A time like no other

Crop crewe corona

There's a lot to take in right now - Martin Crewe writes about the steepest of learning curves

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25th March 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

It’s said that every day is a school day (but that may not be such an accurate saying now!)

Over the last two weeks I’ve experienced the steepest learning curve ever, despite being in my role for over 13 years.

Some of my learning is probably only really applicable to large, geographically-dispersed, charities but some of the lessons might be useful more generally across the sector.

So here are seven lessons I have learned so far from managing the coronavirus pandemic:

It’s a crisis – normal rules are suspended. Priorities need to shift and decisions have to be made. Normal procedures and processes, reporting expectations and consultative approaches have to be tempered to the new reality. Make sure everyone in the organisation knows this.

Focus on what really matters. This means the beneficiaries. Whatever the organisational challenges of moving thousands of staff to home working (and there are many) these pale into insignificance compared with the impact of the pandemic on children, young people and families. We have mobilised to deliver additional financial, practical and emotional support to thousands of families – flexing all of our resources to achieve this.

Martin Crewe

Martin Crewe

With so much changing, we need to emphasise where there is continuity

Don’t look too far ahead. My focus has been on what needs to be sorted today and tomorrow with an eye to what might happen in the week to come. Anything beyond that is completely unknown territory and huge amounts of time could be wasted drawing up numerous scenarios and updating risk registers. Far better to be nimble as events unfold than attempt to anticipate every eventuality.

Let go. It can be tempting to try and centralise decision making in order to co-ordinate the best possible response. This is impossible in a fast moving situation like this, and just slows everything down. Make sure managers know the important areas for consistency but let them get on with making the best decisions for their local circumstances… and be tolerant if mistakes are made.

Enable the people. Staff and volunteers who are not compromised by the virus want to be flexible but they can only do this if they have the right support. Getting the technology right has been a real challenge but people have come up with innovations and work arounds. Working from home is the new normal and we need to help people make it work.

Give assurance. It has become a suddenly scary world and anxiety levels are high. The virus and its knock on effects have been brutal for many people so our staff are looking for reassurance from their leaders. All charities will take a hit on income over the coming weeks but we should avoid knee jerk reactions to this and give as much assurance as possible to staff and volunteers. With so much changing, we need to emphasise where there is continuity.

Establish robust lines of communication. A good flow of information both top down and bottom up is essential. Having a clear daily structure also reduces anxiety as people don’t have to worry that they have missed out on the latest news.  We have put in place a daily routine of briefings (both UK-wide and in Scotland) in the morning and then an afternoon update for all staff.

So, those are my exhausted ramblings after a time like no other. It has been hectic, emotional and frustrating. 

But it has also been a privilege to lead a group of staff and volunteers who are dedicated to doing the very best for children, young people and families in the very worst of times.

Martin Crewe is director of Barnardo’s Scotland.