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Leading through disruption

Leading through disruption
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Supply chains disrupted, share prices plummeting, employees panicking ­­– you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a leadership challenge simulation, but it’s increasingly a reality. COVID-19 has and is continuing to impact economies all over the world and has surfaced at a time of societal unrest and deteriorating trust between governments. The economic fallout from this human tragedy is not just because of the pandemic… every news cycle brings unanticipated progressions.

Is this disruption driven by the virus, or the fear of uncertainty? 

The challenges coronavirus presents still seems to trump any other agenda, as global organisations consider how to control the situation and limit long-term consequences. The epidemic is both an independent organisational risk and an amplifier of existing vulnerabilities. Every organisation around the world is being affected. Analysts state that the hardest-hit sectors are transportation, hospitality, technology, consumer goods, pharmaceutical and retail.

Creating business sustainability through agile practice and innovation

Whether the crisis is due to a potential pandemic, or (the faster-spreading) panic, organisations still need to act decisively.

Leaders are looking for ways to keep their people safe and responsibly mitigate potential virus spread, whilst also operating as productively as possible. To do this, innovation and implementation at speed are needed to pivot towards doing work differently or doing different work. When organisations are able to learn and flex whilst also remaining focused on their core priorities, the changes made (e.g. diversifying products and markets) could mean that they come out the other side stronger.

Businesses that invest in innovation, agility and change will ultimately have stronger resilience to macro-environmental fluctuations because they are better able to notice, anticipate and adapt. These core organisational skills are developable people skills that can turn challenges into opportunities. 

Impact have supported clients in responding to multiple VUCA events over the last 40 years. Here are five lessons we have learned about leading through crisis.  

  • Avoid bureaucratic processes. Assemble a cross-functional SWAT team who have the authority to make quick tactical decisions and communicate effectively – promptly and clearly ­– providing information to deepen employees understanding and reduce anxiety. Maintain a regular reporting and reflection cycle.
  • Keep on learning. Crises unravel at extraordinary speeds and new junctures mean new organisational strategies may be needed. Don’t get stuck on initial decisions, you may need to frequently reconsider your whole perspective. An iterative, flexible approach is needed, which many large organisations often struggle with as leaders are uncomfortable with appearing indecisive.
  • Critically assess new information. Be guided by expert opinion and consider multiple viewpoints. Crisis situations are unpredictable and primary evidence-based decisions are key. Uncertainty breeds misinformation and emotionally visceral content easily goes viral regardless of whether the source is credible. Human behaviour generally leads us to overlook weak signals and react to emerging issues, which means we must critically consider new information and focus on making well-informed and considered decisions. Equally, be clear with the news and policies you are communicating with your employees to avoid misinterpretation.
  • Look beyond traditional solutions. There is no simple, linear solution to dealing with complex problems. Complex problems demand more of our implicit, tacit knowledge. Having a cognitively diverse SWAT team is key to creating dynamic, agile systems.
  • Support others. Think about how your organisation can be of service to your community, stakeholders and industry. It’s through good partnerships that supply chains remain sustainable and trade continues through economic turmoil. Remaining true to your organisational purpose and values through disruption will build trust, resulting in long-term positive effects.

Impact supports organisations to build the people skills needed to lead through crisis, be agile and innovate to survive and thrive through business disruption. Many of our clients are embracing new work patterns including remote working (whether driven by dispersed teams, environmental sustainability goals, or travel issues) so staying connected virtually is a cultural shift that’s increasingly necessary. These are all skills that can be developed remotely or face-to-face, with progressive facilitation that will transform your people and organisation. Bespoke solutions include a variety of exciting, dynamic techniques including live digital facilitation, virtual group innovation sessions, and remote coaching.

Holly Higham is Global Head of Marketing at Impact.