Dr Martin Stillman-Jones, MBA.MSc.C.Eng.FRSA.FRIBC shares his thoughts on how to lead from the front and make rapid decisions in a coronavirus pandemic world.
We find ourselves in unprecedented times, with many business leaders never having experienced true crisis management. They are ill equipped for it, probably never trained for it, yet everybody turns to them for the answers in this crisis. Below are a few pointers which may help you on that journey, good luck and stay well!
The pandemic is changing globally day by day - possibly hour by hour. The best leaders quickly process available information, rapidly determine what matters most, and make decisions with conviction.
During a crisis the risk is cognitive overload, information is incomplete, interests and priorities clash, emotions and anxieties run high..... and in the middle of this leaders need to make decisions.
Analysis paralysis can easily exhibit, exacerbated by the natural tendency to build consensus. But leaders must break through the inertia to keep the organisation focused on business continuity today, while increasing the odds of mid to long term success by focusing on the few things that matter for tomorrow.
A simple, scalable framework for rapid decision-making is critical.
You should define your priorities. Identify and communicate the three to five most important ones early in the crisis. They might include employee safety and care, financial liquidity, customer care, operational continuity and marketing investment to provide a future.
Document the issues identified, ensure everyone is fully aligned, and make course corrections as events unfold, making smart trade-offs along the way. Instead of trying to think about all the eventualities, leaders should use their priorities as a scoring mechanism to force trade-offs.
Empower the front line to make decisions where possible, and clearly state what needs to be escalated, by when, and to who. The leadership default should be to push decisions downward, not up, embracing action without punish mistakes. They’ll happen, but research indicates that failing to act is overall, much worse than acting and accumulating a few knocks!
In a crisis, leaders should seek input and information from diverse sources, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and bring in outside expertise when needed - early. He who hesitates is lost!
Decide what not to do - put on hold large initiatives and expenses, ruthlessly prioritise. Publicise your “what not to do” choices and throw out yesterday’s Business Plan. The actions that previously drove results may no longer be relevant - adjust quickly and develop refreshed plans of attack.
It’s crucial to have an accurate, current picture of what‘s happening on the ground. Whether running a supply chain, leading a marketing campaign or overseeing the enterprise, leaders must get situational assessments early and often. Technology can bring parties together; think internal methods that can capture issues, tiger team solutions, innovations, and best practices. Effective leaders extend their antennae across ecosystems during a crisis.
The best leaders take personal ownership in a crisis, even though many challenges and factors lie outside their control. They align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance and create a culture of accountability - NOT blame!
You should stay alert and aligned on a daily dashboard of priorities. Succinctly document your top five priorities and ensure the team are aligned. Review performance frequently - if not daily, then weekly - and make sure you share this information with direct reports.
Choose three to five metrics that matter most for each week, and have leaders regularly report back on each. What gets measured gets done!
Finally, keep mind and body in fighting shape. To reliably deliver, leaders must maintain their composure, even when others are losing their heads. Establish a routine of self-care: a healthy diet, exercise, whatever works for you. Stock up on energy, emotional reserves, and coping mechanisms.
Effective leaders are understanding of their team’s circumstances and distractions too, but they find ways to engage and motivate, clearly and thoroughly communicating important new goals and information.
This point deserves extra attention, because although the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, it has sparked a financial crisis as well. Leaders need to reiterate new priorities frequently to ensure continued alignment in a time of constant and stressful change.
Connect with individual team members By reaching out daily - block diary time to do this. Conduct 30-minute “mop-up” sessions with direct reports each Friday afternoon via Zoom. Share your states of mind along with the week’s wins and losses. Dig deep to engage your team.
The best leaders know they can’t do everything themselves. Re-enforce team structures and assign individuals to support key efforts. Ensure focus on both customers and employees.
To support customers: make personal contact - they’ll be as conversationally starved as you. Track and document industry intel across your customer base - and team. To strengthen relationships and build trust, keep the focus off yourself and explore how you can truly help your customers - for example, by proposing payment schedules to ease their liquidity crunch or offering in-kind provision of services.
To support employees: lead with empathy and a focus on safety and health. Compassion goes a long way during turbulent times. Find ways to lend material aid to frontline employees who cannot work remotely, such as first responders, taxi’s, or financial help with laundry - simple things count in moments of crisis.
Collect and amplify positive messages, wins, acts of kindness, obstacles that have been overcome. Many companies are tied to a noble purpose, such as saving lives, manufacturing critical equipment, helping markets function more efficiently, or simply providing joy. Whatever your purpose, celebrate your daily (often unsung) heroes.
Moments of crisis reveal a great deal about leaders. Once the immediate fire is under control and you have a moment to catch your breath, think about who rose to the occasion, who struggled, and why.
Consider how roles will change in the post-crisis world and whether your key team are positioned for success. Last and most important, ask yourself who you want at the table both in the current crisis and in the longed-for tomorrow, when crystallise like, we emerge to a new normal.
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About the Author
Futuristic | Strategist | Company Chairman | CEO’s Mentor
Dr Martin Stillman-Jones, MBA.MSc.C.Eng.FRSA.FRIBC. holds a PhD in Strategy, more specifically his thesis covered Agile Strategy in the 21st Century’s Connected Economy. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from the London School of Economics & Political Science, a Masters in Engineering from the University of Surrey, is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Great Britain and Royal Society of Arts.
As a Futuristic & Strategist Martin presents to Government & Industry; encouraging leaders to park legacy investment, policies & procedures in order to develop fresh thinking, new strategic initiatives & harness the power of the connected economy.
He mentors business leader from maverick Founders to Fortune10 CEO’s guiding their businesses through transformation, change & strategic reinvention. No dry theorist however; Martin has 40 years experience running businesses, empowering people, building teams & developing brands.
Starting his career at Proctor & Gamble as a Management Trainee he was promoted through the ranks to Worldwide Head of Marketing at Diageo with responsibility for brands such as; Smirnoff, J&B, Cinzano, Cointreau, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Bombay Sapphire, Gordons and others collectively generating £12Bn in revenues.
From Diageo to PriceWaterhouseCoopers focused on business strategy & acquisitions for PLC clients. Then self-employment founding or acquiring then exiting over 50 enterprises. Now, he helps others turn good intentions into great results!