We are living in uncertain times that demand a crisis plan. Health risks, job risks and frustration are playing out across our nation and many parts of the world. It is during times like this that we need leaders … I mean real leaders that understand how to navigate an organization through the ever-changing turbulence while assuring those that they lead have some level of certainty and security. How do you start? When do you start? Are you the right leader? Do you have the right team? All of these are great questions, but real leaders cannot do it alone … nobody has the perfect experience or skills … but I do know they must have a trusted team that they can count on to move everyone forward.
Lessons from War to Battle an Uncertain Future
I want to share with you a few lessons I learned while serving in one of the most challenging roles in history … to lead a combat trauma hospital during the war. It was the most challenging and rewarding responsibility in my life. We were the busiest trauma center in the world. We were serving the most critical injuries of the war, while under attack in middle of the combat zone. Everyone experienced fear, anxiety and uncertainty … but we all knew our duty was to save the lives of those who took a greater risk. These concepts are relevant to any organization trying to survive, then thrive in an uncertain world.
Phase 1 – Anticipate
Always be prepared for the next moment to be the worst or best moment of your life. This is important, because extreme events will disrupt your organization and create instant uncertainty among the workforce, good or bad. If this is not grounded in a solid culture, then you will always be vulnerable to the turbulence of the highs and lows. Your culture is key to your preparedness. After the crisis has started, it is too late to build trust. Your deposits in the “bank of trust” will pay off when you have to withdraw a few sacrifices. It is also important to know that everyone manifests fear or excitement in different ways … this also varies by generation as they have significantly different life experiences over different times in history. I found that all generations can align around a common purpose that they believe in when challenged. That must be established and expressed by the leader throughout an organization’s existence. That purpose should be ingrained in the culture and shared continually. It will be the “north star” during uncertain times.
Anticipation also allows you to use the creative tension of a well-functioning team to imagine the crises that your organization may face. The planning that takes place during this phase is more important than the final plan. Because the final plan will be adapted to the need. The learning from planning is of great value. After planning, you will see both a connection among your key leaders as well as the essential elements of your Crisis Plan (CP). You may be surprised at the essential elements for your organization to survive in a crisis. As with most organizations, your Crisis Plan will at least include internal/external communications, asset accountability, supply chain, policies, information management, security, financial analysis and most of all the people.
Having a clear checklist of your essential functions created by your team allows leadership to start with trust and confidence at the very beginning of the response. If you regularly exercise your Crisis Plan with realistic scenarios, your Crisis Action Group (CAG) will be well prepared for almost any anticipated challenge. You may not have all the answers, but you at least will have a process to manage the core needs and know how to “tweak” your plan and your team for any escalation or change to the crisis. Remember that crises will reflect your truth … your organization’s culture, leadership and values are most transparent in times of uncertainty. Be sure those are healthy before a crisis.
Effective leaders must first set a culture that understands the uncertainties and in people, society and in business. We have so many influencers that complicate the job of today’s leader. We are today connected globally and socially through social media with the rapid sharing of thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. Small issues may become large very quickly with everyone having a platform to express their point of view. We also know that values and expectations differ among the generations within the current workforce, which further complicate those issues. From my leadership experiences, I have found a few simple, but important phases that not only prepared our organization for challenges but prepared me to lead with confidence. These phases also “galvanized” our team to remain unified in our approach to the challenge and remain focused on our purpose, while respecting our values.
Phase 2 – Action
Whenever you expect a crisis, activate your CAG quickly. Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed, getting ahead of the process is essential to review your Crisis Plan and show responsiveness to your workforce. Kick it off with the key staff and have other staff prepared to fill the roles on a continual basis. Have depth in all your functional areas, this assures continual capability and provides a learning opportunity for future leaders. Remember, leadership is about preparing future leaders as well. During our current crisis, it is essential to have a functioning CAG, with the current Crisis Plan and its checklists available virtually and securely to the key staff. Recurring, if not daily, meetings are critical to assure appropriate communications and information sharing up and down the organization. They do not have to be long, just highly structured with standard agendas to assure all areas are addressed. They must be well managed to get all the facts shared, the plan executed, and communications prepared. Transparency is expected.
These “touch points” will be important for the organization to appear to be “in control” of the crisis response. The CAG will also be where the measures of performance that were developed in the Crisis Plan will be monitored to assure organizational and leadership accountability. When shared in recurring communications, the actions taken during the Action Phase will assure stability and predictability of the leadership team, which creates security and confidence among the workforce and your customers. Also note that during a crisis response, people responding are connected at their core. No matter the diversity of generations, gender, race or religion, … everyone wants leadership that demonstrates truthfulness, confidence, responsiveness and security by reducing uncertainty. Well planned action is required.
Phase 3 – Afterwards
As a crisis winds down, it is essential to capture the lessons of your actions, your Crisis Plan, your CAG, your team and yourself … be honest by asking “How did we do?” Did we honor our values? Did we serve our purpose? Did we care for each other? Did we serve our customers? Did we emerge better than we entered the crisis? In my military days, we called this the “hot wash” and it usually occurred within a few days of stopping our CAG. Sometimes we appointed staff to observe and document lessons real time. We treated this process formally by having a team of CAG members capturing the lessons and developing a project plan to assure validation and integration of the lessons learned. From here you change your Crisis Plan, your training, your CAG, your checklists, your processes and possibly your company’s strategic plan to assure alignment with your purpose, your business and your workforce. This is essential to a learning organization.
Phase 4 – Again
There will be another crisis. It will happen again, so prepare. Maybe not just like the one we are now experiencing, but there will be another. It may be small or it may be more challenging than anything you’ve ever experienced. Either way, good planning, a good, dynamic CP/CAG and a great leadership team will be better prepared to survive the challenge no matter the scale. Remember, you want your organization to continue to learn, grow and align. But in order to do this, it MUST be a leadership priority. If the team knows it’s important to you and the company, it will be important to them. They not only will engage to prepare, but they will also give that extra bit of effort when you need them the most. Respect them and they will respect you with good followership and engagement based on trust.
ThinkX and its Px-12 profile can help you “sculpt” your leadership team to assure optimal results during each of the Phases of Crisis Leadership. We can evaluate the team members along existing or required core attributes and competencies to assure a successful team that can support leadership through the steps within Anticipate, Action, Afterwards and Again phases of crisis management. Proper team design is essential to assure alignment and optimal “sculpting” of members to that dynamic and creative tension that is necessary for effective leadership. With the right team, you can respond the right way.