Isn’t it often true that, under stress, a person’s core characteristics come out? I’ve experienced this in my personal and professional lives in both positive and negative ways. I’ve also seen this in the behaviors and performance of a number of leadership teams we work with. Even with sincere and dedicated efforts, change is difficult. There is nothing like the stress of a crisis to expose our areas of weakness individually and as a team.
This pandemic has been a once in a lifetime experience for most people. When the wave really hit in Q1, many organizations were not prepared to deal with something of this magnitude. From a scenario planning standpoint, how could you prepare for this? Who would have predicted that we would be facing such a major disruption to our very way of life? How we work, educate our kids, connect with our loved ones … everything has shifted due to this virus.
For business leaders, the disruptions have been widespread, albeit felt in different ways … but universally experienced. How is it that some organizations have continued to grow while others have struggled? For some businesses, this will spell the end of the line.
Over the last couple of months, The Resultants have seen a clear pattern emerge with the companies we work with. In the simplest of terms …
Those organizations with strong leadership teams, people who align with a set of the same enduring values, have risen to the occasion.
Organizations whose markets were not hit quite as hard as others are seeing significant YTY growth. Companies that recognized this disruption early on and made clear, timely and often difficult decisions to adjust their business operations are also faring quite well. Many are poised to drive continued growth and market share from competitors who have been wounded.
When I think about the difference between a strong and a weak leadership team, it makes perfect sense why these teams have separated themselves from the rest. Great teams are ones that innately trust one another even if they disagree on a specific issue or direction. They know their colleagues are all focused on the greater good and are not afraid to argue. Pride is set aside to align and commit when their ideas aren’t chosen. They continue to work together in order to move the organization forward.
Now think about a team that lacks trust. Tough issues have arisen that need to be addressed quickly and decisively. A weak team that also lacks trust is challenged to make decisions for the good of the company if it means individual or functional team sacrifice. In that setting, how can difficult issues be tackled? Can you make challenging decisions? Are you able to have conversations that impact people’s livelihoods and families?
I think of two specific examples of companies we work with that have fared well during this pandemic. Both companies were doing quite well ahead of the disruption. They had built strong leadership teams and created healthy and accountable organizations. Their plans were solid and well-executed.
Put your people first.
The first organization is a large manufacturer that has really invested in its people, especially the leaders. The leader of one division has created an environment of accountability and trust in the team he has assembled. They are aligned around a set of shared values that the business has operationalized.
Their market was particularly hard hit in the near term, plummeting “off a cliff,” as their leader acknowledged. But rather than just take a defensive position and focus exclusively on cost cutting, they took a holistic approach to their situation. The team created a plan to navigate through the disruption including reining in expenses, some furloughs and even some targeted reductions in force. What they did NOT do was cancel or postpone strategic investments they knew would help propel them forward when recovery began. That decision took confidence bred by a faith and trust in the leadership as well as the people of the organization.
Today, they are on a rocket ride! They’ve seen the highest backlog the company has ever seen and seem poised to hit their original profit goals.
Think outside the box.
The second company is a small professional services firm serving the education market. This organization has also seen immense growth over the previous years as a result of investing in a strong, unified leadership team with a concrete set of core values and shared vision.
When the market disruption began, the team created plans for a significant shift in their service offerings that would allow them to adapt to changed market conditions. Not only did this idea offer a way to retain existing clients but it also provided them with a significant business development tool to drive new customers as well as a more reliable, stable revenue stream! The leadership team refined these plans then executed quickly and decisively. Their results remain strong, although their growth is muted slightly by the pandemic … but growth many would be envious of!
What can you do?
Stress does indeed bring out our core characteristics as individuals and organizations. But as a company leader, you must ensure that at the core of your organization is a strong, unified group of talented people. They are committed to one another and aligned around one common goal and a set of shared values. This becomes the cement that builds a strong foundation of an organization. Despite significant headwinds, your company can weather any storm and come out the other side stronger and healthier than ever before.