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Getting things done during a crisis

/ 04:03 AM March 23, 2020

This week, we yield our column to some practical tips from Jun Famatigan, our resource person on leadership, who addresses the situation we will all face these next few weeks.

Pandemic. Lockdown. Work from home. It is the new normal and it will take some getting used to. It has upended some basic practices and behavior of management and workers under normal circumstances or even during routine emergencies on account of three forces—disorientation, the loss of control and extreme emotional disturbance. However, organizations of whatever stripe still need to operate and, in fact, in many cases even more so to meet the pressing needs of stakeholders. So how should an organization respond to meet these unforeseen challenges? The two grave pitfalls in times of fast-evolving crises are poor decision-making and failure in execution. How should we address this?

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Discovery. The first important task is to scope the problem out. This means making a realistic and clinical assessment of the business-critical issues beginning with those related to the workforce—their safety, security and emotional stability. People are our most important resource and our priority is to show them that indeed they are. This goes beyond altruism. The cold truth is people get things done to the exclusion of everything else. The employees must first feel they are safe and cared for for there to be exec­ution.

Pause to assess, debate freely, decide quickly. Unfamiliarity and uncertainty are the hallmarks of a crisis that largely means improvisation. There will be no time to wait for certainty before making tough decisions. And neither is consensus necessarily the goal always. This is not an encouragement to go by one’s gut or intuition. Leadership must aggressively get real time information, respond in action, closely monitor the effectivity of the responses and be decisive to take corrective action. Yes, there could be mistakes but they will not come close to the impact of the mistake of inaction or paralysis.

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Decentralize decision-making. An existential crisis is not the time for top-down decision-making and the rigid corporate command and control that we are accustomed to. Yes, direction must come from top leadership but real time decision-making must be delegated to teams that operate on the ground where market information, customer feedback, pain points, competitors’ moves are more visible. This is the time when the power of teams must be brought to the fore. It may require the top leadership to organize response teams to handle specific areas like corporate/external communication, customer needs, technology issues, service delivery, etc.

Communicate frequently, effectively. Leaders tend to communicate less when there is great uncertainty for fear of making a mistake. However, leaders must do the very opposite and very frequently. As Harvard professor Amy Edmondson said, “Transparency is job one for leaders in a crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.” We have seen some of the best plans die on the way to being communicated to everyone in the organization. The idea is to pro­ject what Mckinsey aptly calls deliberate calm and bounded optimism. Convey a crisis situation but with the assurance of having the ability to navigate it and show confidence tempered by realism. INQ

If you would like to add your input on the article, please email [email protected] or send a message to www.fb.com/InquirerAcademy

The author is the executive director of the Inquirer Academy.

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