Posted: March 25, 2020
There’s no doubt that we’re in a time of uncertainty as the world watches and responds to the daily changing pandemic of COVID-19. The impact is becoming wider and more intense, and Kiwi businesses are either already dealing with the effects, or wondering what’s coming over the weeks and months ahead.
Now more than ever we need strong leaders, clear-headed thinking, and aligned execution. Amidst the uncertainty, we’re hungry for information and look for the comfort that comes from what we do know. And thankfully, that’s plenty. Many of the models and frameworks that we work with apply here – albeit, in some cases, at a faster rate and with a higher level of intensity. Let me explain…
Let’s start with leadership
In troubling times, people look towards the leaders, despite leadership undoubtedly being more challenging then. Luckily, what we already know about leadership applies here. One of my favourite and most relevant models comes from Patrick Lencioni and his influential book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
His pyramid model remains one of the best leadership frameworks around, in my opinion, and it’s something we look at with all of our clients. Lencioni’s model steps through an absence of trust, leading to fear of conflict, which creates a lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results in exploring work team dynamics and what we need to be able to perform better.
There are two parts to this model that are absolutely critical, especially in our current climate: trust and productive conflict.
We need to have trust now more than ever. Businesses are making quick decisions, most are being reactive as opposed to proactive, and many are instituting different ways of operating (i.e. remote working), which relies on a high-trust culture to be successful.
Trust is the base of the pyramid for a reason. If you don’t have trust, there is likely to be at least a little bit of an underlying fear of conflict. There will be people within the organisation who may not say what they think. And then that flows on…
Just imagine; you make a decision but someone in your leadership team or on your Board may not agree with it. They may not voice their disagreement because they don’t feel safe to speak up, so they hold your decision at a distance and are not particularly committed to it. Following this, the top two sections of the pyramid are virtually inevitable. Lencioni was on the money; it is no wonder that a team with these characteristics would struggle to execute.
I often use the term productive conflict, as I firmly believe that where we don’t have productive conflict, unproductive conflict will prevail. We need to be bringing things out into the open, and providing a forum and a framework for debate. The undermining and insidious effect of unproductive conflict on culture and trust cannot be underestimated. But conflict is hard, and many struggle to see it as constructive or provide the environment to explore and celebrate it; at least without external facilitation.
Regular planning provides the opportunity for productive conflict. We ensure our clients and their leadership teams bring it all up – and out. They lay everything on the table every 90 days, at a minimum, as they look at what is happening around and within their businesses and recheck and define their direction. It’s a structured and scheduled discussion. Only following that are they all able to execute their plan with certainty and alignment.
Execution brings it all together
Execution is about decision, alignment, and action. In over two decades of leading the execution space, we have seen that most businesses struggle to execute, even when things are going well. Add in the waves of uncertainty being caused by COVID-19 and there’s the potential for paralysis.
Businesses don’t have time for the old, complex decision-making processes that many use, so how can we do this better?
Firstly, it is critical that people come out of a decision-making process aligned. They need to know who is accountable to achieve what, by when and have clear, single-point accountability. Most concerning for me, is co-accountability. If you have co-accountability, you have no accountability. Be mindful to ensure one person leads the project; others can assist, but one person needs to be the project owner, accountable for its execution. Co-accountability is where most execution falls over.
We also need to pick up the pace. While we normally work with clients in 90 day sprints – quarterly actions with weekly check-ins – many of these will need to move to 60 or even 30 day cycles; the timeframes are compressing as we respond to global events.
Secondly, your planning now needs to include both contingency and continuity aspects. Of course, planning is about direction – you need to know where you’re going to be able to get there. However, now more than ever, we also need to be pulling our heads up out of the sand and looking at what’s happening around us. We’re no longer just starting to see hints of something coming at us over the horizon line; it’s here and it’s happening. It’s vital to have a solid idea of how this is impacting market conditions around you, so you can act ahead of the scenarios where you’re really hurting.
We’re taking clients through contingency planning to model how their business can respond pending a few possible scenarios, or differing levels of impact. There is a whole raft of questions or aspects that I can’t dive into completely here but, as a starting point, consider:
– How might changes in demand for your products or services be impacted? Will changes in demand likely be lost, or offset somehow?
– How will your supply chain be affected? Where are the show-stoppers? Do you have any alternative sources or options?
– What do you need to put in place internally and for your people? You will, of course, be considering health & safety, but this can be proactive around hygiene or remote working, or reactive in terms of a policy for if someone becomes unwell with the virus.
– How will your cashflow be impacted? Have you assessed the health of your balance sheet?
– What risks are there to costs, for example, possible price increases for raw materials?
– How would you navigate a potential 30% drop in revenue? Consider a 4 day working week as a possibility.
These are just a handful of the questions we are working through with businesses as they work to navigate the times ahead. And while all businesses will be impacted differently, what will be the same across the board is the need for great leadership. These questions provide a starting point for the clear-headed thinking and aligned execution needed as you put in place your own plans.
I’ll be continuing to publish more articles and resources to provide value to businesses, so keep an eye on our channels and don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be of any further support.
This blog was written by Simon Mundell, Founder and Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.