Coghlan: Opportunity abounds, for the flexible

Bang Zoom: Total organizational flexibility -- not only moving meetings online, but embracing the opportunities that provides -- is key to business survival in the Age of Coronavirus, according to Harry Coghlan.
By HARRY COGHLAN //

It is disorientating (to say the least) to think back on our original plans and goals for 2020, and realize how so many of them had to be revised or abandoned.

But as Robert Burns (sort of) said, best-laid plans often go awry, and when they do, the organizations that prevail are the ones able and willing to adapt, react and produce. In short, flexible organizations stand the best chance.

While no one could have predicted what would happen to our economy when the calendar turned to 2020, instability and rapid industry innovation are things all businesspersons should be accustomed to by now.

It’s not enough, however, to simply be aware of constant change, or able to withstand it. True leaders must embrace this uncertainty and find ways to use it to their advantage. Change presents great challenges, of course, but it also presents wonderful opportunity for innovation.

During some of the most difficult days of the pandemic, leaders and business disrupters throughout the country have found ways to bring people together, help our heroes on the front lines and change their business models to spur prosperity. So how do you turn your company into a flexible, nimble organization, ready to adapt and thrive in the face of unexpected change?

You do it by promoting a top-down flexibility and outside-the-box thinking for your entire company. You embrace disruptive technology, even – especially – when old methods still seem to work. You support workers and colleagues by creating helpful programs and initiatives and developing schedules that allow for happier and healthier employees.

The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency thrived on the in-person collaboration that comes from board meetings, on-site assemblies and personal connections. These are foundational practices of our business.

Harry Coghlan: Roll with it, baby.

The pandemic and resultant quarantines made all of that impossible. It was a scary thing to consider, no doubt, and it put many of our long-term goals in serious jeopardy.

But thanks to a flexible and forward-thinking team, we were able to stay on track. We were the first IDA on Long Island to host a virtual board meeting and public hearings via Zoom, which allowed for public comment, a critical part of our existence.

Nassau IDA Chairman Richard Kessel co-chairs the Nassau County COVID-19 Economic Advisory Council with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, and together they created exhaustive surveys and distributed them to thousands of businesses across the Island – before, during and after the worst of our regional pandemic. This project will prove invaluable for regional businesses as we take the first tentative steps toward reopening.

If you’re a leader in your business, don’t focus so much on the challenges that long-term remote-working presents; try to identify the opportunities it provides. They are there, I promise.

Being flexible and adaptable isn’t easy, and being willing to put in the work to innovate in the face of adversity isn’t something that will come naturally to most. The behavior is almost exclusively the domain of employees and clients who feel appreciated, respected and protected.

If you preach flexibility in your company culture, you should extend it to everyone. Take stock of collective mental health, preach work-life balance and allow for teamwork and flexible scheduling. Undertake and champion programs that are for the greater good, and the results will follow.

I am particularly proud of our Boost Nassau initiative. With the health of first responders and the prosperity of our small businesses in mind, the initiative put an ad in local papers thanking our first responders and worked with the county to launch a loan program and PPE giveaway to local businesses.

We are proud of the many clients we have worked with who donated money, water, food and more to our pandemic heroes. We support the small businesses that innovatively created different ways of doing business.

And we encourage all businesses to follow us on social media to stay apprised of the latest resources they may find helpful to continue to be successful in our great county.

Harry Coghlan is CEO of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency and the Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corp.