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Musings of an Emergency Manager: Do Good Where You Can

January 27, 2021

Musings of an Emergency Manager:

Do Good Where You Can

The folks at Kuali have asked me to share my outlook on various topics based on my experience as an emergency manager. I was a little reluctant to do so as writing isn’t my forte, but they said “please”, so I figured I had to give it a shot. The exact scope of this blog isn’t sharply defined, so I guess we’ll see where it goes over time. If you have suggestions for topics feel free to email me

For this first one, I want to talk about the best piece of work-related advice I ever received: Do good where you can.

I was in a new position and wanted to re-launch an EM program that had languished for years. I was going to resurrect the program in one awesome initiative, because who can’t recognize the importance of EM? I tried to kick-start it by launching a plan revision process following FEMA’s six-part planning process. And as with all voluntary initiatives, the first meeting was well attended, the second sparsely, and the third… I canceled. If I’m going to sit alone in a room I’d rather it was my office with all my toys.

So as I stared at my bobbleheads and challenge coins, I considered various approaches to getting participation from people. Appeal to authority. This might work in other settings, but I’d already learned there was more passive resistance in Higher Ed than all of 20th century British India. Guilt. People were so busy they wouldn’t feel guilty about bailing on something non-mandatory. Bribery. I didn’t have a budget, and institution logo pens buy you an elevator pitch, not a planning process.

I called a buddy and asked for advice. He reminded me about Stoic philosophy. Focusing on what I could actually do, rather than what is outside of my control. Rather than focus on what I couldn’t get done, where were the areas I had traction? Where were people engaging? In short, look for places I could do good and use them as stepping stones for the future.

The alert and notification committee was hungry for guidance. It was supposed to be helmed by higher-ups from multiple departments. All of whom were too busy. And people kept asking me what we should do. So I jumped in preparing agendas and facilitating the meetings. We chose when we’d test the system. We refined message content to align more with the principles outlined by Dr. Mileti. We created a naming convention for message templates. We debated the merits of opt-in versus opt-out enrollment. We implemented visitor enrollment via text message. In short, we got a lot done.

And in that process, I made connections that helped me achieve more of what I wanted to do in other areas. Did I achieve a complete resurrection of the program? No. But by the time I left, EM had started to get feeling back in its fingers and toes. 

So if you’re struggling with a part of your program, focus on where you can do good. It may let you achieve your goals by a different route.

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