Management in the Time of Crisis

By: Tom Earle

First Situation:

Unexpected Changes in Leadership
In early Fall of 2015, the board of Liberty Resources, Inc.
(LRI), decided to explore other options for a Chief Executive
Officer. They asked me to step down from the organization,
which was a shattering moment for me, the staff and the
many consumers I had worked with over the course of
several years.

To ensure a calm and organized transition of authority, I had
to honor LRI’s code of consumer control, allowing the board
to make their decision regardless of my concerns about
consequences to the disability community that we serve. I
also had to trust that the community as a whole would
respond appropriately to the board’s decision.

The multitude of LRI employees and consumers were in fact
disapproving of my exit, and they immediately rallied for the
return of the leadership that they wanted. The board
reinstated me, but damage had already been done when the
community faced the disappearance of a leader.

This presented a challenge in addition to the transfer of
authority: how to improve the morale of employees and
people with disabilities whose foundation of trust had been
rocked. I believe that trust is the underpinning of
professionalism and emotional stability.

I made a great effort to project calm and exemplify the core
values of our organization, regardless of my private
emotions and personal challenges. That calm inured to our
staff & consumers and restored some faith in LRI’s system of better board governance & leadership that properly
understood independent living and consumer control.
Over a period of time, healing, consistency, and mission-
driven choices helped to restore the normalcy we all needed
following this difficult organizational challenge.

It was critical to improve communication regarding the
stabilization of management. Transparency is essential to
nurturing confidence. I knew that LRI employees would
more fully recover from the upheaval if they had a clear
sense of operations going forward. Our people had to trust
that they would not be blindsided again. Open and honest
communication about future decisions allowed us to fully

The board’s poor planning with no Consumer participation
and their ill-advised decision to remove me from leadership
failed because it did not honor LRI’s mission to promote
control by the community we served. Steadfastness to the
mission, transparency, and trust were the keys to resolving
this situation.

Second Situation:

Downsizing the Organization
Liberty experienced another major upset in the Spring of
2011, following the 2008 economic downturn. When
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett took office, he reduced
and restricted state funding for our Consumer model of
community-based attendant care.

In order to survive as an organization, we had to rapidly
downsize our organization. The process was painful for our
staff, especially the individuals we were forced to lay off.
There was no way to soften that blow.

Those individuals we could keep employed had to work
harder than ever before. Department managers found
themselves overseeing more responsibilities with fewer
people on their staff. Efficiency became critical at this
challenging time in Liberty’s long history of operations.
We could no longer provide services that didn’t have the
funding or staff to sustain them. My management team and
I had to analyze what we could sustain and what we could

As an example, we had to downsize our robust housing
department. Prior to the reduction, housing was a stand-
alone program with housing counselors, housing developers,
and landlord-tenant assistance. After the layoffs, we only
had two people left, and they focused strictly on credit and
housing counseling.

One factor worked naturally in our favor: Liberty’s remaining
employees were very grateful and happy to keep their jobs.
They re-dedicated themselves to serving our mission, and
that made them stronger and effective.

The overarching strategy, though, was to communicate the
downsizing process succinctly and with clarity. We made
sure that our staff knew what our plans were, and we
treated individuals who were laid off with dignity and
sincerity. While we could no longer employ them, we could
still support their efforts to find new work by explaining what
their departure would look like and providing prospective
employers with honest recommendations.

We also optimized the use of emails and social media to
reach our community and explain our changes and process.
That allowed them to stay connected with the resources they
needed most.

Creative thinking was also a benefit during this time. Liberty
saved one of its major programs by creating a new entity.
Under my direction, we sold our workforce development
program to The Sierra Group. That organization continues to
serve members of the disability community to this day, even
though it is no longer under Liberty’s auspices.

By embracing objectivity, direct communication, and out-of-
the-box thinking, we managed to keep the maximum
amount of staff employed despite reductions and restrictions
in funding. We continued, and still continue, to provide our
community with high-quality services.