I first want to thank all of you who reached out or commented on my article “Surviving a Government Shutdown with Grace”. As business leaders, challenging times pose a great opportunity to build trust, alignment, and resilience in an organization. If you are a government contractor, you face such an opportunity now. As we enter Week 3 of a partial government shutdown, our coping strategies must continue to flex and evolve.
In following with Christine Comaford’s (CEO, SmartTribes Institute) neuroscience-based teachings, we can help our employees become more resourceful and emotionally agile in response to turbulence by creating Safety, Belonging, and Mattering in our respective organizations. Regardless of what is happening on Capitol Hill, we can still do many things to create a positive and productive environment for our employees to flourish as we survive Week 3 and brace for the possibility of Week 4.
The key to safety for both businesses and employees is financial stability and predictability. ‘Am I going to get paid?’ is the number one question on every shutdown employee’s mind right now. Intensify communications with your employees this week. Knowledge is power and gives employees a sense of control during times of uncertainty. To empower employees and create safety for them in your organization, discuss the facts (as they are known to you) openly and honestly. Launch an end-of-day status email to keep all employees informed of how and what your team is doing. Schedule a bi-weekly call with your leaders to keep them informed of what is known and what is being worked on. Ask them to come prepared with creative ideas and solutions. Host an all-hands call each week so employees can ask questions of you directly. Plan for Week 4, but take things one day (or week) at a time. If your business is too small to sustain a third week of pay for employees that are unable to work, contact them directly and have the conversation in person, whenever possible. Even with difficult conversations, human beings want to be seen and heard.
As for creating safety for the business, know your limits. As we enter Week 3, the greatest concern becomes cash flow, not profit. Incurring debt to finance losses is a path to failure, but incurring debt to manage cash flow is a temporary problem.
- If available, use credit cards to pay vendor bills for supplies and services rather than writing checks. This will give you a 30-day float for those expenditures.
- Talk to your bank about temporary increases in your Line Of Credit (LOC). If your LOC is backed by accounts receivable, which is increasing as you continue to support your customer but are not getting paid, your bank should be willing to provide a temporary increase in your borrowing limits.
- Start having conversations with certain vendors about payment flexibility. Explain the impact the shutdown is having on your organization. If you have been an excellent customer-to-date, most vendors will be willing to work something out.
Spearhead activities that allow employees to collaborate and feel a part of the organization’s mission, even when their projects are shut down. Engage employees in meaningful training and certification efforts, growth and operational activities, and other corporate initiatives that have been sitting on the shelf due to lack of resources. Create opportunities for employees still able to work to support those impacted by the shutdown. Launch a company-wide leave donation program that will allow employees to donate their own leave to support others. As of 5 AM this morning, Citizant employees have already donated close to 1,600 hours of leave to affected employees!
Consider broader impact initiatives and community service activities that will allow affected employees to spend time with corporate leaders doing something for the good of others. And while communications from your executive team are essential, challenge your department and program leaders – the direct supervisors of front-line employees – to communicate frequently, in person or via phone call, with all of their employees. The bonds of trust your managers build with employees during the shutdown will pay dividends in engagement and retention long after we are all back at work.
Create a Shutdown Tiger Team consisting of employees from across your organization, to include those impacted most heavily by the shutdown. Task them with discussing options and developing solutions to different challenges posed by the shutdown – including scenario modeling, financial impact assessment, outreach approaches, training options, communications planning, and leave management. This will allow employees to engage actively on creating positive outcomes for themselves and others, develop solutions that they can control, preserve much needed leave, and stay connected with colleagues on a daily basis. This will also communicate loudly that YOU, their leader, think that THEIR opinion MATTERS and that their support makes a difference.
In the event that one of your valued employees feels compelled to look for another job to ensure they can provide for their family, don’t take it personally – this is a basic choice of economic survival for many Americans. Let them know they STILL MATTER and that you will welcome them back with open arms after the shutdown is over, so they can resume their role in supporting your government customers.
I pray that I will not be writing another article next Sunday about what to do during Week 4 and that all of you that do such AMAZING work in service of our government’s vital missions… will be back at work, complaining about traffic, and dreading a long day of boring meetings. : )
Just one final tip: exercise your rights as citizens. If you haven’t already done so, please call or write to your elected officials today and ask them to prioritize getting Americans back to work. You can find your elected officials’ contact information on the U.S. House directory and the listing of U.S. Senators. That is an activity we control and could make all the difference this week while we evaluate our options for Week 4.
Be well and continue to ‘do good’.