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How to Become Future-Proof During a Crisis?

How do I determine my priorities within the crisis?


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Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 8 min read

A crisis is like being in a room for the first time. Suddenly the light goes out and it is pitch dark. You are shocked. And you immediately think: how do I find the exit as soon as possible? Not by walking there in a straight line.

But you prick up your ears, wave your arms in front of you like a maniac and shuffle forward. Hoping you don’t trip too hard, bump into a wall or break something.

That is what has been happening lately, within many organizations. Also, managers and employees are inclined in their approach to reinventing the wheel. And all this while there is so much to learn from future-proof organizations. Below you’ll find the six most important insights I gathered so far.

1. How do I determine my priorities within the crisis?

Everything seems to be important in a crisis. However, you cannot do everything at once. How do you make the right choices? After all, you don’t have time to first write a plan for every issue or idea. The key lies in not assessing an issue or idea in absolute-, but in relative terms. But how does that work concretely?

Make an inventory of all issues and ideas using a brainstorming session with your team and write each issue or idea on a separate (virtual) post-it. Then hang a large sheet of paper on the (virtual) wall and draw two axes on it. Horizontally, the axis “effort” will be low on the left and high on the right. This indicates how much time, money and other scarce resources you need for the realization.

The axis “impact” comes vertically, where the impact is small at the bottom and large at the top. This indicates how much the realization will yield. Consider, for example, cost savings, increased sales, and so on.

(great tools to use for virtual walls and post-its are Mural or Jamboard )

Prioritize

Now, in consultation with each other, give each post-it a place relative to the other. The post-its in the top left quadrant describe your “quick wins”: little investment and a lot of impact. You can further refine this classification by having each team member assign ten points ( or coins to make it more interesting).

They can do it as they seem fit, all ten points/coins to a single one topic, or one point/coin to ten different ones, or all options in between. The topic that gets the most points becomes the top priority to pick up first, followed by number two, and so on.

Pay attention to two things.

  • First, ensure that priorities are integrated across the organization where necessary. So bring them together in an aligned approach, so that you avoid sub-optimal allocation of scarce resources.
  • Second, evaluate your priorities very frequently and adjust them immediately where necessary. This is usually the case in a crisis.

2. How do I plan my approach to this crisis?

In a crisis, there is a high degree of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). In other words, almost everything is new, unclear, uncertain, comprehensive, complex and dynamic. The more that applies, the shorter the iterations you need to work on. At the beginning of a crisis, this can mean that you plan in one-day steps: keep a close eye on the ball. As you start to get the crisis under control, you can stretch the cycle to periods of a week, for example.

Visualize your action plan

In any case, it is important to make your planning visual. This works best by hanging large sheets of paper next to each other on an office wall ( or nowadays in a virtual room of course). In a column on the far left, note which main topics there are.

Think of topics like turnover, costs, customers, employees, operations, IT, finance, and so on. Those themes form the rows for your planning. The periods next to this are shown in the columns. The first columns will be in the coming days and after that, it will become coarser, so weeks and maybe months.

In the cells that arise in the intersection of rows and columns, you now hang post-its with what is to be done at that moment. You do this based on the (re) prioritization as described under question 1. This visualization helps you to create an overview and quickly discover where cross-connections, dependencies and bottlenecks occur.

3. How do I evaluate and monitor my approach to the crisis?

You can achieve future sustainability by creating a learning organization. This means that you must continuously collect feedback to determine the extent to which your approach creates value.

For this, you need to organize that you receive input from relevant sources (see the themes from question 2) every day to be able to evaluate this. This evaluation is aimed at quickly determining whether your approach has the expected effect and adjusting it directly.

You also want to discuss daily whether progress on the agreed activities is aligned according to plan. Within the cells, you can optionally create sub-columns that indicate the status of activities: “to do”, “doing” and “done”. You also want to know to what extent some obstacles need to be resolved quickly.

Preferably you do the evaluation and monitoring together as a team on the (virtual) wall as discussed under question 2, because it makes it easier to keep an overview and to make adjustments.

4. What role can you play in the crisis approach?

A crisis requires intensive cooperation and you can facilitate regardless of your specific role within the organization. (everyone can be a change agent, for sure in a time of crisis.) Research shows that organizations deliver faster more valuable results when they work together in multidisciplinary teams.

So take the initiative to form a crisis task force, the team members of which represent all relevant organizational units and required expertise. That makes this team independent of the rest of the organizations so that decisions can be made on the spot. And for that, the team must get the required mandate.

War room for crisis consultation

The strength of such a team comes into its own when the team members come together regularly. The direct face-to-face (Zoom/Webex/Hangouts) contact ensures higher speed and quality of communication and cooperation, and thus better performance.

So also arrange with your team that a ‘war room’ is set up as a permanent team space where you can also work visually (see under 6. how to do this now that everyone is working from home).

5. Which leadership is most effective in a crisis?

Some executives still operate in a ‘business as usual’ mode: they focus task-oriented on repetitive, stable activities to ensure that they run as efficiently as possible. But in a crisis, it is like hitting a screw with a hammer.

It is necessary, now more than ever, to manage emotions, provide clarity about the problems and solutions, and motivate people to realize the necessary change in their working methods. The pitfall is that executives withdraw responsibility from the teams, take full control and try to solve everything themselves in a directive way.

Servant and transformational leadership.

It seems most effective today to apply servant leadership. The manager and the team determine the priorities together. And the team is then given the freedom to use the expertise and creativity of its team members to achieve the prioritized goals.

In other words, the team members know better than the manager how to handle this and can, therefore, determine this themselves. the danger that lurks here, however, is the illusion that it can give that the manager no longer has to indicate direction himself.

Servant leadership is not only servant to the teams, but also to the assignment. In addition to purely serving-, transformational leadership is also required. Especially in the current situation.

This is primarily about setting priorities. The serving (and same time transformational) leader does not have his own gain or honour as the first priority, but the interest of the organization as a whole, including the people who work within it. He is committed to this and sacrifices his self-interest if necessary.

In my view, the ideal, serving / transformational leader should be able to do more than just promote the sense of community and focus on the personal situation of his employees in relation to the environment at this moment of crisis.

From this position, s/he leads and takes the responsibility to act when necessary. S/he confronts and corrects group members who lose sight of or endanger the common group interest. Less popular decisions are sometimes inevitable for this, even in times of crisis.

Vulnerable positioning

Such a team achieves high performance if the manager manages to create a climate of psychological safety. After all, in a crisis, you can only find out what works and what doesn’t: by doing it. In other words, an empirical approach to try and test. And that means thinking from the customer’s perspective and experimenting.

This only works if team members dare to be vulnerable and are not afraid to make mistakes because this would be punished. Managers will, therefore, have to reinvent themselves during a crisis to facilitate their team and organisation in this.

6. How does such a crisis approach work if everyone has to work from home?

As you read in question 4, teams perform optimally when they are physically together. And let that be precisely the situation that is not possible now in this corona crisis.

“if it can’t be done the way it should be, it should be done the way it can be”

Therefore put the visualisations from questions 1 and 2 in an online environment such as Trello or Teams.

Videocalls and online drinks

Start every day with a short video conference in which each team member shares three things: what did you experience yesterday, what are you expecting for today and what obstacles do you experience in any way?

Briefly discuss priorities, planning and progress based on the visual overviews. Preferably keep the video conference going, while everyone just goes to “mute”. This way you feel part of the team and you can immediately ask your questions if necessary. Apps like Teams or Slack are also very suitable for the latter.

Finally, make sure you have fun together. A crisis is an exciting time that demands a lot of people and creates stress. So relaxing together is also necessary. Have an online drink, pub quiz or whatever. Help each other and try to put things into perspective where possible.

And remember:

“the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”

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Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.


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