There is no roadmap, it all seems so overwhelming, but you are doing it, you ARE managing the crisis!

 We’re fortunate to be part of a group of nine inspiring women coaches working with the McConnell Foundation in the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Coaches’ Community of Practice.  Many members of this small group have been working in coaching and consulting with the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for decades and have been connected to one another since 2012.  Our learning and growing together has been rich and varied.

We work with nonprofit, public sector and philanthropic leaders in planning for the future. These leaders want to ensure they make the best use of talent and resources to create positive social and environmental impact in the world. COVID-19 has, of course, caused all of us and the people and organizations we work with to think about the future in a new way.

There are no roadmaps, no best practices to learn from, the plane is truly being built and flown at the same time. However, across the sector, some themes are emerging as top of mind for organizations and their leaders.

Our goal is to highlight some of these themes and share the questions organizations are asking and some promising approaches that may be helpful to others. We’re all learning together.


Change management: What it is? How to do it? 

At the best of times, implementing large scale change within organisations can be challenging, even if it is beneficial. During times of crisis, navigating change can be downright formidable, unruly and draining. Many people that we have been speaking with are negotiating a changing environment on a daily basis, and in spite of all of their efforts, the sheer magnitude of change has left them feeling exhausted and depleted. A frequent expression used to describe what people have been going through has been: “It is a nightmare.”

There is no easy way around what we are experiencing collectively, but there are some tools and approaches that may help mitigate change. Leaders and organizations need check lists and plans in order to successfully navigate big change. WHY? Because change is massively disruptive. We are wired to resist change, and brain science confirms this! The Change Adopter Curve, presented by Matt Youens of HumanElements.ca, shows us where those that are part of change usually fall – with the vast majority of people falling into the Early Adopter Majority or Late Adopter Majority, and less than 2% of people falling into the “Innovators” category. I mean, how many of us went kicking and screaming into using Zoom, MS Teams, and Google Hangouts for our team meetings?

Our role is to help people in our organization navigate the shocks of change towards something more grounded and positive. It’s important to remember that when people are being asked to change, and things are gray or different for them, they do not process information the way they normally do, so we need to think about communication more carefully. A few simple steps may go a long way when communicating with your team:

  • Communication needs to be more frequent than you think
  • There needs to be a consistent message (you do not want people hearing different things from different people)
  • People need to hear the message from someone that they trust – so the messenger matters a lot

The Bridgespan Group, a leading global nonprofit think tank, offers strategy consulting, and shares research and best practices. They have developed on online resource collection that offers guidance to nonprofits and NGOs on navigating the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and the economic downturn. They have been also been developing toolkits for change management and scenario planning. According to the Bridgespan Group, there are 3 building blocks to effective change:

  1. Positioning helps leaders position the organisation for change. Important questions for leadership teams include: Is our team aligned on the change that needs to happen? Can we tell a compelling story about why and how we are transitioning towards change? Are there change leaders throughout the organization who are credible and trusted by team members that can help people understand the change, why it’s happening, and how we will get there?
  2. Executing looks at what the organisation will require to successfully implement change. For example: Do we have the right funding supports and capabilities to be successful? Do we have the organizational systems (e.g., technology, processes, governance, etc.) necessary to sustain the changes we seek? Do we have an action plan that is achievable given the external pressures and our organization’s capacity?
  3. Monitoring involves tracking progress, learning and improving over time, even during a crisis. For example: Do we have goals, metrics, and milestones to track our progress? Are there processes in place to frequently reflect on our results and quickly adapt our approach as needed? How can we remain accountable? Is there a person or team responsible for results of this change and with the ability to make decisions about course-correction?

Stated or unstated, a lot of the anxiety comes from people wondering what the change means for them. It is important to be able to communicate a vision that appeals the hearts and minds of your audience. Alongside this vision is the intended impact, which is more realistic, and describes the path that you have chosen to achieve this vision and the outcomes or targets that you have set along the way. This can also be described as going from a POINT OF DEPARTURE… on a COMMUNICATIONS JOURNEY…. to be able to clearly communicate the POINT OF ARRIVAL. Leadership has to be able to work along this arc.

Let’s start with the POINT OF DEPARTURE, a Case for Change focuses on these questions:

  • What do we gain by making this change?
  • What could we lose if we don’t change?

Be sure that you are as candid and fact-based as possible, with empathy for the anxiety people might be feeling.

Then we want to underscore THE JOURNEY ITSELF, in other words the GUIDING PRINCIPLES and VALUES used to create or navigate the change, so that people are inspired and clear about the POINT OF ARRIVAL. “Guiding Principles” questions include:

  • How will we get there? Using what values and approaches?
  • How will things change?
  • What will my role be?

Finally, we also need to help people see the POINT OF ARRIVAL, and in particular see themselves in that future, in other words, the INSPIRING VISION, or at least the SAFE ARRIVAL POINT that leads to the Intended impact:

What does success look and feel like under the circumstances? What is our intended impact?

  • How will we know we are there?
  • What opportunities are in store? What will the challenges be?

One organisation that has led a successful communications journey over the last eight months has been l’Itinéraire. The organisation has deep roots in Montreal and supports people who are marginalized, have experienced homelessness, addiction, or suffer from mental health problems, and are excluded from the traditional labour market. Before the COVID pandemic, the main source of revenue for people in their network was writing and selling a street newspaper, the Journal l’Itinéraire. The camelots, or newspaper vendors, who were once ubiquitous in the downtown core, have disappeared, their source of revenue dried up. However, within weeks of the on-set of the pandemic, organisers transitioned the paper to an online version with the help of the mainstream newspaper La Presse and other partners. As they state in their online edition:

Despite the gloom caused by the pandemic, initiatives showing the social resilience of businesses, organizations and individuals do exist. Caught off guard during the first wave last March, we had no choice but to adapt and deal with this new reality.

Alongside this initiative, they also adapted services in order to provide hands-on emotional and psychological support for newspaper vendors and employees. They also shifted training programs to help with a more rapid transition to employment, and undertook the widespread distribution of food vouchers so that people could eat. The journey described was one of innovation, adaptation, and resilience. The point of arrival, was a strengthened sense of belonging, and the impression of a more just and inclusive city, that values and cares for all of its citizens.