Practical Ideas to Getting Organized in Times of Crisis
With the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had to reorganize in record time. Business continuity plans have been refreshed or we have had to become more creative in making things work. After experiencing this new reality for a few weeks now, one can certainly wonder how we will be able to maintain everyone’s commitment in such overwhelming circumstances. An empirical review of literature and an inspiring article by McKinsey 1-2 allowed us to confirm and very quickly adjust our own approach. Here are some of our conclusions:
Setting up a crisis unit
To remain efficient and quickly resolve emerging issues in these unprecedented times, setting up a crisis unit becomes unavoidable. It’s main purpose will be to maintain those essential services the business requires to survive in crisis mode or with new objectives that better address the situation. To rise up to the challenges posed by this new reality, decision-makers will delegate and empower their key players to moderate a number of intervention units to gather information, recommend solutions on essential matters and then deploy them on the ground. The crisis unit is operated by the command center, made up of senior managers and other key players who guide and coordinate the various actions.
The following chart illustrates the crisis unit structure we created at Brio.
Building a structure to problem solve
To ensure a quick resolution of problems in a changing environment, intervention units are interconnected to ensure concerted action. Each one has a distinct mission, according to top issues articulated, taking into account each organization’s reality:
- Supporting personnel
- Maintaining operations, production and the procurement chain
- Preserving customer engagement
- Managing finances and administration
Each team has the ability to evolve and quickly adapt to emerging needs in a very agile manner. In addition, a multidisciplinary approach is encouraged with each team member bringing to the table specific expertise, human qualities and personal style in line with issues to consider. How we have constituted these teams might be surprising to some!
The decision process is streamlined to limit the number of levels of decision and to accelerate the deployment of team proposed solutions.
Statutory meetings, held of course with all intervention units in virtual mode, focus on pivotal issues and allow for the sharing of information, with a view to making decisions. Crisis team members also share their insights and monitor the organization’s evolving situation.
Striking the right balance between senior managers, first line supervisors and individual participants in these meetings is crucial to their success. It is recommended that statutory meetings last no more than 30 to 45 minutes. Limiting the duration of these meetings will force people to focus.
Appointing a « meta » to adopt a fresh perspective
An unforeseen crisis of this magnitude requires that we question our usual paradigms and ways of thinking. It is also an opportunity to learn and grow. It is usually good practice to appoint a person to oversee the functioning of the group : its dynamics, its ability to deliver and the group’s thought process which could ultimately slow down or even derail the original intent of the group. The « meta » will also propose alternative ways of doing things, so that we may all learn from the experience. Remember that individual stakeholders in the intervention units will act as leaders within their teams, charting a new course and developing new practices.
Experiencing a more collaborative style of management
In times of crisis, decision making and the usual deployment of resulting actions in « cascade » mode is ineffective at creating a sense of responsibility within your teams and can be counterproductive. Ultimately, employee engagement and empowerment are what is needed to find creative solutions and put in place optimal strategies.
A crisis unit setting will also create a welcoming space where everyone can contribute insights and ideas to better the organization.
In summary, if we are to meet the challenges of the current crisis, we must streamline our decision-making processes, build teams with clearly defined roles and purposes, be agile and flexible as well as clearly communicate our intentions and decisions.
Sustaining a common purpose until we bounce back
Given the context, managers should of course focus on ongoing and engaging communications with their teams. Messaging must be well aligned with information originating from the senior management group. In doing so, managers will keep their employees on course, have them focus their energies to deploy specific actions. This will help reduce uncertainty and the overall level of stress.
Early on, we must come to terms with the challenges of telecommuting. Some employees are used to operating within very narrow confines, in a silo-type environment. Others might have run out of projects to do or must try to remain productive with children at home. Maintaining a sense or purpose in carrying out daily tasks might prove difficult for some.
Then, reality will quickly set in. The organization’s survival will require that working hours be curtailed and some employees laid off. Morale will be affected: not only employees leaving, but also those remaining will feel the brunt. We will need to explain, drive the message home, listen and more importantly enter into continuous and thoughtful dialogue with employees to make sure they come to terms with these painful decisions.
This is a time to stay in touch and use both formal and informal networks to nurture manager and employee commitment. In the difficult weeks to come, they must be able to contribute to the organization’s mission, in accordance with their wishes and personal circumstances. Creating safe spaces allowing employees to share meaningful experiences with colleagues will break the circle of anxiety and stress due to information overload.
We hope that the recovery, which cannot come soon enough, will be a strong and long lasting one. It will create new opportunities to do things differently. The question is: Will we step up ? Let’s not hope for a return to normalcy; let’s hope rather for a return to a better balance that will benefit as many as possible. Let’s learn to do “differently” and do it now. This is our opportunity. Let’s seize the day !
1 McKinsey – Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges
2 McKinsey – Responding to coronavirus: The minimum viable nerve center