me realize that with these life shifts, I need to revise my current plans and hold myself accountable with appropriate goals (instead of giving up on planning due to the world’s craziness).

For the last two years, I’ve never been happier with my career.  Through Empower for Good, I’ve partnered with dozens of mission-driven organizations, largely in the education sector.  Together with my clients and an incredible colleague, Michael Stone, we’ve created 5-year strategies, detailing  goals, metrics and resources to get there.  The work was hard – grueling – as we examined mission, vision, values, SMART goals, org charts and financial models over several months to create these plans.  

The work paid off.  With these plans, clients raised over $3.4 million in funding and philanthropy — with clearly outlined strategies, boards and investors were excited to invest in our clients and grow their impact.

Now, during the midst of a pandemic and numerous unknowns,  mission-driven organizations are shifting and trying to plan with multiple scenarios.  However, there is one certainty in this turbulent time:  mission-driven organizations must still achieve their mission, regardless of the pandemic.  With this shift comes the need for strategic planning, which includes revisiting and revising time-bound goals and metrics.  Some examples from recent clients:

  • Amanda Hill, Executive Director of Cowen Institute, and her team have continued to reach programming goals for Upward Bound, Earn and Learn, and Trellis participants by rapidly shifting to online platforms to offer rich learning experiences, as well as college, career, and financial aid counseling, and support with meeting basic needs. Additionally, to support families, students, educators, and practitioners facing unprecedented challenges, she and her team created resources, including interactive maps depicting citywide feeding locations and virtual college tours, FAQs for students, and a series of interviews with educational leaders across the city.
  • Krista Patrick-Brown, Executive Director of ARISE Academy, responded to urgent technology needs by providing students with laptops and wireless access so that students could stay on track with academic growth goals.  For the fall, she is deep into scenario planning including a mix of in-person and virtual instruction options, depending on the state of the pandemic in New Orleans. Stakes are even higher now as her organization plans to provide a rigorous and equitable education for students that addresses lost learning time due to closure this spring.
  • Rebecca Campbell, Senior Director of TEACH!, quickly and successfully transitioned Louisiana Resource Center for Educator’s in-person teaching certification program to an all-virtual platform.  While making the transition to virtual, Rebecca and her team were still incredibly committed to building quality relationships with their practitioners. This led them to create a blended model of virtual live sessions, asynchronous courses and independent work.  Through this adaptive shift, LRCE is surpassing programming metrics by serving more teachers than in previous cohorts as the in-person program was limited by physical space constraints.  

Organizations can only reach their missions if they have the appropriate resources and financial stability.  The pandemic has caused a financial crisis, with reduced budgets within the education system and a stressful fundraising environment (see this article from Harvard Business Review).  Financial sustainability during these unprecedented times may mean cost cutting, looking for efficiencies and removing redundancies.  

By networking and chatting with colleagues and nonprofit leaders, I realized that even with this global shift, my consulting frameworks remain largely the same.  The end goal is different as budgets may be reduced, but working backwards from this goal is the exact same process*:

  1. Identify your SMART goals with both impact and financial constraints
  2. Codify the milestones and metrics your team needs to reach these goals
  3. Align your resources – teams, tools, systems, etc – with your SMART goals and metrics
  4. Be ready to revisit your SMART goals on a consistent basis  (quarterly or perhaps more regularly given current circumstances), adjust them as needed and repeat the cycle. 

*Please look for future blog postings on more details of this process.

And remember:   just because our environment is fluid right now doesn’t mean that we can drop the core tenets of goal setting, monitoring and overall accountability.  In fact, it’s more important than ever for mission-driven organizations to double down on strategic planning, even though the tendency may be to abandon the process when things get crazy.  

I wish all of you the best of luck in these strange, yet important, times.  As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts and your own personal or career shifts.

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