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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesSource Manager's Journal: Responding to the Coming Storm (Part I)

Source Manager's Journal: Responding to the Coming Storm (Part I)

This is a four-part series that explores ways in which the Virgin Islands can minimize the damage and hardship that are going to result from the recession, a downturn that looks more severe by the day. With each passing day, it becomes clearer and clearer that we are not experiencing a "normal" cyclical economic downturn. The banking system is crippled, the consumer-driven portions of the economy are in a downward spiral, trade is frozen, governments at every level are in deep crisis and fear and mistrust are the dominant moods. Because no one seems to know where the bottom is, the path to recovery is very unclear. How or when we will dig out of this hole is anybody's guess.
Much of what is going to happen is uncontrollable at the local level. This series focuses on those things that local communities can control. It is based in the belief that doing basic things right can make a significant difference over both the short- and long-term. Doing things right can mean getting a bigger share of a shrinking pie, whether it is tourism dollars, public money or grants for non-profits.
The series can be defined as "small ball" because many of the things that are controllable are organizational. These pieces are also problem-focused and zero in on the often hidden or not discussed barriers to effectively managing change. If, over the course of the next year, there were to be marked improvement in the three areas covered in these columns, the territory and its businesses will be in a far better position to succeed in the trying times ahead. Progress in these areas also complements broader strategic action, like the focus on quality rather than rate-cutting recently suggested by a consultant to the hotel industry.
Here are the subjects for the rest of this series:
Part Two: Why lousy meetings produce ambiguity, mistrust and bad outcomes.
Part Three: Why St. Croix's norm of victimization defeats the essential goal of everyone pulling in the same direction in bad times.
Part Four: Why effective communication and solid execution are critical to the future of the territory.
There can be little doubt that change is coming, and that it is likely to be wrenching. For small places, there is often a sense of powerlessness and foreboding in situations like these. As someone once said, when the United States gets a cold, we get pneumonia. But we also know from experience that these negative impacts can be measurably reduced by effectively managing change. The key components of effectively managing it include a belief that we are not powerless, a solid strategy, skilled people, basic systems and processes, and a culture of execution.
These components usually go together, but there are hidden barriers to effective change, and these are usually cultural. The fact that they are cultural is the rub. In assessing the disastrous condition of federal agencies after almost three decades of abuse by (mostly) Republican administrations, newspapers like The New York Times frequently demand that someone "change the culture." And of course, they are right. These organizational cultures have been corrupted and undermined.
But — big but — here is the problem: We don't know how to change cultures. If we work really hard at it, we can change certain negative norms or find ways to reinforce positive ones. What we do know is how to change behaviors and, for these reasons, this series focuses on changing norms and behaviors. At some point, the culture begins to reflect these positive changes.
But why choose these three topics — meeting quality, St. Croix's belief that it is always shortchanged, and communication and execution? Because each is a significant barrier to bringing about the kind of change that will be needed if the Virgin Islands is going to emerge from the crisis reasonably intact.
In addition, each of these is an entrenched problem in the territory — so entrenched that most people take them for granted or assume that they are inevitable. They are not. Changing them will accomplish two big things: First, the ability to get things done in a timely manner at a high level of quality will dramatically increase. And, second, bringing about change in these three areas will create a solid platform for improvement and renewal in all kinds of other areas.
Next Week: Part II, Why Lousy Meetings Produce Ambiguity, Mistrust and Bad Outcomes.
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