We know times are tough when eight New Jersey cities, famous for their independence, are looking to consolidate services and share resources. In fact, all along the East Coast, cities, towns, and villages that have been independent for hundreds of years are staring down the barrel of the financial crisis and asking if more efficient use of government resources can save them.
Which is a great question – but it’s also one that they could have asked years ago, when real estate prices where high, resources were plentiful, and there were no financial crises limiting their options.
That’s a head slapping fact for their residents, but it’s also a problem that anyone who’s worked in organizations is familiar with: they only prepare for the next crisis after it’s already hit.
Can we do better? Is there a way that organizations can look at ways to improve themselves before there’s a crisis?
“Yes, and that’s good leadership and good management practice,” says Gloria Burgess, a prominent business consultant and member of the LIOS faculty. “But having said that, not many companies do it.”
It’s difficult to be on the lookout for ways to avert the crisis of the future, or at least make good contingency plans, Burgess says, when you’re constantly focusing on the present – a condition that most organizations, from big businesses to small non-profits to local governments see as standard practice.
“I know from being a manager myself, you always think ‘oh, god, where can we find the time to make contingency plans on top of what we already have to do?’” Burgess says. But it’s crucial. “In San Francisco, you know that earthquakes are likely, so you have to be prepared. Where I live, the possibility of tsunami and really hard rain and massive flooding is very real. We wouldn’t think of not being prepared for some sort of personal disaster. Businesses need to adopt the same mindset, and go through the fire drills for these possibilities the same way they’d go through a fire drill for employee safety. Make that a regular part of business.”
The key, Burgess suggests, is to make worst case scenarios a routine part of long-term planning: don’t just plan for what you think is going to happen, create “what if?” scenarios, and figure out how you could get through them. Some of the ideas that emerge might be good enough to implement even if there isn’t an emergency – like potentially consolidating services and sharing resources with other communities.
“This is not widely discussed or widely accepted – it’s very rare, even in those who advise businesses and organizations,” Burgess says. “But I would say take a pro-active stance about the future, and integrate it into your business practices – your strategic practice, your strategic thinking, as well as your operational practice. It will add to your workload today, yes, but it’s a big improvement on being unprepared tomorrow.”