Breathe! How a Holistic Approach Helped Us Survive the Government Shutdown

The latest in our Health and Wellness series of yoga classes for employees started last week and I began thinking how some of the fundamentals we’ve been learning in yoga can be applied to managing during an unexpected or challenging situation, such as the government shutdown.

The implications of the shutdown have been far-reaching – furloughing government employees, delaying the government programs they manage, halting the purchase of goods and services provided by small businesses across the country. Those like us who support government acquisition and program management have also been affected. Some of our teams haven’t been able to go to work, creating a direct impact on our bottom line and the overall health of our company. Many small businesses in our space have had to make the difficult decision to furlough or lay people off while their contracts have been on hold.

In planning for a government shutdown, we decided on a people-first strategy that connected to our company values. We committed to a plan to keep affected staff on the payroll by giving them internal projects, opportunities for training and a chance to represent the company in the community.

It’s a holistic approach that we believe will bolster the mind, body and spirit of our company. Just like we’ve learned in our yoga classes, it’s important to look not just at the pain in one area, but at the overall balance. We asked ourselves, could we carry well over one-third of our billable staff, keeping them working on internal projects that would leave us further ahead in the long run? Could we survive and possibly even thrive during this crisis? We found out that yes, we could.

Here’s what we learned from the shutdown that we believe can apply to managing any crisis:

  • Plan for every possibility: All the guidance we had seen prior to this shutdown indicated that fully funded contracts where contractors didn’t require supervision would continue uninterrupted. It turned out, however, that guidance is interpreted and implemented differently depending on the agency. We pride ourselves on providing an agile response to our customer’s changing needs. Now it was necessary at our own office. Reacting quickly is much easier when your crisis plan has already considered every potential scenario and created a strategy for each.
  • Communicate early and often: During any kind of disruption, people want to know what they should do, what happens next, and what it could mean for the long term. We sent company-wide emails before and during the shutdown to ensure the entire team was informed. We also assigned team leads to communicate daily with both their teams and leadership to provide effective day to day management of resources.
  • Develop a message that is consistent with your values: We knew our plan would be one that would allow our employees to continue working on meaningful projects during the shutdown and that we would develop creative ways to keep our teams engaged. This included providing support to our non-profit partner, which was very rewarding to those involved. In challenging times, we wanted our employees and customers to have no doubt about our commitments.
  • Move quickly to understand and assess the situation: We assigned managers to collect information and provide analysis and recommendations within hours of the shutdown.
  • Pivot and Stretch: Suddenly have groups of people without productive work? Think about how you can respond to create the most value. We immediately implemented two training programs on the first and second days of the shutdown, expediting one of the training sessions that was scheduled for a later date. We’ve already heard from employees that this training and other tasks they worked on have given them new skills they’ll be able to use to benefit the company in the future.
  • Regroup frequently: Our core team did daily check-ins with staff to gauge progress, forecast hours that could be committed to projects, and brainstorm new ways to keep people productive. In an unfamiliar or changing situation, frequent check-ins keep the team on track.

Our wise yoga instructor has been teaching us that having a holistic approach means taking care of the spiritual self as well as the physical self. I think that applies to the business we’ve created and have been nurturing for almost eight years. Yes, there’s the physical business that needs to survive and maintain financial health, but there’s also the spiritual side….what most of us in business think of as the culture. It’s just as important to cultivate that and we’ve tried to do it in a way that puts our people on the same level as our customers and our community – something we call our Impact Triangle.

Just as we do for our customers, we’ll evaluate our decisions during the shutdown and look for more lessons learned. Where we can quantify we will: number of hours trained, number of projects completed. The more intangible part, and possibly as important, is the impact we will have made on the culture of our company and the trusting relationships that we’re building with our staff.

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