Leaders often make similar mistakes when going through the long-term recovery process – whether they are recovering from a natural disaster, sudden loss of jobs, or the COVID-19 pandemic. As an economic recovery consultant, I’ve observed several leaders in business, advocacy, and government and recognized the most common mistakes leaders will make. As we transition from the COVID response, through reopening, to long-term recovery and prosperity, here are some suggestions to work around these challenges.
Economic recovery involves other aspects of recovery including education, public health, and transportation. Many aspects of government and community engagement are interrelated or interdependent with long-term recovery and it can be confusing and overwhelming for staff and stakeholders. Non-profits, private sector industry groups and businesses, all levels of government and other stakeholders cannot be siloed for economic recovery. You want to make sure to include organizations that represent vulnerable populations as their needs can be easily overlooked during recovery.
SOLUTION: Have a transparent and coordinated interagency system in place for your stakeholders, community groups, and all levels of government for messaging, community engagement, federal and philanthropic grants management, and comprehensive planning alignment.
RECOVERY IS NOT RESPONSE
Response and recovery are interrelated phases during the long-term recovery continuum. The response phase takes place during the days and weeks that follow a disaster or major disruption. During COVID-19, the federal government enacted the response phases simultaneously to the ongoing economic disruption associated with the pandemic with response actions. Local and state governments as well as regional task force groups have enacted a phased response. These actions are put in place to stabilize the immediate pandemic impacts, but the outcomes are not intended to provide long-term recovery strategies or solutions.
SOLUTION: View recovery and response differently. Ensure that this is universally understood in messaging and stakeholder engagement. While the two phases are interrelated, they use different strategies and approaches throughout the recovery process. This helps with managing expectations of your community during the recovery.
GOVERNANCE & OVERSIGHT
The existing governance structure is not adequate to approach long-term recovery. The demand for recovery work is typically too much to place on existing staff. The coordination of messaging, community engagement, stakeholder involvement, and transparent reporting of progress is a major undertaking for any community. Different approaches are necessary for response and recovery and may require different skill sets for leadership. Leadership sometimes changes – keep in mind that your recovery priorities must withstand the transition in leadership so as to not jeopardize recovery plans.
SOLUTION: Develop a policy and oversight governance structure specifically for recovery that is as politically agnostic as possible. Ensure that you have representation from different sectors as they are interrelated – from all levels of government, stakeholder groups, etc. A task force is a great way to approach this challenge.
Increased demand is placed on staff for associated non-profit organizations, institutions of higher learning, and government agencies. While a task force and office of recovery and resilience are a great first step for strategically guiding long-term recovery, additional capacity is necessary. Subject matter experts will be necessary to support long term recovery either with newly created positions specific to long term recovery or supplemented with consultants who have experience working with recovery.
SOLUTION: Develop the capacity in place to support that structure with subject matter experts and dedicated interagency staff for the long-term recovery execution and implementation of plans and strategies. This is critical for a number of reasons, but it also prevents burnout and mental health quality decline amongst your existing team. Prioritize the preservation of your employees’ mental health, and preservation of your recovery efforts will follow.
Communities often find themselves stuck in “response mode” and neglect the long-term approach. With trillions of dollars available with different resources to approach long-term recovery, ensure that you are using your coordinated recovery oversight organization supplemented with recovery capacity. It is common to think in the short term – reacting, not responding. A major economic disruption or disaster, especially when significant supplemental financial resources are in place, require a bigger-picture view.
SOLUTION: Take this challenge and transition it to an opportunity with the resources you have available to you. Work with your community and stakeholder groups to develop a strategy to change the trajectory of your economic climate and develop an innovative vision for your workforce ecosystem.
Long term recovery is complex and requires a coordinated approach with the dedicated capacity to support the initiatives. With appropriate dedicated and coordinated governance and oversight of long-term recovery policies, funding, and initiatives, you can move your community forward to a stronger economy, perhaps even stronger and more resilient than when we entered the COVID-19 pandemic.