Adding Value is Always Essential

Posted on April 6, 2020

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This guest post is by ELGL member Julia D. Novak, Executive Vice President of The Novak Consulting Group – now part of Raftelis.

There has been a lot of talk these days about what is and is not “essential” to daily life. I am in awe as I watch our clients and my home city of Cincinnati deliver service every day in the rapidly evolving circumstances of this pandemic. 

The libraries may be closed, but escaping with books is still essential. E-books are filling a void for people. E-book app readership is up 30% during the pandemic! Information desks are call centers. Storytime is on Facebook live! Libraries are adjusting to this crisis, and their reach is more essential than ever. The Cincinnati Zoo may be closed, but their daily “live” shows are providing joy and encouragement to cooped up kids and relief to stressed parents.

The Novak Consulting Group is now part of Raftelis, and together we serve local governments and utilities from coast to coast. Our clients are fulfilling essential functions, and they are continuing to plan for and respond to changing conditions.

We are fortunate that we are still invited (although virtually) to be part of meaningful conversations, process improvements, financial plans, and more. At the same time, we have to be mindful that the demands of pandemic response are tapping people’s time and mental energy. For our team, we have to plan to add value to the company even if we aren’t billable.

Internal process improvement exercises, contributing to our profession as thought leaders by researching and writing, learning new skills, becoming conversant in new software – all of these tasks will serve our team of consultants well when we begin to settle into the next “new normal” of our lives together. 

if your role has not been deemed “essential” during this pandemic, it might have left you feeling “less than,” but keep in mind that you can still add tremendous value to your organization.


Use this time to develop the ideas that have gathered cobwebs in the back of your mind because you didn’t have time to work on them. Or perhaps, you’ve seen others adapting to meet this crisis and wondered whether your organization could implement some of those techniques, too.

Maybe you’ve considered alternative methods for providing services effectively and efficiently that would be sustainable and beneficial even after the crisis ends.  Here are a few examples:

  • Human Resources is providing critical support to organizations that now have people working from home for the first time in their careers. As people fall into routines with this new work environment, is it time for you to map your hiring process? Look for opportunities to improve the experience for both applicants and the departments you are serving. Can you use different methods of outreach to connect to applicants?
  • Purchasing is reeling right now to keep up with the demand for emergency supplies; they are removing controls and increasing threshold limits to expedite the process and increase efficiency. What are you learning about these temporary adjustments?  Does it make sense to work as efficiently in periods of calm, too? It’s an appropriate time to consider which “temporary” changes need to become permanent, restored, or reformed. 
  • Financial Planning has become even more crucial. We may be so buried in the day-to-day that recovery seems so far away, but now is the time to start thinking about it. The economic impact of the pandemic requires thoughtful scenario planning.
    • How do you respond if the recovered is V-shaped? (rapid decline followed by rapid recovery)
    • How do you respond if the recovery is protracted?
    • What would you have done differently if you had known a pandemic was on the horizon? Can you take steps now to start getting the organization in a better place in the event of another crisis?
    • Our friends at ResourceX are making their Fiscal Health Tool available to local governments for free for three months, which is an incredible opportunity to do some long-term financial planning.  If your in-house resources are constrained, this is just one of the ways we are supporting our clients during this pandemic. 
  • Current Planning is an area that has experienced tremendous pressure because of the economic prosperity of the past several years. The urgency of plan review and approval has occupied staff in Development Review Centers across the country. The context for that work is changing – the move to electronic plan review has been fast-tracked in many locations. Learning from this experience and documenting those processes now will provide valuable insight and direction for the future.
  • Other Ideas and Samples from things we know cities and counties are doing:
    • Communications – looking at website design, what people access most frequently, converting any remaining paper newsletters or forms to electronic
    • HR – opened the performance evaluation portal early so people can work on performance appraisals
    • Training – providing online training portals for staff to enhance skillsets
  • Look at the Back Burner: Sometimes, we recommend best practices of things organizations should do but rarely have time to do. 
  • Here are a few examples:
    • Update employee contact information/ICE information
    • Clean up virtual files
    • Review and update policies (HR manual, financial policies, SOPs)
    • Review and update job descriptions
    • Create/update organizational charts

We respond to the urgent – there is no choice – and it is clear to me that local governments are doing this with great success. Find ways to add value for the long haul even if you aren’t on the front lines of the pandemic. If you are on the front lines providing leadership to your organization, it’s vital that you care for the employees in all these circumstances.

The term “essential” challenges me because I believe what local governments do for their communities is essential, but we know health and safety must come first during a pandemic. Don’t let a label keep you from adding value because that is always essential.

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