How to Put People First in the Midst of a Crisis | Booz Allen

How do you put people first in the midst of a crisis? To answer that, in this post, you’ll see a complete overview by Booz Allen as discussed in Google Groups. Bearing in mind, when a global crisis – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – strikes, companies face difficult choices around many issues.

Notable crises are like layoffs, talent, and prioritizing corporate purpose beyond shareholder value. For instance, at Booz Allen – one of the world’s largest IT consultancy agencies, CFO Lloyd W. Howell, Jr., was faced this year with a wholesale transition to remote work.

While also looking after the needs of the company’s 27,000 employees. And remarkably, Booz Allen has avoided any layoffs despite the extremely challenging global environment.

How to Put People First in the Midst of a Crisis with Booz Allen

Jeff Thomson –  one of the senior contributor at Google Groups “RCS -Leaderchat” group recently conducted a Q&A with Lloyd. Asking him about how he, as CFO, was able to navigate one of the most difficult challenges in decades. He also delved into Booz Allen’s broader approach to talent management.

By so doing, this informed Booz Allen’s decision to retain all staff during the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, he asked Lloyd about his own experiences and outlook as an African-American CFO too. At a time when businesses, including his own, are confronting and being called to act upon ongoing racial inequity.

5 Strategies to Put People First in the Midst of a Crisis 

Today, we are going to look at a conversation by Booz Allen workers on how to put people first in the midst of a crisis. Get some answers and learn from them as to how best we can manage the crisis. Whereby, Booz Allen has more than a century of management consulting success.

Today’s business, political, and security landscapes are constantly evolving. Staying ahead requires more than cutting-edge technology. It demands agility in problem-solving, innovative change management tools, and the ability to do more with less.

With a management consulting legacy that goes back more than 100 years, Booz Allen® looks beyond challenges to see future possibilities.

In their work with government and commercial organizations, they approach each project from multiple disciplines and develop a customized solution to reach your goals, together. They’re proud of their long consulting history, including the key moments listed on this web page.

And as per the conversation on how to put people first in the midst of a crisis, below is the full conversation guide from Jeff Thomson with some of Booz Allen team members;


Question 1 by Jeff:

In general, there are so many ways to put people first in the midst of a crisis. And amidst the COVID-19 virus, business continuity was top of mind for CFOs. Especially those who were tasked with hard decisions like staffing cuts.

As many companies laid off staff for cost containment, Booz Allen, in contrast, guaranteed employment and continuing benefits for all 27,000 of its employees through July 1.

Here are some questions Jeff Thomson asked;

  1. What cost containment measures did you put in place to ensure business continuity?
  2. What role did you play in the decision to keep all staff employed?
  3. How did you restructure financial resources to make this happen?

How Lloyd Answered: 

As Lloyd W. Howell, Jr. says; ”We sensed in late January that what was then an overseas pandemic could ultimately impact our business. And from those early weeks, we established three priorities that drove every decision.

First of all, we would protect the health of our people, their families, and our communities. Secondly, we would continue to support the critical missions of our clients. And lastly, we would work to ensure the financial and institutional resilience of our firm.

In March, we saw that our employees, who directly deliver our revenue and were now mostly teleworking, were fearful about the pandemic’s impact on their jobs and families. We leveraged our business’ strength to remove that worry quickly and guarantee full job security through at least July 1.”

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They are a values-driven firm, and that approach to initially support their people was core to what they stand for.

And also, they have a good model that works when we put people first in the midst of a crisis. At Booz Allen, they ran multiple models to assess the potential COVID-19 Coronavirus adverse impacts to their firm.

Their finance organization worked with experts in their health care practice to estimate;

  1. Items like how much sick leave or elder and childcare leave people might end up needing,
  2. how much their client work could be impacted,
  3. and how their communities could be hit.

Those models indicated that $100 million, referred to as their Employee Resiliency Fund, could cover it. And other financial modeling helped them determine where they could repurpose existing funds without impacting their overall financial performance.

Given their exceptionally strong balance sheet built over the years, they had the flexibility to take care of their people. Separately, they worked with their People Services organization to determine where to apply those funds.

How does Booz Allen get funding?

It’s important to realize, Booz Allen found the money in some obvious ways and some tougher ones. Obviously, because they knew no one was going to be traveling to or sponsoring conferences. And therefore, they could discontinue large celebrations like holiday parties and off sites this year.

Beyond that, senior executives sacrificed some compensation, and they held off promotions, raising and hiring in parts of the business. As a result, beyond preserving jobs (and they’ve still not laid anyone off due to COVID), they funded emergency time off.

In addition to more dependent care, greater funding of their Employee Resilience Fund, and grants to their local communities. With reduced job worries, their employees have been more productive than ever.

As for the ways to put people first in the midst of a crisis financially, their financial performance has been exceptional too. And they still have some of the $100 million available if there are new COVID-related impacts later this year. You can read and learn more About Booz Allen.


Question 2 by Jeff:

Like many other companies, Booz Allen had to rapidly transition much of its staff to work from home amidst Coronavirus.

And as working from home becomes the new normal;

  1. How are you contributing to these conversations as CFO?
  2. Are people more productive while working from their homes?
  3. What about the general staff management, and customer service?
  4. Is the company rethinking investments in facilities and telework technologies,

Howell Answer: 

”We were in a relatively strong position from a technology standpoint when the move to telework began. During the week of March 9, we determined that the majority of telework was necessary;–we did a test run with maximum telework among our 27,000-plus employees that Friday.

And when we saw the network and our collaboration tools holding up so well, we announced the move to maximum telework on Sunday. We went from about 20% telework to well over 80% almost overnight, and eventually to over 90%.

For those employees whose jobs required them to be in our office or on a client site, we focused on developing extensive safety protocols.

Are people more productive from home?

Basically, we discovered that people were actually more productive at home and taking less time off. Resulting in strong business performance in our past two quarterly earnings reports.

However, it is clear this level of work is not sustainable. We know that the stress of childcare, schools, parent care, and other issues are wearing. And we’ve placed a great focus on providing resources, mental health support, and other assistance.

On the other hand, we have also been very proactive in encouraging people to take time off to refresh themselves;–even a week off helps people return to work in a better mental place. While some employees begin to return to the office, most will work from home for some time.

In meantime, we continue to look at and assess the challenges of working from home in this environment from a financial and people management focus.

Is there a need for investment in technology?

Howell states that; My organization is looking at continued investments in technology and other ways to support robust telework. And we even initiated projections regarding our future real estate needs. But, frankly, it’s too early to consider major decisions.

We just don’t know the full course of this pandemic and what will happen afterward. Not forgetting, we also are listening closely to clients. More often, because they are finding their way, and their needs will impact our plans.


Question 3 by Thomson: 

In reality, major upheavals and organizational changes make it more important than ever for companies to have strategies for talent acquisition and retention.

In that case, as a company team member;

  1. What is your approach to talent management as head of Booz Allen’s finance function?
  2. When it comes to hiring finance professionals, what skills and types of backgrounds do you look for?
  3. How can finance education programs better equip entry-level employees with these skills?

Howell Answer: 

”As an African American executive with an engineering degree, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of diversity on organizational and financial success.

In my current CFO role, I’ve never been more convinced that diversity is core to operating as a high functioning organization that will attract and retain talent, particularly in times of crisis.

Long before this summer’s national focus on race and social equity – a topic on which my firm has been outspoken – I have focused on developing and recruiting against a broader definition of diversity within my organization.”

Why does measuring the diversity of the skills matter?

According to Howel, beyond the traditional measures of diversity, he finds that an even greater impact on business performance comes from giving the same level of attention to recruiting and developing staff with diverse skill sets.

While at the same time, training them on how to apply their unique professional expertise to higher-level financial problems or business crises within the firm.

Within his department, they have staff trained in;

But, to raise this diversity of training from a slate of staff with functional skills to the level of influential strategic business partners requires;

  • development,
  • mentoring, and
  • fostering an environment of credentialization.

An important part of diversity in a financial organization is supporting and encouraging diversity. Particularly, in credentials and certifications that provide a level of trust. As well as the confidence to the larger organization they serve.

You can see some of the Five Traits of the Strategic CFO

”We ask our financial staff to look at larger problems with a “CFO mentality.” Meaning that every individual decision by staff at every level should be made as if they are sitting in my own chair. While looking more broadly at impacts across our company and market.

To get there, as an example, we train our professional staff to look beyond the mechanics of cash collections. As well as to understand the end-to-end process and impacts. Starting with client issues related to payment timing. All the way to the impact on cash deployment and guidance to investors.

With that context, their diverse core skill sets have greater influence and inclusion in corporate decision-making.”


Question 4 by Jeff: 

As you just indicated, more business leaders are understanding the tangible benefits diversity delivers.

  1. What does Booz Allen do to attract and retain minority talent?
  2. What are your personal perspectives on this, as an African American finance professional who has worked with Booz Allen for most of his career and has reached a senior leadership position?

Howell Answer: 

”I spoke about this on Booz Allen’s most recent earnings call, in which we opened our call – before talking about our finances – with a lengthy discussion of our firm’s approach to addressing race and social equity.

The past few months have been challenging for our country and our firm. July 18 marked 32 years since the day I joined Booz Allen. This firm is my family, and just like with all families, sometimes difficult conversations are needed. We’re in one of those times.

So to speak, we have one of the most diverse leadership teams in corporate America today. And our Board of Directors is also much more diverse than most. I’m proud of that; it’s an important start.

We empower people to change the world – Booz Allen

It’s also clear that we have work to do inside Booz Allen and throughout society. Given my place in this “family,” it was meaningful to me to help craft our six-point equity agenda.

That includes a full independent review of how all our business practices impact people of color, educational actions, and philanthropic investments. To be a force for change in the world, we must start by ensuring that every person at our firm feels empowered.

And in particular, making sure that those who have been marginalized in the past know they have a voice, a seat at the table, and an opportunity to thrive. And when employees and candidates see our commitment and the results of our efforts, it will help reinforce their desires.

In the end, allowing them to continue to be a part of our work, and the success of the business and our clients.


Question 5 by Thomson:

You began your career with Booz Allen as an engineer, before obtaining your MBA and then rose to a senior leadership role in the finance department.

  1. How did you bring your skills and background in the technical side of the business to bear in being a leader and decision-maker?
  2. How does your engineering background inform your approach to finance?

Howell Answer: 

”I began with an interest in engineering, which led me to opportunities and increasingly greater responsibilities at Booz Allen. But, I have always felt that no career is linear. Of course, circumstances do change, and things do happen.

That in mind, you learn and develop experience in new areas and these impacts can take you to a place you hadn’t expected. I ended up having decades of experience running parts of Booz Allen’s client-facing business.

I think that has made me particularly effective in my CFO role. Perse, in large part, because I can communicate and articulate needs as I would have wanted to hear it in my previous roles. Uniquely, I’ve been in the shoes of my internal clients for a very long time.

Therefore, I always appreciate the pressures they are under and the performance they are trying to achieve. More so, how to help them as best as I can to achieve that performance.


Important Note:

As can be seen, there are several ways on how to put people first in the midst of a crisis. And according to Howell, ”among the most effective tactics for my own career success, I think, has been a willingness to admit when I am wrong.

Not to mention, relying on mentors and my surrounding colleagues. When people try to “fake it until they make it,” eventually they are found out. I think there’s nothing wrong with admitting when you don’t know something. When you do, more times than not, folks are very open and helpful in response.

Beyond that, I’ve always reached out to colleagues, mentors, and coaches for advice and counsel. I think the best education and learning process is to learn from others. That was essential as I took over the CFO role.

Eventually, Finance is a language. And to be good at it, I think you need to listen to others, understand and learn the language.

Takeaway,

From the conversation above, the idea is on how to put people first in the midst of a crisis. No matter how challenging and demanding times are.

Many countries around the world have successfully managed and slowed outbreaks of the Coronavirus and the illness it causes, the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this emerging virus is still impacting countries and communities in an unpredictable way as infections continue spreading.

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With this in mind, it’s more essential than ever to take action to protect yourself. While heeding the most up-to-date warnings from trustworthy groups. Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) can help you do so.

In addition to regularly checking for updates from those organizations above, you can follow the recommended guidelines here. Especially, if you want to continue protecting yourself during this COVID-19 Pandemic period.

And now that you have an idea, how do you put people first in the midst of a crisis at your organization? Care to share some of your additional thoughts in the comments section.

Finally, if you’ll have more additions to this or more of our blog topics, feel free to share them with us below. You can also Contact Us for more help and please don’t forget that you can donate to support our ongoing projects here.

NB: This post on how to put people first in the midst of a crisis by Booz Allen is powered by Google Groups “RCS -Leaderchat” group.

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