In this important article Peter Nixon outlines important actions that business leaders need to implement in the current business environment in Hong Kong.
1. Take A Moment to Reflect
Take a moment to consider how this crisis is affecting you and how your words & behaviour is reflecting on the people around you – your family, friends and close business associates.
As a business leader your words and actions are amplified several times louder than those of people farther down the organisation chart. If you are calm it will have a calming effect and if you are stressed others will worry.
2. Check your attitude and that of others around you
Check if you or other members of your management team are acting mean, arrogant or even delusional (because of this crisis).
- Senior management who act tough in the belief that tough decisions require tough behaviour forget that the goodwill and loyalty of staff developed over years can be wiped out in days by seemingly uncaring inconsiderate leaders.
- Behaviour demonstrated in crisis is typically reflex behaviour and unless your leaders have learned to lead calmly in the eye of the storm through tens of thousands of hours in similar stressful situations then they (or you) are likely to make mistakes.
3. Find Strategies to De-Escalate the Situation
Recognise mean, arrogant or delusional behaviour as a sign of trouble and find strategies to de-escalate the situation.
- If you or someone in your leadership team is acting destructively it is a sign that the stress of the situation is causing dysfunctional behaviour
- Before damage is done to themselves or the people they are leading, give them a time out to reconnect with themselves, their values and how best to respond to the situation
- If necessary consider inviting an executive coach to help the executive in question find more productive ways to handle their stress and the situation
- Offer executive coaching to any of your team members that might want to take advantage of a neutral third party. Coaches can help the executive in question (or maybe you) work through the difficulties to ensure an optimal outcome is achieved
4. Acknowledge and accept your role in crisis management
Accept that part of your role in a crisis will be to step in and solve mistakes made by your people.
- These mistakes are usually caused by managers not taking the time to consider all the implications of their decisions. Their mistakes will often be defended by the haste in which they felt that decisions were needed to be made (often to arrest the haemorrhaging of cash from your organisation).
- Sometimes the mistakes are intentional breaches of internal controls and result from fraudulent behaviours which are again a result of the crisis. The smarter the people involved the easier it will be for them to find a way around your internal controls so ask your staff to increase their vigilance surrounding the protection of company assets
5. Adjust the Profile of Positive Leaders
Adjust the profile of the leaders in your management team to increase the profile of those demonstrating the behaviours needed to guide the organisation through these troubled waters while reducing the profile of those leaders that are failing.
- Now that we are a few months into this crisis it is becoming apparent which leaders are performing well and which are creating more problems than they solve. If you aren’t sure who is who just start asking around and you will begin to gather a picture of your more effective leaders.
- Ask your staff, strategic suppliers and key client advisors if their immediate superiors have been keeping them informed, answering their questions and soliciting their ideas since the start of the crisis.
- Be bold enough to raise the profile of the executives who are performing well and to move aside those you find less effective. Accept some leaders do better in good times while other do better in bad times. E.g. Winston Churchill
Recognise that to survive this crisis intact the leaders in your organisation need to communicate effectively.
- I define communication as the exchange of information and in crisis frequent information updates are crucial.
- You need to keep your people assured that things are going according to plan and as the situation diverges from the plan you need to inform them of how your response is changing
- It is crucial you ask your people to keep you informed of how this crisis is affecting your key clients, suppliers and staff. Recognise that the stress of the situation will cause silence and that you will need to ask for the information repeatedly, not just tell your people they should keep you updated and expect them to do so.
7. Develop Dialogue
- I define dialogue as thinking together and crisis need stakeholders to dialogue if they are to survive the crisis intact.
- Taking the right (optimal) decision in a crisis needs all the stakeholders to think together, to discuss the key issues in the right way and at the right time and place.
- Ensure that dialogue is scheduled and taking place effectively throughout the length of the crisis.
8. All stakeholders should have an idea what other stakeholders are thinking
- You should create opportunities for dialogue inside the organisation so that all key employees understand the situation inside the company.
- Once you have a clear understanding of the situation inside your company you will need to carry out a similar exercise with your key clients and suppliers. This process should be iterative to ensure your staff understand the situation at your clients and suppliers and vice versa
- As a third step you need to include your financial backers in your stakeholder dialogues be they public or private investors or bankers.
9. Make sure all the issues are discussed and if more time is needed create more time.
a. The issues to discuss with your stakeholders include those for which they will have an obvious contribution e.g.
i. staff should contribute to dialogues about reducing headcount & compensation
ii. clients should contribute to dialogues about service cutbacks and price adjustments
iii. suppliers and vendors should contribute ideas to your reduced orders
b. If you face a tough deadline and need more time, do what you can to push out the deadline. After that release information in stages to buy additional time if needed.
10. Enlist the assistance of a Professional Facilitator
Enlist the help of a professional facilitator to manage your stakeholder dialogues and help you achieve the outcome you need.
- Removing yourself from having to run the meeting allows you not to get emotionally caught up in the process thereby devoting more attention to the content of the meeting and the reactions of the people involved
- Professional facilitators bring proven methodologies to stakeholder dialogues. They ensure people are heard, ideas are surfaced and recorded, conflicts are managed and time frames are respected.
- Going outside the organisation to find your facilitator recognises that fact that internal facilitators are seldom able to be neutral in a crisis, especially when their own employment is on the line
- Avoid making mistakes early in the process by involving your external facilitator as early as possible in the process
- Compare the cost of using an external facilitator with the cost of failing to realise the best outcomes in the current crisis.
11. Pick a suitable time and place to conduct your key stakeholder dialogues
a. When you meet, how long your dialogues last and how often you come together are all strategic questions that need to be answered based on the gravity of your situation. The more serious the crises affecting your organisation, the more time you should devote to communication and dialogue.
b. When choosing where to hold your meetings there are three elements to consider:
i. What location will best contribute to the outcome you want to achieve e.g. a section of your head office with empty seats, the factory floor near idle machines, a favourite restaurant that is unusually quiet for this time of year, or on the internet. The best locations are those that inspire dialogue and openness.
ii. Prepare the venue for your dialogues by decorating it with meaningful pictures or artefacts that will create the mood you want to prompt in the participants e.g. pictures of the founder, quotes from key clients, winning product samples, video clips of the crisis etc
iii. Start your meeting by asking attendees to consider that place in their hearts from which they will dialogue honestly about their cares and concerns for the company, its stakeholders and the positive outcome that all want to see i.e. return to successful operations
12. Be prepared to Negotiate
Recognise you’ll probably need to negotiate some of your outcome so be prepared
- Follow negotiations’ best practices and ensure that you are prepared to make and take concessions. Consider engaging a negotiation consultant to prepare for and oversee tough negotiations.
- Understand this crisis is affecting your counter-party as well so explore their perspectives on how your mutual arrangements can be improved. Crisis only creates opportunity for those who look for it through dialogue.
- Accept that the solution is in the dialogue and that only if you are exploring ways to help each other will the optimal outcome be found.