During the 17-day Federal government shutdown my company, Corner Alliance Inc., had to make some tough decisions. Many of our employees were not able to perform work (read: make money) including myself. I worked the first week of the shutdown on internal Corner Alliance tasks, like our website and a Virtual Participation Best Practices document. The second week, I took PTO (Paid Time Off) the entire week. The third week, I was on LWOP (Leave Without Pay). I know that decision was an extremely tough one for our leadership to make, and I know it was necessary. I would continue to be on LWOP until the Federal government passed an appropriations bill that would fund the Federal agency I am contracted to, and thus, my company. I developed a somewhat-obsessive habit of checking CNN.com and other news outlets hoping desperately to hear news about progress. Unfortunately, the news seemed to be getting direr by the day.
When I talked about the situation with my friends and family, many of them asked, “Why don’t you quit?” It’s a fair question considering I had no idea how long I would be furloughed, nor did I have any reason to believe this situation wouldn’t happen again, and again, and again. However, to be completely honest, the thought of quitting had never even crossed my mind. Not because I am comfortable in my job or because I don’t have lofty career goals, but because I am invested in Corner Alliance (and I’m not referring to my 401K).
Corner Alliance is more than a paycheck to me. In 2010, we came together and defined our corporate values in a way that truly reflects the reasons each of us come to work and work hard for our company to succeed. On the flip side, I know Corner Alliance leadership views its employees as more than a paycheck from the government. It would have been better for the company’s cash flow to furlough our employees on Day 1 of the government shutdown. The fact that our leadership held out until it was absolutely necessary is proof that they are equally invested in us. On the one hand, our corporate value of Sustainability was at risk, but on the other, our values of Transparency, Stand for Something, and Flexibility were in full force. Our leadership team was completely open and honest with every employee about where we stood financially and which options were being considered. Furthermore, we exhausted all sensible options available to us before resorting to LWOP/furlough. Our small company will take a hit from this shutdown, but like they say, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. This, I believe, is what separates Corner Alliance from not only other government-consulting firms, but from most companies. A bi-lateral commitment in which both parties acknowledge the road will not always be smooth, but that it will be worth it.
Of course, we are now back at work and once again making money (for the company and ourselves). So while I can’t say that I wouldn’t have had to make a choice at some point if the shutdown had dragged on relentlessly, I can genuinely say that it is Corner Alliance’s culture and values, not the paychecks, that would be hardest to abandon. As my colleague Brandi pointed out, the impacts of the shutdown were felt wide and deep; if you were affected and had to make similarly tough choices, what kept you around (or made you leave)? What will your business take away from this experience?