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VIEWPOINT: Adapting Our Roles to Thrive in an Unstable Economy

By Kimberly Townsend

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While many of the current business challenges share a common theme — inflation, labor shortages, supply chain challenges, health-care costs — each industry is impacted in a unique way. But I have witnessed a silver-lining — many businesses have had the opportunity to innovate and provide support to our community in new ways. 

We should all be looking at ways we can evolve our businesses as well as our roles in the larger business community — not only to ensure our organization’s survival, but also to create a better quality of life for our employees, our customers, and Central New Yorkers overall. Here are a few lessons I have learned, that can apply to any industry:

• Re-evaluate your products and services — and their role in the community. A great example of this is the restaurant industry — when indoor dining temporarily became a thing of the past, many got creative about using outdoor spaces, offering to-go plates (even if you had never done so before). That required rethinking workflows, ordering new supplies, and constantly making improvements as you adjusted. 

The long-term care industry similarly shifted gears when Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard. While National Guard resources were deployed to address a general issue of staffing at nursing homes across New York, it was an opportunity to consider the bigger picture — strains on the health-care system — and try something different that not only addressed nursing homes, but also helped relieve hospitals. Loretto in Syracuse took this innovative approach and decanted hundreds of patients from local hospitals.

In both instances, you can see how businesses adapted, not only for themselves, but also to provide a new type of support for the greater community. Regardless of your industry, this constant re-evaluation is essential to maintain relevancy in today’s world.

• Get creative about recruitment and retention. An employer-centric view — “What can my employees do for my business?” — isn’t going to work in a job seeker’s market. Instead, we have to shift to an employee-centric view: “What changes can I make to improve the lives of our employees?” A recent Gallup poll, “The Top 6 Things Employees Want in Their Next Job” lists a “significant increase in income or benefits” at the top of the list, followed closely by “greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing.” The latter includes remote work and job flexibility.

Many industries are limited in the amount of job flexibility we can offer. But I encourage you to explore offering alternative employee perks, especially benefits that can address the same root causes for employees’ desires to work remotely. For example, you might consider childcare services, on-site urgent care, financial-literacy programs, exclusive employee partnerships with other local organizations, and paid education and training. 

Education and training must also embrace that employee-centric view and be constantly refined in real-time based on feedback from staff and other key partners.

• Consider the big picture. It is so easy in times like this to function in a vacuum — many of us do not have the workforce we need, and so our time is understandably spent just trying to keep our businesses afloat. While the value of being the boots on the ground cannot be understated, as the leader of a business, it is our responsibility to simultaneously keep our eyes on the bigger picture. 

We have likely all been asking ourselves questions like: “Do we have options to diversify our supply chain?” or “How can we adjust our budgets to minimize the impact of inflation?” But take your view to an even higher level and ask: “Are there innovative ways we can support our community?” And when an opportunity is presented, be ready to see it and to make the most of it. 

• Educate and advocate. Let’s go back to the example of restaurants — when capacity restrictions on indoor dining were implemented, to continue to do business well, restaurants needed resources to expand their outdoor space, or to ramp up a to-go order platform. I think we can all agree the restriction without the resources would have been detrimental to business. 

The long-term care industry is currently facing a restriction in the form of a staffing mandate. Unfortunately, it does not take into consideration the big picture — only mandating nursing staff hours, when patients and long-term care residents benefit from a much broader care team that includes a variety of others — physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, recreational therapists, etc. 

While these challenges are specific to the restaurant and long-term care industry, they share a common theme — the need for education and advocacy. We need to learn more about the bigger picture in each of these industries before we propose a solution.

Here’s why: while the staffing mandate is a challenge unique to the long-term care industry, it affects a bigger picture issue — affordable and accessible health care, which impacts us all. Results from the Gallup poll I shared show benefits and health and wellbeing at the top of many of our lists. We must work collectively to find a way to make health care affordable and accessible in this community. But before we can advocate for a solution to reform any industry, we must first seek to understand the root cause(s) of the challenges we face. 

Leadership in every industry can take this opportunity to find a fresh approach to serving our community and supporting our workforce. That is something we all can — and should — start right now.      


Kimberly Townsend, Ed.D., is president and CEO of Loretto and author of “Lifecircle Leadership” and “Lessons in Lifecircle Leadership.” For more information about Townsend, visit: DrKimberlyTownsend.com and LorettoCNY.org.