This December is different from all others. We have the familiar ritual looking ahead and embracing the anticipation of how the next year will play out. But COVID-19, the expanded attention on correcting social injustices, and other events of 2020 have introduced unprecedented new challenges into this end-of-year planning process.
I have been thinking about 2021 for a while from the point of view of establishing some sort of base theme around which to structure future planning. Is it mission, is it capacity, is it meeting the needs of the people and causes we serve? Yes, it is all these and more. So where does the planning start? It starts with confronting the largest unknown – uncertainty.
A recent article from KPMG led me to realize that uncertainty is the biggest variable for 2021. Not just uncertainty in general, but uncertainty associated with People’s Feelings and Comfort Levels. The article detailed the results of a KPMG survey from early December 2020 of senior executives representing 100 large companies in the United States covering approximately five million employees. Two of the results related to employees returning to the office were eye-opening to me:
“82 percent of companies are letting employees decide when they feel safe and comfortable returning to the office, with only 18 percent mandating that employees return to the office by a certain date, at this time.”
“Only 27 percent of employers plan to return office-based employees to physical locations in the near term, with most pushing back the reopening of their workplaces to later in 2021, and some permanently not requiring a return to the office.”
For me, these survey results focused my attention on two new key uncertainty challenges for 2021 that we must pay close attention to and meld into our future planning processes:
First, we must acclimate to monitoring, quantifying, and responding to the Feelings and Comfort Levels of staff, Board members, volunteers, donors, constituents, recipients, and others. These are difficult metrics to observe, calculate and measure.
Second, we must rely more on Third Party Information and Input that is not biased by only coming from senior management. We must learn to survey, ask questions, conduct focus groups, and use other similar methods to gain access to this constantly changing information.
For so long we have relied on compliance with laws, policies and procedures, and Bylaws and governance practices to drive decision making and safeguarding of assets. Even if you take all of these into account, the chance of making poor management decisions will be very high if you do not consider people’s feelings and comfort levels.
Understanding feelings and comfort levels is particularly important at this time because COVID-19 has changed people at least for the foreseeable future and, for some of us, permanently. Job losses, temporary furloughs, and effort reductions changes people. Health, safety, and caring for children and elderly parents changes people. Sheltering in-place, remote work, and virtual schooling changes people. Social injustices and the slow pace of improvements changes people. All efforts to plan for 2021 must take these life altering factors into account.
Planning Tip – Increase the frequency of prompting feedback to recurring open-ended questions that address people’s feelings and comfort levels related to stress, safety, attendance at meetings, willingness to travel, willingness to return to the office, and other health and non-health stressors. These questions can be put forth after staff meetings, Board and committee meetings, member meetings, and donor events as well as informal surveys scheduled on a quarterly basis. The results should be periodically circulated within newsletters, emails, and other outreach platforms to align with transparency practices.
Expanding our vision and sensitivity to new horizons is not easy but is necessary. Considering the many disruptive changes from 2020, we must increase our attention to people’s feelings and comfort levels to be the best we can be in 2021.