April 25, 2020 by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas
Over the past several weeks, as we’ve responded to the unparalleled global pandemic crisis, we’ve cracked open more than a dozen old assumptions and mixed in many new beliefs, innovations and capabilities. Everything has changed – the expectations of our employees and customers, as well as our competitors. We’ve ended up with something that looks very different from what we started with. We can’t unscramble those eggs, but we can take the opportunity to create healthier, more humane businesses for the future.
Going Beyond the Scrambled Eggs
Adapt and Pivot – During the course of this pandemic, many have had to significantly change the way they do their work internally and externally as they partner in new and different ways. And during all this, the competitive landscape has changed. Many opportunities have dried up and new ones await. While navigating through the disruption, leaders need to focus on not only restoring the core business but responding to new threats and opportunities as well. This will require all hands-on deck.
To adapt is to adjust to the changing conditions and become better suited to the environment. We’ve seen thousands of examples of adaptation over the past several weeks in response to the crisis. It has required the contributions of people outside the inner sanctum – people with diverse views, talents, skills and experiences inside and outside of our organizations. You probably interacted with people via Zoom that you only spoke to via a passing e-mail or phone call. Social and organizational hierarchies be damned. And we must say, the results have been impressive! Adaptation will have to continue over the many months ahead as we move toward a new normal, staying tuned-in to the talent around us.
And then there’s the pivot. A pivot in basketball is when one foot is firmly planted while the other foot begins to move in a better direction. In business terms, while you’re going in one direction, something in the environment changes the underlying assumptions that your strategies are built on, and in order to survive, you have to respond and pivot – actually this almost sounds like our morning yoga session! But seriously, you go beyond improving your current state, to creating something quite different.
Many of the early warning signs for the need to pivot are coming at us or have blown by us already. Examples include: customers finding cheaper or simpler solutions that are good enough from their perspective, competition emerging from unexpected places, formerly attractive places to work are no longer considered such by those you would hope to recruit, new technology is changing the business, the company is pushing more risk to employees and/or leadership is denying the importance of bad news (McGrath, 2019).
A pivot begins with checking in on those underlying assumptions we take for granted and test them. It is looking more broadly at your competition, going beyond “similar players with rival products and services” to the job to be done and who can do it (McGrath andMcManus, 2020, p 130). For example, it is now clear that healthcare systems need to look beyond other healthcare systems as their competition moving forward and pay much more attention to businesses that can provide one or more components of health services such as Amazon, CVS, remote-care technology companies, etc. It’s time to look up and get ready to pivot. Similarly, consumer products companies which were toes in the water for online shopping now must be all-in. Brick and mortar stores are expensive and now risky places.
Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Rights – Our employees have truly stepped up and delivered on so many challenges and at a very rapid pace. They’ve brought their energy, talent, experience and solutions to the table, resulting in faster decision-making and more rapid adoption of new practices. They have volunteered for work outside their comfort zone, wanting to be a part of something important, something bigger than themselves. This is something to be celebrated and yes – even rewarded.
Employees now know that they can make a significant difference. They are able to add value in ways they may not have experienced before. They want more – more respect, more autonomy, more purposeful work. Engagement is high! As leaders, we can harness this energy when we treat them as valued members of the team, going beyond their roles and job descriptions, to include recognition of their attributes – their life experiences, hidden talents and deep desires.
Leaders will need to create new decision-making rights to harness the best from the team. This will require new structures that push leadership downward and provide training and guidance on accountability, systems-thinking methodologies, escalation strategies, etc. Time to let go of your “control” issues. This investment in your team will pay off in dividends.
The Trust Factor – Many difficult decisions had to be made during the crisis that impacted others. Employees’ perceptions of these decisions, and the resulting actions taken, either built up their trust reserves or diminished them. Would your people say they saw this as a time of building their faith in the system or that the organization lost its way? Now is the time to let people see the “heart” of their leader – not just be told that you have one! Rebuilding the trust factor in your organization and team will be central to future success.
Frei and Morriss (HBR, May-June, 2020) identify three core drivers of trust – authenticity, logic and empathy – and state that when trust is lost, it’s almost always traced back to one of these drivers. More specifically, they state that:
"People tend to trust you when they believe they are interacting with the real you (authenticity), when they have faith in your judgment and competence (logic) and when they feel that you care about them (empathy) (p 116).”
Our employees need leaders who: (1) demonstrate that they care more about their employees’ psychological and physical safety than their own; (2) have the courage to admit when they don’t have all the knowledge, skills or solutions and reach out for help (that it is not necessary to be the smartest person in the room); and (3) provide transparency around why decisions are made and the rationale for actions taken, supported by data and other information. Our employees need to believe that we trust them with the truth. We can do this! Now is our time as leaders to be bold and create some magic.
Titter Time: separating eggs
"This recipe is certainly silly. It says to separate two eggs, but it doesn't say how far to separate them."
-- Gracie Allen
Frei, F. & Morriss, A. (2020, May-June 2020). Begin with trust: The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader. Harvard Business Review, 112-121.
McGrath, R. (2019). Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen. Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
McGrath, R. & McManus, R. (2020, May-June). Discovery-driven digital transformation: Learning your way to a new business model. Harvard Business Review, 124-133.