A few years ago, I moderated an executive, plenary panel at a National Contract Management Association Aerospace & Defense Contract Management Training Forum in San Diego. The topic was ‘Policies & Strategies for Efficiency-Driven Contract Management Objectives,’ and the goal of the session was ‘To provide participants with a better perspective on how to operate and execute in the most efficient and effective manner given a budget-constrained and austere environment… ‘.
I had the pleasure of leading a panel of four people with over 100 years of combined professional experience. Each panelist had a combination of public/private sector experience. The panelists’ personal backgrounds also included extensive experience in three military services; in large, federal health care agencies; and, in major consultancies and IT companies.
When we first proposed the topic, sequestration was merely a ghost of Christmas future – a specter in the distance that was unlikely to happen (which is precisely what it was designed to do – a proposal so absurd in magnitude that it would force action). As we gathered two weeks before the conference to discuss the topic and plan the sequence of our panel (yes, good panels actually plan and map things out – it only looks spontaneous from the audience’s point of view…), sequestration was alive and well – fully morphed into the ghost of Christmas present.
We therefore began our planning session in a mood reflective of the times. Sequestration. Fiscal cliff. Continuing resolution. Austerity. Doom. Gloom. Despair. Misery. Political posturing? Traumatic. Depressing.
And then – a moment of silence occurred among the four of us as we thought about our approach to the panel – and the key message that we wanted to leave with the audience.
In that moment, it occurred to me that wallowing in sorrow and hosting a pity party wasn’t going to get us anywhere as a panel, nor as a larger body of people impacted by events over which we had no control. No – what occurred to me, and the other panelists at that point, was a simple truth: all of us, as individuals – as members of organizations – and as citizens of this great Nation and the world – had been through hard times before. And, in every case, we got through those hard times. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t necessarily fun – but in every case we could remember, when faced with the prospect of going through hell, we kept moving. And as a result, we emerged stronger. Different, but stronger.
Let’s put these current times in perspective. We might not be experiencing sequestration now, but organizations of all kinds (be it a government agency, Fortune 500 company, or small family business) are experiencing numerous changes in the world that they have little control over but can affect their bottom line. So how to manage periods of ‘business unusual’?
Challenges present opportunities. Resilient organizations prepare for potential, significant changes. Faced with budgetary challenges, the resilient seek innovative ways to manage costs, maintain operational efficiencies, and provide stewardship of public, private, and other funds and resources. The resilient also avoid mortgaging the future by ensuring that leadership capabilities for that future are built and sustained; therefore, they continue to invest in training and development of their workforce.
The resilient understand the importance of trust – for example, businesses and organizations in the government contracting marketplace seek opportunities for government-industry collaboration and collective engagement. They seek ways that government and industry might share best practices and ‘weather the storm’ of uncertainty. The resilient remove barriers to communication and collaboration, because they realize these barriers can also impact organizational efficiency and good business operations. And, the resilient are sensitive to ‘us versus them’ situations between government and industry, and work to change those into positive, mutually beneficial relationships.
The resilient are situationally aware.They understand how the current environment might challenge ethical business practices. The resilient are proactive, and mitigate risks associated with potential, perceived, or actual lapses in ethical behavior.
Yes – the current period of uncertainty creates opportunities to instill confidence, demonstrate leadership, and be resilient. Uncertainty demands innovation and creativity. Historically, there have been ‘ebbs and flows’. And we – as individuals, as organizations, as government agencies, as businesses, as a citizenry, as a country – have been through serious downturns before – and we have emerged different, but better, as a result of those downturns and experiences.