fundamental shift

Organizational change: How the pandemic is transforming our community

In Short

The organizational resources in response to this new normal are both significant and essential

During this pandemic, there has been an explosion of new resources available to organizational leaders concerning institutional governance and management. The underlying thesis of these many prescriptions argues that there is a fundamental shift underway in organizational practice resulting from the COVID experience.

In this article we will be examining twelve outcomes in connection with the changing character of the nonprofit marketplace. There will be an accompanying piece, published separately, that examines specific Jewish communal implications and trends.

Principle One: Managing and Moving Through Change

The Huron Consulting Group offers an extensive platform of recommendations for leaders in managing crisis situations:

Disruption, though challenging, offers leaders an opportunity to transform their organizations with progressive leadership strategies. Equipped with the right resources to proactively respond to change, leaders can forge a more change-ready culture in their organizations, enabling their teams to succeed in uncertain business environments. 

Principle Two: Agile Decision-Making

This McKinsey Study sorts through the types of leadership skill-sets essential to manage a crisis-situation:

“Leaders with the right temperament and character are necessary during times of uncertainty. They stay curious and flexible but can still make the tough calls, even if that makes them unpopular. They gather differing perspectives and then make the decisions, with the best interests of the organization (not their careers) in mind, without needing a full consensus.”

Principle Three: Remote Work Arrangements

One of the core outcomes of this moment involves the change in work patterns:

Many U.S. workers now consider work/life balance and flexibility to be the most important factors in considering job offers. In fact, 81 percent of employees said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options, according to a 2020 survey by FlexJobs.

However, offering flexible work arrangements can involve a paradigm shift for organizations, especially smaller ones that may not have the critical mass of technology, budget, management and competitive flexibility necessary to make extensive use of flexible work arrangements.

Principle Four: Attention to Resiliency and Flexibility

Included below are five principles of resiliency extracted from a study by Bain & Company, an international business consulting group:

Organizations need to be significantly more resilient against a broader set of shocks and much more adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances.

The opportunity now is to develop an agile organization that outlasts the pandemic. That means embedding these techniques and behaviors systematically. The crisis spurred sporadic innovation. Now is the time to commit to additional agile teams that are charged with generating innovation at a faster pace.

Innovations happen sporadically rather than systematically. And when the emergency fades, people typically return to traditional command-and-control innovation until the next crisis arises, when they must reinvent agile approaches all over again. 

Engage people in changing the system through testing, learning, and adaptation. Don’t copy some other company; it rarely works, and it keeps people from developing the skills they need for adapting, customizing, and harmonizing all the elements of agility.

During crises, executives often marvel at how the speed of innovation in their organizations accelerates. Agile enterprises focus on speed during normal times as well.

Principle Five: “Isolation Leads to Togetherness”

Connectivity represents a critical outcome in connection with how this pandemic has changed the work setting:

“We find that that people who are more connected are healthier and healthier people are more connected.”

Research has shown that human connection is a big way we get through tough times.

Jeremy Nobel of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School recently founded The UnLonely Project and has responded to the pandemic with a “Stuck at Home (together)” website to provide free, arts-based support for those struggling with involuntary isolation, said that the creative arts have been shown to have remarkable health effects. Nobel has blogged about how to write your way out of loneliness and conducted studies that showed that the creative arts can be healing in surprising ways. He said the effect may be because creating forces one to focus on the moment and encourages one to express thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. An important aspect of using the arts to heal, he said, is sharing one’s creation — whether art, a poem, or a cooked meal.

Principle Six: The Art of Storytelling

Understanding each other better particularly important during difficult times. According to Adam Waytz of Northwestern’s Kellogg School: “… We need to be comfortable to celebrate our differences,” he says, rather “than push for a full-on melting-pot style coexistence.” 

Principle Seven: Rethinking our Institutional Partners

We should use this moment to rethink who are potential institutional partners. This situation creates an opportunity to invite in religious and communal partners beyond our traditional Jewish boundary lines. Churches, schools, civic organizations ought to be seen as potential institutional players maybe natural allies as will certain for-profit institutional models.

Principle Eight: Preparing our Workforce

The challenges ahead in preparing the workplace environment and the next generation of employees will be significant. The study referenced here points to the many potential challenges for our colleagues and work partners. This quantitative assessment seeks to document these workplace cultural shifts.

Principle Nine: Flatter Leadership Models

Organizations are moving towards flatter structures, and they will need leaders who can thrive in a collaborative and cross-functional environment. This changing leadership paradigm will have profound structural and policy implications for the Jewish communal network.

Principle Ten: Downsizing of our Organizations

The Independent Sector reported that 67% of nonprofits had furloughed staff and 51% had laid off employees. By September, the total nonprofit workforce remained 7.6% below pre-March 2020 numbers Just last month, 49% of these employees feared more cuts and layoffs were coming in 2021. Jobs weren’t the only loss for the nonprofit sector. A scarcity mindset caused many to nix infrastructure development, putting a hold on projects like website redesigns, CRM enhancements, strategic planning initiatives, and investments in talent development. Many of us held our breath, focused on survival, and tried to anticipate and plan for the what-ifs that might come next. A few organizations among us saw and seized opportunities for growth even mid-pandemic, proving how resilient the sector is.

Principle Twelve: Uncovering New Leadership Models

The new normal requires bold vision and practical leadership. This past year has put a spotlight on the need to invest in and cultivate diverse talent. “…Let’s move past traditional ‘talent development’ to build leadership that is reflective of our communities, address the demands placed on nonprofit professionals, and mentor individual advancement.”

The Center for Creative Leadership outlined ways to address sleep deprivation in nonprofit leaders, including mindfulness practices and mental health resources. 

Columbia Business School Professor Eric Abrahamson in his book, Change Without Pain (2004) discusses how organizations can go through change overload and how employees can experience change fatigue and burnout. Professor Abrahamson proposes “creative recombination” as an alternative approach to the highly destructive, destabilizing and painful changes caused by “creative destruction”.

Common Impact launched a crisis response hotline model offering nonprofit executives the opportunity to connect with an expert professional on a specific topic. The platform has evolved into a free advisory resource for one-on-one, cross-sector peer conversation. 

Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) offers coaching, training, and mentorship to develop civic leaders who look like and have the experiences of the communities they serve. LEE invests in leaders of color with a goal of creating a new type of political leadership.


As we move into this new place, the organizational resources in response to this new normal are both significant and essential, pointing to the shift in focus around business practices, personnel management, and decision-making agility. 

Steven Windmueller is a professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com.