Build Support for the Recovery

The recovery leader must constantly build support for the recovery process. Problems will arise. Followers must be sufficiently committed to endure these challenges. At the same time, the leader must be ready to adapt to changing conditions and redirect the

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process as necessary. A checklist of key tasks is below:

Refer to policies and plans. If financial policies or long-term financial plans were developed in the calm of good times, they can provide decision-making parameters that are widely agreed upon. If policies and plans do not exist, refer to GFOA’s “Best Practices” – these are ready-to-go and have built-in credibility and expert legitimacy. This task will provide a basis of legitimacy for recovery strategies.

Of course, in some cases, existing plans or policies may no longer apply in changed circumstances. You may need the flexibility to develop new strategies. If the organization has a solid mission and values statement, use it as a means to test the validity of new strategies. A strategy that is compatible with the mission and values will move the organization towards its larger goals and will likely be consistent with what constituents expect from their government. In the absence of a mission and vision, more basic tests – “is it legal?”, “would you want to read about it the newspaper?,” and “would constituents support it?” – may be useful.


Engage the public. Recovery will necessitate hard choices. These choices could result in reduced services and/or increased taxes. As such, public support will be needed. Noted authority on government reform, Bill Eggers (et al) , points out that “common sense” arguments about how government needs to balance its finances can often resonate with citizens, especially when economic recession has heightened concerns about financial imbalance in their personal lives.

Public engagement can be broadly directed to the entire community in an attempt to build a wide basis of support. Another option is to engage credible third-party community groups. Their presence could generate new ideas, change the dynamic of the discussion, and start to build grass-roots support for needed change.

Establish communication channels. Decide how to communicate progress on the project to others. For example, perhaps the team could provide a quarterly financial report to the board or share with department heads a monthly update on the progress of major steps in the progress. As much as possible, the communication methods should encourage strategic thinking about the financial situation. If reports are too detailed, however, they may divert time away from implementing the recovery process.

It is important to obtain feedback from stakeholders to see if your message is getting through. Do they understand the issues? Are they satisfied that they are being kept informed? Are their expectations for the recovery processing being met?

Start changing the organizational culture. Distressed organizations may have cultural traits that contribute to decline and impede recovery. Recognize some of the more visible, announce your intent to change them, and initiate new behaviors that are consistent with the desired new culture. For example; start meetings on time, finish tasks on time, and say “I don’t know” when you don’t. The Long-Term Treatments section of this site addresses cultural change issues in more detail.

Deliver quick wins. Early successes are important for combating an expectation for failure that may have developed in a declining organization. Quick wins depend on the situation, but here are some tips for finding them:

  • Employees may have money-saving or revenue-enhancing ideas. Even the small ideas build positive momentum. If you do seek out employee suggestions, be sure to let people know what happened to their ideas. Even if the suggestion wasn’t acted upon, knowing that it was seriously considered will increase the employee’s commitment to the recovery process.
  • Break down larger goals into steps. Breaking larger goals into “chunks” not only makes goal achievement easier by making the next steps more apparent, it reveals potential quick wins.
  • In many distressed situations, financial information is poor. A good long-term forecasting model might be a “first” for the organization.
  • Review what the organization has done right in the past. Show how past successes have attenuated distress and how the organization can build off those successes. 
  • Uncertainty is a major challenge to a successful recovery. Reduce uncertainty by defining with stakeholders a clear process for recovering from financial distress as well as a policy framework for adapting to new circumstances and taking advantage of opportunities.

Regularly revaluate your strategy. Regularly review your strategy and don’t become overly committed to any particular recovery strategy. Engaging outsiders such as expert citizens or a consultant can provide diversity in perspectives.

Back to Leadership Tasks in the Bridge Stage

Go on to Deal with Dissent