What I’ve learned from coronavirus

Ryan Campbell, CEO at Demelza Hospice Care for Children, shares 10 things he has learnt throughout the current coronavirus crisis.

1. The importance of the business continuity plan/disaster recovery policy

We have one. I haven’t looked at it.

We are broadly following the basic principles including having a group that meets regularly to plan, implement and document our response, and having clear lines of decision-making, accountability and communication. But our policy wasn’t written for this situation so it would have needed adapting. It was better and easier to work out exactly what was needed for this crisis and put that in place straight off.

2. The business continuity team

This is the organisation’s senior leadership plus some other managers from key areas such as clinical care and HR. This is quite a big team but that is because the situation impacts every area of work, and some of us are likely to be incapacitated at some point so we need deputies in critical areas.

The team is big enough to make decisions without needing to consult elsewhere (even if that would have been right in normal times), and small enough to be a team rather than an audience.

As we moved past the initial stage of the emergency we brought more people in to the meetings to make communication across the organisation swifter. This then created a gap for the senior management team to give mutual support so we now have additional non-formal senior team catch-ups too.

We record decisions on a simple risk management plan divided into domains (care services, workforce, IT, fundraising, retail etc.). It is only updated once a week, with interim actions noted on an action log. This keeps a full record but takes very little time. Time for admin is extremely limited during an emergency.

3. Setting the tone

In our first business continuity team meeting, we sat well apart from each other and agreed never to meet together physically as a group again. This seems tame now we are in stricter lock-down, but at the time it felt almost silly. It established a tone though that things had changed and we were now taking this very seriously.

Our first decision was to create space by shelving all non-urgent activity, including really important stuff like staff appraisals. You have to be ruthless on this because it is impossible to manage an emergency and do a day job, it’s one or the other.

At the same time, arranging clear actions, agreeing decision-making lines, sending people off to quickly deliberate and come back, and producing a plan, set the tone of being in control and not panicking.

4. Silo-working

Initially, speed was more essential than consultation and engagement. The people best placed to make decisions had to make decisions without being hampered and everyone else had to trust them to do so (e.g. HR decided how furlough should work, Retail decided when shops should close etc.).

It’s not a long-term recipe for success but if you can achieve this in the short-term we found it’s possible to get a lot done very quickly.

5. Flexible ways of working

We agreed to suspend the normal conventions. For example, staff are free to work at weekends, at strange times in the mornings or at night, or whatever they need to do, as long as they don’t expect others to follow their own working patterns. In such a difficult time, counter-intuitively this was the only way to help people get on top of their work/life demands.

6. Staying one step ahead

We were slightly behind decision-making in the early days of the crisis because things were moving more quickly than we could get our heads around them. For example we decided not to close our building to non-essential visitors at one point as it seemed just a tiny bit of a step too far, but by the next day things had moved on and we wished we’d done it yesterday.

We therefore decided to try to stay one step ahead. If we were considering a course of action that would need to be done in the near future, then it probably needed to be done now. Because of this we were ahead on homeworking, furloughing and several other areas so we could move on to other things and weren’t feeling all the time that we were trying to keep up.

7. Parallel universes

Our wish to be one step ahead and action-orientated was often frustrated by the fact that the world in an emergency is an uncertain place and it is not always clear what it is that you have to do. For us our big decision was how to help the NHS gain more capacity to fight the crisis. There were several options, but neither us or the NHS knew which to choose until things had developed a bit further and it was clear where the pressures on the system were going to be.

We had to be comfortable preparing for very different scenarios at the same time and being ready to leap to one of them or even something different.

8. Sense-checking

To make sure we weren’t doing anything silly I, and other members of the team, leaned heavily on external networks.

9. Getting a grip

This one is personal. Two tendencies I have had to address are:

  • Captain of the ship: I’m non-clinical and therefore have nothing but added infection risk to bring into our hospices. Just like everyone else non-clinical I had to keep away. My job is to be the CEO. As much as I want to be alongside the staff working on the front line, that’s not my job and to indulge my hero-complex would not be harmless.
  • Woe is us: We run a children’s hospice. We are an essential and wonderful service. This emergency has affected us profoundly and poses risks to our future existence. However it’s not all about us, it’s bigger and more serious. We have tried not to shift our narrative to be all about us as an organisation and our own problems. We are asking for money because we need it, but we are also showing our worth by reassuring people that we will get through because we will.

10. It will end

There will be a world after COVID and it won’t be the old world, it will be a new one, with new things in it like more widespread use of digital communication. Some things in the crisis have been quite good, like how we are able to work more closely with the NHS, and some things have been shown to be deficient, as the problems of having an essential healthcare service sitting outside the NHS.

We should be planning now not just to get through this but how to come out the other end through recovery and into greater strength.

We have created a page explaining how we are supporting our members through the outbreak as well as the work we are doing in partnership with other membership bodies to represent your concerns and questions to the government and the Charity Commission. 

Image by rawpixel.com

Share this

Share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Not an ACEVO member?

If you have any queries please email info@acevo.org.uk
or call 020 7014 4600.