A Strategic Guide for business leaders in times of crisis
First Things First In Times Of Crisis
2020 started in quite an unexpected way for every one of us. While we do our utmost to keep our families and loved ones safe in light of the covid19 pandemic, we also have to carry on with our professional duties, at least for those whose jobs have not been jeopardized.
Working and having exchanges with entrepreneurs, executives and CEOs over the past weeks, it quickly became clear that not addressing the impending change is not an option.
Once the heavy firefighting is addressed, it is time to (re)start thinking strategically.
With the intention to help entrepreneurs and business leaders — you — to make it through this coronacrisis, I have compiled a list of methods and best practices. They were gathered from leaders across industries and various company sizes. I also have the pleasure to co-write some of these articles with Sebastian Mueller, COO of MING Labs — Digital and Business Design Experts- and Pierre-Etienne Bost, co-founder of All Leaders Initiative — Leadership Coaching and Consultancy.
You’ll find interest in this series if you do believe in a brighter future and want to explore the best way to turn around your organization to get there.
Shall your direction change in light of this new situation. How to best determine what direction to take. And how to organize and plan to achieve your goals. We will be addressing these questions trying to find the proper balance between method and pragmatism.
In this first article we’ll go through the initial steps that are fundamental and hygienic actions to be taken before initiating the strategic exercise.
It is about dealing with the most urgent fixes as well as ensuring everyone is in the right mindset for what is to come.
In the upcoming articles we’ll talk about: Strategic Diagnosis, Situation evaluation; Scenario design; Decision making and arbitration, Strategic Plan, and last but not least Execution.
But so, first things first.
Dealing With The Urgent Fixes
This crisis has proved to be very disruptive to day to day operations. Some companies have little to no income flowing at present. Some are impacted to a lesser extent but have to deal with transitioning to full remote workforce management as well as value or distribution chain issues. And some are seeing the demand for their services increase exponentially, to the point they can hardly cope.
For the business to run and keep running, it is key to identify main operational and financial risks across the different business areas.
I use a simple method to do so and we’ll go through it. It is also a good way to identify if there are any holes in the net as the weeks advance.
The objective is to move from reactive to proactive mode as early as possible
In the first days and weeks, a leader has no other choice but than managing the most pressing issues that seem to keep popping up. You have probably qualified each issue by level of urgency and its impact to be able to deal with the most important ones first. If you don’t already have a scale to prioritize, you can leverage a pragmatic segmentation such as:
- critical (impact on a major part of the service and revenue),
- high priority (direct impact on a small part of the revenue or service),
- medium (service quality altered in minor scale)
- low priority.
You got to the point where you have an overview of all possible issues reported so that they can be tackled. For the most part, issues prove to be around cash flow management as well as remote workforce enablement and dealing with certain actions or processes that are not compatible with remote work. For the latter, I’ll share a guide later in the article. For the former, here is a list of strategies to cut costs and reduce burn from firstround.com (see part 5).
To support these actions in the most effective way, many organizations set-up a crisis task force.
This is a team of highly engaged individuals from all relevant departments. Working closely together, they keep issues in sight and unblock them as they arise in a responsive if not proactive manner. If you are in favor of a decentralized approach, this task force could act as a Steering Committee that can help coordinate and unblock where needed. Meanwhile, the majority of decisions and execution are being managed directly by the teams where issues arise.
This team can also drive a complete review of a company’s risks, strategic, operational, and financial, and help put together risk mitigation plans. Among other things, this allows leaders to identify potential weaknesses in the value chain or structural demand shifts in advance that need to be further analyzed and addressed. We’ll zoom on that in an upcoming article
Curious to hear more about practices to set-up a crisis task force? Here is an article from Amy Pope, Partner at Schillings.
The Right Mindset For The Teams
The basic crisis elements are stress, difficulty in finding a resolution, and urgency to implement solutions. In such circumstances, everyone’s anxiety and stress tend to increase. It negatively affects productivity, quality of decision making, and collaboration. Besides, you and many of the team members might be working in new conditions, remotely and possibly with kids running around.
So, what is it that you do or can do as a leader to help your teams go through it? The first phase has been the obvious safety measures and enablement of physical distancing. Then, it is also about finding find ways to keep everyone in one boat, altogether facing these upcoming challenges and overcoming them as one team.
Let’s go through the main actions implemented by leading companies out there:
Stimulate Psychological safety among all coworkers
In a remote environment and in these uncertain times, this is a critical element to help coworkers be motivated and engaged. Don’t get it wrong, this is not about “being nice”. It is rather about ensuring nobody is hindered by interpersonal fears at work, and feels not only able but compelled to speak up, be it for sharing a question, a concern, an idea, or even a piece of bad news. The point is to maximize organizational performance based on mutual trust and respect so that nothing useful is held back. There are various ways to enable it. Good communication and collaboration practices are essential parts of it.
Communication…frequent, transparent and human
All channels are good. And more is better than less, especially in these times. Transparency and authenticity are also very valued by employees, not to say expected. Here are some examples of CEO letters announcing difficult measures due to covid19.
A direction to look at
Yes, being vocal about your mission and purpose is more important than ever to keep everyone engaged. It can be done through communication as well as in the execution. We’ll cover the latter in an upcoming article.
New (remote) work best practices
Working remotely and in new environments — very lonely or crowded with kids to give the extremes — require some adjustment. Helping individuals with best practices can go a long way in keeping the mood and productivity high. Managers can also find it challenging.
Here is a complete Remote Playbook produced by GitLab, the largest full remote company (you’ll have to enter your email to get the 30+ pages document).
Mindfulness and meditation
Reducing stress level and keeping balance can only be a force of good. Providing live remote classes as well as subscriptions to apps will be appreciated by many.
And bring in some positive energy and some fun!
These are tough times for everyone. This comes with unexpected and sometimes unwanted emotions or reactions. This article from Amy Gallo in Harvard Business Review explains why coworkers experience grief and how leaders can deal with that with compassion and positiveness. Nothing better than a good laugh with team members. Many teams and companies organize meetings with fun themes or digital coffee get together, and many more. Here a compilation of more than 50 team buildings for remote teams put together by Jesse Sussman from museumhack.com.
For the ones willing to deep dive a step further on distributed work practices, here is a very complete 20+ pages guide documented and published by HRwired (google doc).
The Right Mindset For You Too
For you as well, as a leader, these times do come with peaks of stress. It requires urgent decisions and actions. As we used to hear when air travel was still a thing:
Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others
In other words, you want to keep in good mental and physical shape, to be able to bear the burden. Bringing as much balance as possible to your mind will help you make sharper decisions and act more effectively.
Being in the best mindset at work isn’t only done when at work, but mostly outside of work actually. Amy Jen Su, executive and coach confirms it in her latest book “The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles to Bringing Out Your Best Self — Every Day” where she shares various scientific researches confirming that recharging boosts mood and reduces anxiety.
Making technology breaks, investing time to recharge, find a rhythm that you can live by becomes more and more essential in these times.
It may be sport, nature, qualitative family time, yoga, meditation, or whatever make you feel good, you name it. In practice, it can be a morning routine, or after work as a transition to some family time. It can also be during midday pauses. 60 minutes a day is recommended.
Several recharging breaks of 20 minutes will already bring some significant positive effects.
At work, when in action, you can leverage the “stop, drop and roll” method. This is a very straightforward method now used as a common way of addressing crisis events.
Stop, what you’re doing (and breathe). Drop all beliefs and instincts to act in the urge. Roll with what it is the situation you are in leveraging the rational tools and resources that are available and relevant.
With a good mix of on the job practice and recharge practice, you shall be equipped to face these tough times with balance and positivity. It will also have the benefit to show the example to the teams and stakeholders. A bit like the example of the pilot in the airplane. As long as she doesn’t sound worried or anxious, the passengers are reassured and stay more peaceful, even in times of trouble.
Every week comes with its load of unexpected news, yet at some point it becomes clear that this will not stop from a day to another. With the most pressing issues being dealt with and initiatives to keep everyone engaged, you’ll now be able to invest more time to look forward and prepare for what is coming next. A unique chance to rethink things through and explore an unexpected future that you’ll love to design and build.
In the next article, we go through a simple and comprehensive method to help you get a clear and complete picture of this situation’s impacts on your business. Have a read.
I hope you found this article valuable and useful. Feel welcome to share your thoughts in the comments area. Let’s stay in touch.