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The Simple Truths About Organisational Abilities In Complex Times

With the outbreak of COVID-19, it seems like everything around us changed in a matter of a few weeks! With the virus now at our own doorstep, waking us all up to reality — we know that it is the ‘Black Swan’ of 2020 that we are witnessing. We all know that it is NOW that we need to act swiftly, make tough but necessary decisions; it is time to be agile! In times like these, our actions and decisions mark the character of our organisation. But what does it take for an organisation to be ‘Agile’?

“Houston, we have a problem!”

COVID-19 has hit us already! But how much of it have we internalised actually? It is one thing to know what COVID-19 is, or how to fire-fight it at this point and completely different to understand its implications on us — our businesses and our teams. As leaders, we must look at these situations with a pragmatic lens, even if that means for us to acknowledge and spell out some hard facts, make some tough calls that are necessary for the business health in the long run. Remember — it is about sustenance! The quicker we accept reality, the quicker we will work towards a game plan, the quicker we will act!

“Mayday, Mayday!” — The future looks uncertain, what do I tell my team?

We mentioned the importance of over-communication in these times in our earlier blog to ensure minimal disruption in regular operations. But are we also talking to our teams about the health of our organisation -

a. ‘How are we as an organisation performing at this very moment?’

b. ‘What do the next 6–12 months look like for us in different scenarios?’

c. ‘What does this mean for each one of us?’

The answer to these questions will differ from one organisation to another and might not always be pleasant — that makes it all the more important for us to discuss them. As Dave Bailey says, ‘A crisis is the true test of your company’s mission;’ but we feel that a crisis is also the true test of a company’s culture and character. As leaders, it is human to be vulnerable and share our vulnerable selves with our colleagues — that is what brings about transparency and honesty in our communication.

Tightrope walking — Flexibly Disciplined

While most of us are not new to having flexible working environments, the key, however, lies in the balance, in flexibility with discipline. Organisations that manage to demonstrate this ability have fared well in post-crisis events. History has enough evidence of progressive structures rebounding from crises hit eras as their historical best.

Startups always have a natural tendency to be more antifragile; given the nature of extreme randomness and uncertainty that they operate in. The bigger the organisation grows, the more rigid and fragile it gets. If that holds true, why not leverage our strength of dealing with uncertainty and volatility? The idea here is for us to constantly move towards the top right quadrant irrespective of where we currently are.

At CIIE.CO, we immediately went on a task force mode with a focus of finding the most efficient way of handling COVID-19 at our doorstep! We were not fully prepared for this either, however we could quickly analyse the info available to us and acknowledge what needed to be done. An action-plan, clear and transparent series of communication, changing our usual ways of operation, commitment and leading by example were the perfect ingredients of this transition and the subsequent reset!

How effective leaders & entrepreneurs have faced this in the past?

History has a few examples where entrepreneurs have faced similar uncertainty during crises. Right from the “Furlough” program of Barry Wehmiller (US) to the community buy-in of ‘pay cuts’ at FAAVI (France), how leadership has defined their culture has played a pivotal role in crisis management. Some of these insights are summarised below:

  • Avoid impulsive reactions — Take stock of the long term, it is only natural to go completely defensive sighting the short term issues. None of the aforementioned organisations were ‘reactive’ in nature.

  • Buy-in from ALL stakeholders — We have been advocating this all along, but most importantly begin with the employees. Sensitise them and get their buy-ins. Leadership, especially in times of crises, is a group sport.

  • Know what you can control & what is beyond — Nobody at FAAVI knew when the gulf war will end and car demand will start picking up. They knew how to continue functioning as a unit and yet mitigate massive job losses and dent the future.

  • Use your organisation values — To navigate through, Bob Chapman, CEO — Barry Wehmiller, used this tool more than once to face the uncertain times and emerge as a winner

Utilise this time to communicate, bond, re-strategise, re-define, enforce your organisation’s values and culture such that it brings about the best in your employees. What we do today at this hour will stay with us and our teams as our organisation’s DNA for a really long time.

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