Ross Wilkers

COVID-19

How LMI has navigated a leadership change and COVID-19 challenges

Three days before the coronavirus pandemic became a national emergency, LMI announced a CEO transition that saw David Zolet step down to join CentralSquare Technologies and Chief Growth Officer Brian Fitzpatrick step in as acting leader.

Since then, what has been on Fitzpatrick’s agenda? Like so many other leaders in the public sector ecosystem, it’s been all about leading the nonprofit government consulting firm’s almost 1,400 employees and supporting their customers through the crisis.

Just to bring the point home, here is how Fitzpatrick responded to my question regarding any thoughts he may have regarding short- or long-term goals for LMI since he was asked to lead it at least in the interim.

“I’m really focused on making sure that there’s continuity, that our employees are taken care of and that we stay focused on the mission now more than ever,” Fitzpatrick said.

That mission in his words: “Really enabling the customer to have complex challenges and doing anything we can to support that with our subject matter expertise, with our brainpower, with our employees who have science and technical backgrounds that are hard to find, and deploying them as quickly as we can and as nimbly as we can to ensure their success.”

Not for some time has the U.S. government faced such a complex challenge that requires almost all of its moving parts to be redirected to one particular issue or at least take it into account. While not naming the agency, Fitzpatrick relayed one anecdote he heard about a supercomputer whose purpose was certainly not health care.

That platform was redirected to solve a problem related to the virus in an example Fitzpatrick said shows a “whole of government” approach against the pandemic.

Health and civilian are two of the markets LMI works in alongside defense and national security. Like many other businesses in the public sector, at the top LMI’s website is a link to another landing page that shows visitors how the firm is both supporting customers in the response and managing itself through the situation.

One of the first items LMI did regarding COVID-19 was to stand up a working group led by Nathan Sanders, director of the firm’s defense health and Veterans Affairs unit. That group both seeks to match LMI’s capabilities with what the government may be looking for.

Fitzpatrick said the firm’s support of clients so far has involved supporting management of equipment and supplies, which ties to LMI’s heritage in the supply chain and logistics arena.

That also means helping agencies plan for the long term, or what can be essentially called next time.

“People are beginning to think about lessons learned, how do we record what is happening here so the next time we face a crisis, hopefully not like this one, but what can we learn from this situation that we can apply to other situations, and we’re having discussions like that,” Fitzpatrick said.

A more specific example can be seen in how LMI worked with the Army to outfit a hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky that is being used to support the COVID-19 response. Fitzpatrick said that work began before government directives began coming down regarding how the military health system could be called upon to support the response.

Within LMI’s health group, much of the firm’s work is with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and in a health policy arena that likely will look very different in a post-COVID world. Fitzpatrick offered how the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks changed how the government approaches security as a possible allegory.

“Translate that to the COVID-19 crisis and you have a health care business that is probably about to undergo a huge transformation as well,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m sure the response will be different for many months to come and maybe years.”

Along with support of customers comes the matter of employee engagement, an area Fitzpatrick stressed to me as “really the number one priority” next to the health and safety of staffers. Small examples of this include contests on who has the best background for the Zoom video chat platform, plus an Instagram contest on who had the best work-from-home setup or the most chaotic.

Fitzpatrick himself began the Instagram contest by posting a picture of his “chief dog officer.” But those fun exercises have a much bigger idea behind them.

“What we’re finding is that there is a huge appetite for communication and I think in situations like this, you can’t over-communicate about the health of the business, about how our employees are doing, how our customers are doing, what kind of need we’re seeing,” Fitzpatrick said.

Those communications can also be on topics not related to work, such as one email that went out regarding best practices for homeschooling given the current work-from-home environment we are all in.

“We use every channel of communication that there is available to keep in touch,” Fitzpatrick said.

LMI put the Zoom communication channel to work for its first-ever quarterly offsite meeting of senior leaders, which came into play regarding the leadership transition. Fitzpatrick admitted that it was strange to conduct the meeting that way but it also showed his colleagues in a different light.

“Everybody was in their house and we’re showing each other around the rooms that we’re in,” Fitzpatrick said. “You almost feel like you get to know each other even better, being in people’s homes even virtually, it’s kind of a weird dynamic but it’s effective.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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