by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
“I can’t do anything without your ID.”
I stared at the customer service rep with a mixture of shock and amazement.
It was almost amusing since it was the airline agent who had somehow mishandled my driver’s license and dropped it in a narrow gap between two counters. It was out of sight and inaccessible. And she couldn’t rebook me on a flight out of Phoenix without the ID she’d lost.
But it wasn’t at all funny as I was heading for a “can’t miss” meeting. And I’d already missed my connection. That was because my first flight out of Denver had been delayed for de-icing.
How was the situation going to be resolved?
Because I travel so extensively I always have backup ID—both a copy of my driver’s license and my passport. With these, the rep booked me on a flight at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, so I made the meeting on time.
The lesson in this anecdote is to expect the unexpected, to always be prepared for events out of your control, and to have a backup plan. In the first instance, I was traveling the day before I needed to be at my destination, thereby increasing my chances of not being late for the meeting. And secondly, I had a backup in the form of extra identification.
It’s the same with all aspects of running a business. You never know when you’re going to be hit with a difficult situation or a full-blown crisis. And there’s a lot of truth in the old adage if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Leadership always needs to be looking around the corner, anticipating and planning for the next crisis whether it’s the threat of a recession, a dramatic headline-making product recall, or a competitor’s surprise announcement that turns your industry on its head.
Here are some useful tips to be prepared.
In recent years we’ve lived through the “Great Recession,” the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Great Resignation” and the current stormy financial climate, yet now is the best time to get ready for another crisis—and there is bound to be one. There always is.
Vibhas Ratanjee, a top Organizational and Leadership Development expert at Gallup, spelled it out perfectly: “You may not be ready to think about the next catastrophe, not now when the unknowns outnumber the knowns. It might feel like trying to change bald tires while the car is skidding on ice. But a crisis is exactly when CEOs and boards most need what a cohesive executive team offers—strong partnerships, shared vision, and mutual accountability. The best time to disaster-proof a team is before trouble starts, but the second best is during it.”
Perform a Post Mortem
Before looking ahead, you have to look back. Analyze what you did right and what you did wrong during your most recent crisis. This is not about pointing fingers or allocating blame, it’s a realistic assessment of how the company as a whole performed. Consult employees at every level and encourage them to be forthcoming about the issues and how they were handled. One way to encourage them to be honest and transparent is by authentically owning mistakes that management made.
In my book Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership I put it this way, “It’s easy to focus on the day-to-day challenges rather than take time out to plan for an event that might occur years down the road. We slip all too quickly into a focus on immediate issues, and we need to balance that with long-term thinking.”
When the going gets tough it’s more important than ever for employees to collaborate effectively and work together in cohesive units. When there’s unity of spirit, open idea-sharing, and enthusiastic brainstorming great things can happen. There’s improved camaraderie, greater performance, less burnout, better employee retention, and more trust.
It’s shocking to note, therefore, that according to a recent university report while nearly three of four employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important,” 39% of surveyed employees say people in their organization don’t collaborate enough. There’s definite room for improvement.
Many crises seem to spring up out of nowhere, and that can be challenging in the extreme for organizations that have a rigid, overly formal structure—something that typically applies to larger businesses. The ability to make and implement decisions quickly requires agility of thought and a willingness to change the status quo.
It also means catering to the needs of your workforce. One significant pulse survey, for instance, found that 81% of all knowledge workers desire flexibility in where they work, and 93% want flexibility in when they work. Such stunning percentages indicate how seriously management needs to consider flexible working conditions when it doesn’t disrupt core business practices.
I’ve often written about the fact that good communication is vital for any organization at any time but never more so than when a crisis is looming.
Researchers Donald Sull and Charles Sull provided some statistical backup in their ongoing analysis of 1.4 million employee-written reviews on Glassdoor. They found that in recent years organizations that distinguished themselves in terms of communication from top leadership, transparent sharing of information, and strategic clarity also excelled on multiple measures of agility, including experimentation with new ways of working and flexible processes.
Writing in MIT Sloan Management Review they declared, “Clearly communicating strategy is particularly important in turbulent times.”
Check Your Culture
All of these elements form part of the most essential overarching element—your corporate culture. Culture is the heart and soul of your company. If you have established a healthy culture it will be much easier for everyone to pull together when a crisis arises. In fact, the very act of tackling the crisis will forge even deeper bonds.
How healthy is your culture? How prepared are you to handle the next crisis? A good way to begin is to download our free Culture Readiness Tool.
PS—Are you wondering what happened to my driver’s license that was stuck between the counters? The ticket agent called maintenance who disassembled the counters and eventually retrieved it for me!