About seven months ago, “Barry” called. He’s a client of mine and he was clearly very concerned.
At the time, new to leadership as a result of a recent new job, my Barry was based in New Jersey and working for a multinational organization based in Brazil. He had recently been in a meeting with his new boss and his peers who were also department heads, but in other arms of the company and other countries.
“I now see why this place needed me so urgently. They have problems with their security that are big enough to blow a hole in the entire company. Everyone recognizes changes are required and they’re looking to me to lead the way. How do I even start the process when I don’t have any relationships with any of the other leaders? And by the way they’re based in seven different countries…”
Barry was in a tough situation. He had to be able to bring all factions together - and quickly. He needed to show leadership and move with determination. He also knew that if he failed it could be a quick end to a new career. But fortunately for him, like most organizational hassles, there were precedents he could use as a guide.
Barry’s approach provides a solid roadmap for anyone in charge of leading change in a turbulent environment:
There are no options. Help others see that this isn’t just another fire alarm but a critical issue. They need to see that, this time, there are no options aside from acting immediately. That’s going to be hard for many of them.
Find the power players. You need to create a tight team to be able to break through all the bureaucracy. A powerful group guiding the change is important, so figure out the critical departments or offices required. Get the best people from those areas to lead the charge in your absence.
What’s at stake. Clarify that there are no viable options aside from moving decisively and quickly. You need to help everyone to see what’s at stake if the team blows this. Fear works as a motivator - but not for long.
A great mission statement. Quickly create a rallying and short mission statement that will cause everyone to put the energy behind this project. Help others see how the changes are going to make for a better future, and what’s needed to make the changes a reality.
Peat. And Repeat. In the advertising business, it’s said that a message hasn’t penetrated a marketplace until all the brand managers are sick to death of hearing it. Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the mission and your strategy.
Empowerment is critical. Remove barriers wherever they exist. You may need to be tougher than you are normally. Treat that as a learning opportunity for yourself while helping those who want to drive the mission across the organization to be able to do it.
Short-term wins. Look for some visible successes and celebrate them. Write about them; bring them up in your meetings. Mention these stories and individuals whenever you’re talking to others about the progress being made. This helps quiet the naysayers and builds momentum.
Mirage or oasis? It will be tempting to start backing off when you see progress. Recognize that what you see in some places may not be what’s really happening “out there”. Keep pushing for clear and real successes.
The New Way. When the crisis is dealt with, some will want to go back to the old ways of doing business. Use your success and high visibility to help create a better organization that capitalizes on this learning.
Take a deep breath and relax. Until the next fire drill when everyone looks to you for a fix.
Here’s to your future!
Have you ever had to manage a real crisis?