Reacting – in this phase we experience high levels of threat and uncertainty and are required to take uncomfortable action.
Stabilising – when we have lowered levels of threat, but need to guard against complacency, as there is a tendency to relax a bit (after all we have got through the Reacting Phase) and we seek to engage everyone to find new solutions and get everyone focused on their work in the new operating environment.
Re-generating (notice not recovery) – here there will be a natural desire that things return to normal, yet there will still be much uncertainty and if this is embraced, rather than seen as a threat, we can create our new future from our purpose and values. This creation process, as opposed to merely predicting the future and responding to it, is the single most important factor in determining which organisations will thrive as a result of this crisis, rather than just survive or worse.
Creating your future from a stand for something bigger than merely what it is you do, is in itself an act of leadership – the organisations that have a stand (your higher purpose and values), engage their people powerfully and mobilise their efforts at the early stages of responding to a crisis. The leaders that take this stand recognise that this calls for leading when you don’t know the answer – Adaptive Leadership¹, is the skill to do this. Those leaders that engage and lead in this way during a crisis will build the most trust with their people and have the opportunity to start the process of regeneration through the crisis. They recognise and embrace the seemingly intractable challenges rather than try to over prescribe and protect; they see the possibility for a new culture and new way of working to form through the crisis; they are clear that sourced from their purpose and their values, not from the old ways of how they do things, new opportunities will emerge, for themselves, their people and the business. The organisations that best prepare for this opportunity at this time, are the ones who will best succeed and will contribute most to society’s needs.
Figure 1 above shows these three phases and their typical characteristics, and the types of response required.
As you can see in figure 2 below – companies need to focus on three main things in each phase, that build to enable them to navigate these unchartered waters effectively and emerge stronger as a result. It is important to note that these phases are not linear, the greatest possibility for regeneration starts with how you lead right now, how you react and stabilise and how you engage people in the process.
In Reacting, it is even more important than ever to stay very closely connected to your Purpose and Values, as the context for anything and everything you say or do. Our higher purpose is the north star, which sets our direction and values combine to define who we are – these are things that will not change. During this phase it is so important to communicate what will not change since it provides a sense of balance and anchoring. When we Act and Communicate, and it is important to take action and regularly communicate, even over communicate and using many different channels. To ensure people are carried along this journey during times of much change and uncertainty, managers need to Be Present and Empathise deeply with what others are going through.
In Stabilising, engaging people in the adaptive challenge is essential, which requires managers to Enquire, Learn and Empower and enable others to lead. They need to focus on evoking leadership in everyone rather than a tendency to over manage. At this time the perceived threat level is seemingly reduced, so it is also important to Guard against Complacency – focus people on core activities and reinforce what is important right now. As managers, we need to Lead Adaptively, which is all about getting everyone in the game of observing, learning, speaking up and contributing – using the collective wisdom of everyone to design new ways of working and figuring out how to work and communicate in this new world we are living in.
In Re-Generating, it is essential that we Resist Entropy, the natural tendency to relax and wait/wish for things to return to ‘normal’. Particularly during a time of ongoing crisis with no clear end in sight, traditional hierarchy, expertise and management practices will not provide the answers. Learning to lead adaptively will be critical for the survival of organisations in the future. We need to continue to Embrace Uncertainty and see this as an opportunity and Create the Future from our stand. We say create the future, as this is the key part of re-generation – re-generating the business from its very core, it’s higher purpose and stand in the world.
It is clear that there is a lot of distress amongst senior managers across all industries – worries about cash flow, profit, even survival of the business – all areas that need to be addressed whilst looking after their people and building for the future. Many people may feel out of control and can’t necessarily see a way through, there is much uncertainty, worry and concern. These are challenging times that call for extraordinary leadership. However, as a senior manager, we can lead by example in terms of how to connect, engage and inspire people towards a different future, whilst being honest about what we know, what we don’t know and the tough decisions that must be taken. Below is short summary of four areas where we are supporting our clients to navigate through these unprecedented circumstances:
¹ Adaptive Leadership, the ability successfully take on difficult and complex challenges that have never been seen before. This requires a different approach than taking on ‘technical’ challenges, ones where we can apply past solutions or defer to hierarchy or expertise.
² Integral – as first defined by Ken Wilbur, a way of looking holistically at any situation, that includes both objective and subjective domains, revealing the unique intricacies and characteristics of the business.
³ Leadership as WhyNot defines it is not a title role or position, but a choice available to everyone. A choice to stand for what you believe, to declare what you see as possible and to enrol others to join you to bring that into existence.
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