A Time For Reflection: 6 Key Business Lessons Learned at The Home Front in 10 Weeks
Even though as an organization The Home Front is only ten weeks old, we have had to pivot often. Since we started, so much has changed in the world due to COVID-19 and what we now know looks quite different from what we may have initially anticipated. Canadians are lucky that what happened in Italy or New York hasn’t come to fruition here, but that said, the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.
In the past few weeks, the leadership team has started to turn our focus around preparing for what happens when we open up our economy and what we might need in place for the second wave of COVID-19. To do this we’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learned so far. With the gift of hindsight, there are a few things we may have done differently, but there are many things we’d do again. We’d like to take the time now to share what some of these lessons were.
To say things were moving quickly is an understatement. Those first few weeks were exhilarating and tested everyone’s capacity. In addition, when you factor in the emotional impact of how COVID-19 has changed our lives overnight, this continues to be unlike anything any of us has ever experienced or likely will ever again. The Home Front continues to challenge each of us in unique ways, and there have been times where each of us has felt like giving up, but the lessons we’ve learned have been invaluable, and our shared belief in what we want to achieve strong. We hope what we’ve learned can help you in your own business or motivate you in a facet of your life.
1. Focus and refine your mission.
One thing we did from the start was get clear on our mission. We have been focused primarily on providing frontline workers what they need since that first weekend when we realized quickly that we could not be all things to all people affected by COVID. We simply didn’t have the bandwidth or the expertise to dive into anything else. It’s been our touchstone ever since, and why pivots have been necessary in how we deliver on our commitment. We recommend to anyone to reevaluate what you do and why and get very focused on the problem you are solving. Let the solutions evolve if they need to, but stay focused. It makes key decisions much easier when you bring conversations back to your why or your mission.
2. Being of service is about listening first.
It’s normal human behaviour to want to jump in head first to lend a hand, especially in a crisis. When this happens, more often than not, well-meaning people already have a preconceived notion of what they want to do to help. But if you don’t take the time to understand the context of the problem or what is truly needed, you can do more harm than good. The key to truly being of service is to first ask the question “What do you need?” and listen deeply. From there it comes down to a willingness to find the most effective way to support whether you yourself step in or you find another skilled person or organization better suited to the job. At The Home Front we modelled around the types of needs seen in NYC or Italy initially but re-tooled the organization based on the conversations we have been having with frontline workers.
3. Make smart, swift moves.
There is no road map in how to create a charity or non-profit organization in response to a pandemic and its daily evolving needs. The Home Front team at large have a background in business as a professional or entrepreneur and nothing prepared us for how many times we had to refocus our efforts and change how we structured our support. With this in mind, when we reflect on all of our moves, our top recommendation is that strategic small steps over large maneuvers work best and here’s why. Putting your ideas into action is THE best learning in business and in life. If it doesn’t work, you swiftly counter and keep moving forward. Over time and with a focus on your mission, it will work out.
4. Communicating to a versatile and dedicated team is paramount.
In creating something so quickly, it was everyone’s dedication and versatility that has been our greatest asset. At first, we were challenged by managing so many volunteers as we reshaped the organization to suit the needs of frontline workers. As we evolved we had to really take the time to communicate and explain each pivot in a way that gave them an opportunity to recommit with each evolution. We became more streamlined and a lot more effective as a result. When people care, are committed, and also have clarity about what is needed, they are usually willing to step up, and switch roles as an organization evolves.
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
With limited bandwidth it was key for us to not be wasting our resources and expertise. We had to be smart and efficient so we looked to see what efforts we might be duplicating in the fight against COVID-19. In some cases we focused our efforts internally, in others we partnered with other organizations with a similar mission or left the work to other teams who were better suited to meet a particular need. We also looked at what was being done in other geographical areas for best practices, and what would make the most sense for the GTA. We highly recommend partnering or collaborating where possible over creating complicated infrastructure from scratch you have to manage in-house.
6. We can do hard things.
The Home Front could not be a better case study for what leading in a state of VUCA is really like. For those not familiar, VUCA is a popular business acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. None of this has been easy but what has helped in working through moments like this has been a deep belief in the work we are doing, coupled with old fashioned grit. The key takeaway and what will be our continued success is that showing up, chipping away, helping where you can consistently everyday adds up. Show up, do the work, and magic will happen!
Where We are Now
The first ten weeks has turned The Home Front into a refined collective we are all very proud to be part of. With a team of volunteers (smaller than what we started with), we’ve grown leaner, we’ve learned a ton and we feel prepared for what comes next. Yes, we anticipate there will be ups and downs, and a few more pivots, but everyone at the Home Front has never been more committed to seeing the pandemic through. We promise to share more lessons as we continue to serve.