Every organisation that has survived the pandemic has adopted a crisis management strategy as reported by Forbes.
Threat to water lines
Senior leadership tightened the reins and deliberated their decisions more as the costs for making mistakes rose. While it was the correct course of action, those leaders now need to relinquish some control and allow others to make more decisions. Doing so will effectively lower the waterline and return more decisions to guidelines rather than temporary commands. Risks are not all created equal. When analysing the Gore business once compared hazards and threats to water lines. A minimal risk would be something that hurts items above the water line. Major refers to something that can sink the boat (or organisation) and leaves a hole below the surface of the water. The pandemic elevated everyone’s risk threshold, elevating previously modest dangers to major ones that may bring down companies.
The top leadership teams responded to crises the quickest by managing finances, reputation, and safety, in that order. They issued orders to ensure the security of their employees and clients. To reduce reputational concerns, they increased internal and external communication control. To protect their existence, they took more financial decisions.
The leadership teams now need to manage their exits from crisis management mode in a way that encourages people to re-engage, even though it was the proper thing to do. The confusion between temporary instructions and permanent policy will be one of the key obstacles.
The following definitions are taken from an earlier article on balancing rules and policies:
- POLICY: A mandatory, definite course or method of action that all must follow.
- GUIDELINE: A preferred course or method of action that all should generally follow.
- PRINCIPLE: A way of thinking about actions.
- FRAMEWORK: A basic supporting part or structure upon which to build or act.
- PROCESS: A series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.
Someone can’t know whether a new mandatory, definite course or method of action that all must follow is a new, permanent policy or temporary directive.
In either case, they are disabling by definition.
This is why the US Navy has more policies and tighter controls than does the US Army.
Mistakes on a navy ship at sea can sink the boat.
Command and control reduce short-term risk, and opportunities for innovation.
Think in terms of three steps:
1) Clarify where you are and how you got there.
Make sure people know which directives were, indeed, temporary directives instead of new, permanent policies. Explain how the pandemic raised the waterline between major and minor risks and how you acted to manage that new level of risk. Explain how the waterline is now going down allowing for these changes.
2) Explicitly remove or change out some things and explicitly leave others in place.
You may choose to make some of your temporary directives permanent. The world has changed. There is no going back to the way things were. It’s worth rethinking your approach.
Once you’ve done that, it will be easier for people to understand what’s changing if they understand what’s not changing as well.
Understand this won’t be as easy as sending out a brief memo. People have been living with these directives for long enough that inertia has set in. It will be easier for some to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them than to change again. Some find it easier to be told what to do.
3) Follow through to ensure the changes flow through the system
Know that change is a process itself and that undoing the change is a process. Just as you need change management to make changes stick, you need unchanged management to undo them.
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