Leading Hospitality Through Turbulent Times

Course: Leading Hospitality Through Turbulent Times – Organizations, Leadership and Careers
Topic title: The use of coaching skills in life & leadership
Presenter: Jon Hazan, Event Director & Executive Coach, Atlas Events
Faculty: Jonathan Humphries, Head of International Hotel Development and Asset Management Specializations, Glion Institute of Higher Education
Date of presentation: 23 June 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Four key coaching skills: Listening, questioning, reflecting, and summarising.
  • Hazan has identified three levels of listening (autobiographical, client, and environmental).
  • Today’s coaching for leadership style is now more empathetic, collaborative and holistic than previous leadership styles.

Leadership styles have evolved over the decades. In the 1980s leadership was closer to the military command-and-control approach, or dominant structure, “with big, bold decision-making.” Then, a younger leadership style with the emergence of tech companies in the late 90s and early 2000s, with leaders “more open to ideas, more collaborative and very fast moving.” Nowadays, thanks in part to globalization, leadership has become more holistic in so far as it is “far more multicultural, more exposed to different cultures, attitudes and environment.”

Jon Hazan, an executive director and executive coach, was outlining in a webinar the major trends in leadership styles over the years. His own career has also mirrored some of these changes as he himself has been exposed to a number of different leadership styles:

  • Hazan started out as an officer in a tank regiment in the British army (“this exposed me to the military or dominant style of leadership: quite leader-oriented, decision-making under critical and pressured circumstances, very time-precious”);
  • Then Hazan moved into events management, developing corporate teams globally (“a fascinating fusion of the military style of leadership within a corporate context”);
  • He then switched to sports management, getting involved with the Invictus Games, the Abu Dhabi Triathalon and Tough Mudder event in Dubai. (“This introduced me to the inspirational style of leadership: perhaps more approachable and accessible, but still very much aspirational. Learning from experiences, almost a form of mentoring.”)
  • More recently, he has qualified as an executive coach, working with corporate clients. (“Most importantly, this has introduced me to another style of leadership, perhaps more pertinent to today’s world: more empathetic, more understanding and a more holistic approach.”)

“It’s been quite a personal journey for me,” Hazan said, “experiencing these different styles of leadership with some incredible results along the way.” He went on to discuss the importance of emotional intelligence for today’s leaders (“essentially the ability to recognize not only your own emotions but those of others in your team and workplace”) and how there had been a “seismic shift” from the military style of leadership to today’s holistic approach. “Personally, I put EQ (emotional quotient) down as a foundation for the coaching style of leadership and for building better, more resilient teams.”

In terms of the modern workplace and the Zeitgeist, Hazan said he believes that “building a resilient, close-knit team also delivers a far higher level of productivity, mental health, wellbeing and engagement.” He said leaders have to communicate clear goals so their teams understand what they are trying to achieve. And in terms of management, they need to “clear obstacles from their path, develop team members and review their progress. All are critical skills for a leader in the modern workplace.”

Hazan then highlighted four levels of coaching development that apply both in life and in the workplace (in no order of importance):

  • Skills – applying coaching methods to improve an individual’s or team’s skill levels (e.g. public speaking).
  • Performance – improved through coaching. “Again, it’s an art form.”
  • Developmental – improve management skills through “strong mentoring or coaching to bring out the best of the individual. And then it comes back to engagement, that positive strength and performance we hope to achieve in our team.”
  • Transformational — “clients come to us, looking to transform their lives. It sounds melodramatic but it can apply to life or executive coaching. Seeking balanced processes and fulfillment in your life is incredibly important and a coach will help guide you through that process.”

Hazan then went on to highlight four key coaching skills (again, in no order of importance):

  • Listening — “this is mission critical to a coach.” He noted three levels:

Autobiographical — “you might be talking to a friend or colleague but what they’re saying is instantly being translated by you into personal experience. You’re not truly listening to what they’re saying as you might be dying to impart knowledge or experience to this person.”

Client — “you’re listening at a far more engaged level and absorbing what they’re saying without thinking of a response from your own personal perspective.”

Environmental — “you’re not just listening to what they’re saying, you’re listening to how they say it, the words they use, and observing their body language. All of that you can translate into a more meaningful discussion.”

  • Questioning — “using open questions which don’t end with a simple yes or no. (For example, ‘How do you do this? What do you think about this?’) “Avoiding challenging questions, as the ‘why?’ question “can immediately put someone on the back foot,” and make them more defensive. (“‘Why did you do that..?’ is more challenging than ‘how did you approach that..?’”) So, we try to avoid the use of ‘why?’, although sometimes the ‘why’ question can be the right one to ask, twinned perhaps with a pause to allow them to reflect and answer it in their own way.”
  • Reflecting — “listening to what the client or colleague is saying, picking up on that one key word and reflecting it back.” The use of a word like ‘stressful’ could be the “lynchpin to that conversation.”
  • Summarising — “an incredibly powerful tool. It’s the ability to pick out and focus on key elements as it allows for clarity and brings out a more productive conversation.”

“So, listening, questioning, reflecting, and summarising can be used in everyday life as well as the workplace. You don’t have to be too formulaic or rigorous with it. I challenge you to think more about how you format your questions. Probably listening is the critical skill.”

Hazan then demonstrated these techniques in a ten-minute, rapid-fire role-play session with Humphries. “In closing, being a coach as a leader is a challenge,” Hazan said. “I thought I knew everything there was to know about coaching, but I had a rude awakening and realized how little I actually applied those coaching skills as a leader.” Consequently, he went on to seek training and a qualification from a coaching body.

“I would encourage you to find your personal leadership style. It’s only authentic if it’s true to you. Find your own path, enjoy the journey and build some incredibly strong relationships. Fulfilled, engaged teams await.”

On coaching vs mentoring

Although coaching and mentoring are both critical management tools, aimed at “optimizing people’s potential and performance,” Hazan said mentoring “tends to be a one-way process,” with the mentee – often a junior member of the organization – choosing a mentor – a more senior, possibly C-suite, member of the organization – to guide them through their learning and development journey. So, the mentee goes to them with questions and seeks solutions.”

“The coaching relationship, however, is what we call ‘co-active’. There’s no assumed knowledge and the coach doesn’t have to be in the same industry or the same organisation. It’s the coachee or client that sets the agenda as they choose the topic to discuss. They own the process and it’s the coachee who finds the solution, not a mentor telling you how to do it.”

“Coaching allows that greater ownership of the process and if you own the process, you’re going to be more engaged.”

There are times, however, when coaching is not the right approach, Hazan said. ”If you’re dealing with time-critical decisions, coaching is not the way to go. Coaching is very collaborative and time-consuming as it’s a process of change that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey.”

He singled out, in terms of collaborative techniques, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s approach to the crisis, in demonstrating to his team and associates “the importance of time-critical decision-making and he laid out a plan. He talked about the impact of the current crisis on the business in clear, certain terms but he also did it in a very empathetic manner. He understood what they’d be going through and that brought a level of understanding and trust in his workforce.”

Ideally, then, leaders should seek to develop their teams before a crisis occurs. “Coaching is a long-term relationship. If it starts at the beginning of that relationship, it can build very strong foundations within that one-on-one relationship or team environment. That means that when the crisis occurs, you’ve got that strong, resilient team. You understand the strengths and weaknesses within your team and you apply it to the crisis.”

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Building Resilient Teams for Future Challenges

My recent report looking into Life after Lockdown noted several impending challenges to organisations and likely changes to the future business environment. It also highlighted strategies and solutions that organisations have put in place to tackle these challenges. Of the many lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic it became clear that the need to build a resilient business able to withstand future shocks was critical.

The role of resilient teams

Resilience is defined as “recovering easily and quickly from shock, illness, hardship etc” (Collins English dictionary). A resilient business must have solid commercial foundations from which to springboard into recovery, but it must also have a robust, engaged workforce with which to execute that recovery.

Productivity in the UK has barely recovered since the 2008 crash (Source: ONS report 2018). One reason cited for this is the decreasing level of employee engagement. Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO recently noted, “the fix for global declining productivity lies within our people capital”. Robert K Greenleaf founder of the Servant Leadership philosophy in 1970 believed in empowered employees as the driving force behind a company’s success. “A Leader shares power puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”. If we see an organisation’s ability to recover quickly from shock being linked to their ability to increase productivity it must therefore ensure it has the right workforce to achieve this.

So how do managers create the conditions for a positive, productive relationship with their employees against a backdrop of uncertainty, financial stress, and organisational change? The results of my report and other recent studies examining employee engagement highlight some ways in which this might be achieved.

Increasing employee engagement

Motivation. Finding out what motivates employees is the first step towards creating a more engaged workforce. It should not be assumed that it is all about the money. Different generations and demographics have different motivations, for some it might be status and remuneration, for others it might be flexibility, the organisation’s culture, and colleagues. Managers need to understand what these are. Allowing open, honest dialogue in the workplace is a good starting point. This can be achieved through formal initiatives (e.g. employee surveys, reviews, assessments, and psychometric profiling) or informal initiatives (e.g. team building activities and social events). It is important to note that this is a continuing process rather than an annual event. Check that motivations and morale amongst employees has not declined by allowing time for regular review.

Provide clear guidance. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) may not always make the right decisions but employees expect the SLT to make decisions and need to be provided with clear, well communicated plans. One participant in my recent report claimed that she had not seen or heard from the CEO since the pandemic forced the workforce out of the office, leaving her feeling alone, confused, and abandoned. She resigned shortly afterwards.

A recent Gallup poll (May 2020), investigating the surprising recent increase in employee engagement in the US observed that “those organisations that focused on communication: having a clear plan of action, preparing employees to do work in a new context, and ensuring supervisors inform employees of the latest developments related to the pandemic and economic downturn were more likely to see increased employee engagement within the organisation”. Arne Sorenson, Marriott Hotels CEO, provided a recent example of this when he sent a short, emotional message to his associates shortly after the pandemic hit. In it he informed his audience of the considerable impact of the pandemic on the business and the measures they were taking to deal with it. He went on to deliver an emotional, honest and heart felt address reiterating the importance of people at the heart of the company and his intention to guide the business through the current crisis. Sorenson’s message demonstrated a keen understanding of what his audience needed; honest, accurate information delivered with understanding and reassurance.

Preparation and planning. For organisations operating in high risk industries (e.g. oil and gas) investing heavily in disaster management and contingency planning is part of their culture. When a crisis hits it is the processes, procedures and training that aid leaders and employees within their organisation to react accordingly.

The recent pandemic has highlighted that a crisis can befall any sector and that having the confidence to steer a business through turbulence requires training and preparation. Fully integrated contingency plans and procedures, knowledgeable employees and confident leaders are a mainstay to building resilient teams.

Crew Clothing Company recently provided a good example of an organisation preparing their workforce for the challenges to come. They have compiled a short, informative video for all staff and employees on what returning to the workplace will look like. It provides employees with clear, well presented guidance ensuring they are aware of new measures and responsibilities for both them and their managers.

‘Humanise’ the management relationship. Limelight Sports maintained an active communication policy throughout the period of lockdown relying on email, newsletters, and company notices to keep in touch with their furloughed staff. The employee feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, citing a renewed relationship between employees and the SLT. Opening and maintaining a new form of honest, informative, and humorous dialogue between employees and their managers created a new level of trust and engagement.

Create supportive management relationships. Many companies have seen the benefits of initiating a mentoring and coaching programme for all levels of management within their organisation. Not only does this create the environment for personal development but it also shows a willingness to support and invest in their employees. This does not have to come at a cost, merely encouraging a more empathetic style of management culture, showing gratitude, understanding and compassion can lead to increased trust and engagement. As the workforce returns so does the need for constant, supportive dialogue.

Recognise the importance of mental and physical wellbeing. A recent report commissioned by McKinsey & Co looking into Well-being in Europe found that, unsurprisingly, the pandemic has caused a significant decline in life satisfaction across the continent. Putting in place strategies that can assist employees with both their mental and physical wellbeing are more important than ever. Some companies I spoke to said they were looking at new and innovative means to engage their employees both at the workplace and outside it. These included looking at ways to reduce commuting (e.g. inclusion of remote working), increasing meaningful communication, executive coaching programmes, personal development (e.g. upskilling and training), increased opportunity for outdoor activity (e.g. team development exercises), offering psychological therapies (often digitally delivered) and even guided meditations. There are many ways to invest in the mental and physical wellbeing of employees to fit any budget or size of organisation. It looks likely that future generations will expect this to form part of their organisation’s culture.

Create an enjoyable working environment. The increase of flexible working options to employees was the most quoted observation about future working habits in my recent report. This is likely to be a surviving trend and therefore needs to be embraced by management. Remote working or Working from Home presents as many challenges as it does opportunities for an organisation. For some the opportunity to save money by reducing office space must be weighed against the possible impact on productivity through the loss of team cohesion and office culture. The solution is particular to each organisation and requires innovative thinking. It does not diminish the need however to ensure the workplace remains attractive for those that need to be there. This is most notably seen in new office developments in central London which include more facilities, e.g. showers, bike racking, flexible desk and meeting space, improved breakout areas, ample storage space (for personal affects and deliveries) and the improved use of lighting and decoration.

Conclusion

Declining levels of employee engagement can be caused by several factors; poor levels of pay, poor working conditions, lack of direction, not feeling valued or appreciated, lack of feedback, poor communication etc. As the recent 2019 TINYpulse survey into global employee engagement found, it boiled down to one thing: culture. There is no doubt that creating a trusting and engaged workforce against the backdrop of financial strain and global uncertainty poses a significant challenge. However, as the Gallup poll indicates it is possible.

The World Health Organisation estimates that for every 1 Euro invested in employee development, countries can see a return of 4 Euros in improved health and productivity. Better still, not all solutions need to come at a great expense. Sometimes a simple refocussing of leadership skills and strategy can reap huge rewards and if that helps an organisation to build resilient, high performing teams capable of achieving rapid recovery and surviving future shocks then surely that is money well spent.

If you would like to discuss any of the aspects of this report or explore the ways in which Coaching might assist you or your business, please get in touch.

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.

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Life after Lockdown

An independent report into how attitudes and behaviours have changed due to the lockdown measures imposed in the UK and the implications for our society and businesses.

Introduction

As restrictions start to lift and we consider what life after lockdown might look like I wanted to know how, if at all, our behaviour and attitudes have changed and the implications of this for our future society and businesses. We are surrounded by commentary and opinion in the media however, I wanted to go straight to the horse’s mouth. This is an unsponsored, unsolicited study based on my interviews with over fifty colleagues, friends and family members from various industries, age ranges and locations across the UK. All of whom were asked the same question:

“What changes for you, your family and your business as and when we emerge from lockdown?”

When interviewing the participants, I tried hard not to lead their replies allowing them instead to freely consider what changes they had made over the past couple of months and might realistically maintain in the future. It soon became apparent that when considering a time frame for the future it became impossible to discuss it in terms of months but was easier to discuss a time pre and post a vaccine becoming widely available, (or as one participant put it; pre childcare and post childcare).

Whilst I managed to gather a relatively broad range of participants it is also worth noting that they fell within a relatively close demographic group of middle class, middle income families and individuals and came from a mixture of business backgrounds as well as some who had retired. I have tried not to generalise or sterilise their responses, they are the opinions of the participants guided by their own circumstances and experiences. Where possible I have picked out the common trends from their responses and highlighted the key observations and implications.

The results are overwhelmingly positive and provide a fascinating insight into how individuals, families and businesses are coping with current conditions and preparing for the future. It is my hope that whilst the sample size was relatively small, the implications and observations made here might provide some insight to what our future society and workplace might look like and allow us to plan accordingly.

Key trends – Personal / Family

The joy of time

  • Not having to commute, the positive impact of remote working.
  • Spending that time instead with family or on personal development.
  • The importance of genuine, face to face communication and taking the time to forge close bonds for the future through shared experience and interaction.

Observations and Implications

The overwhelming trend to emerge was that people hate commuting. This is a key driver for the future rise of remote working (discussed later in this report). Commuting not only steals time, but energy. Many of those interviewed have used this time with their families (those with young children have had to use this time for childcare and home schooling) and engaging in activities for enjoyment or personal development (e.g. reading, listening to podcasts, gardening, online exercise etc). As a result, participants expressed their heightened sense of happiness and fulfilment.
It is a common complaint that we do not have enough time or energy to do the things we love; life gets in the way. It is all too easy to shrug our shoulders and accept that things will return to normal once schools, work, and a busy social life re engage. What a shame it would be to look back on this period as nothing but a fond memory when instead we have the chance to make minor changes to our lifestyles that create small spaces in our schedules allowing us to spend more time with family and doing the things we love.

The future society

  • Until a vaccine is widely available, social distancing measures will continue to impact behaviour and attitudes when interacting with others.
  • The importance of human contact, the need for face to face interaction to forge real bonds.
  • An increased sense of community.
  • Increased communication with friends and family via video conferencing.
  • More selective about who we socialise with and where we socialise in the future. The desire of some families and vulnerable people to avoid crowded places (e.g. restaurants, pubs, clubs etc).
  • Financial hardship and unemployment may lead to social unrest and volatility.

Observations and Implications

For many it was the loss of physical contact with friends and family that has been the greatest challenge over the past couple of months. Whilst video conferencing has replaced some of that need it cannot replicate it. The increased sense of community supports this as we come together as neighbourhoods to face the challenges of isolation. As one interviewee remarked, “it is good to see how the individualistic nature of the UK has responded to lockdown with the emphasis on collective survival rather than the individual”. As with any form of fasting it makes us appreciate what we have given up. For many when the fast is over they intend to continue staying in touch with their families, (most likely via video conferencing) and neighbours.

This period has increased the recent focus on mental health. The likely future shock of forthcoming financial hardship and unemployment faced by many will pose tremendous challenges for our society that are better faced as a community, not as individuals. Our continued communication with friends and family is the first step.

Consumer behaviour

  • Will travel domestically in the near future (i.e. pre vaccine) and will continue to support the domestic travel market even when restrictions are lifted.
  • Opinion was divided with regards to foreign travel, younger participants and those who had travelled extensively for leisure pre lockdown cited an immediate return to international travel once allowed.
  • Continue to support local shops (e.g. grocers, butchers etc.) and to shop more efficiently opting for fewer, larger, regular trips to the supermarket.
  • Younger participants cited an immediate return to pubs and restaurants once allowed to do so.
  • Rise of online shopping was highlighted as convenience and availability of goods online grow hand in hand.
  • The enjoyment and convenience of using online exercise routines during lockdown. Many suggested that they would continue to do this rather than return to the gym.
  • Increased use of streaming entertainment content. Expedited existing trend. Increased financial power to Netflix, Amazon etc threatens the future of cinema.
  • The impact of financial constraints is likely to affect our choice as consumers.
  • A lack of choice had led to less waste and a more thoughtful attitude to consumption.

Observations and Implications

It is as consumers that the most obvious change in behaviour occurs. The personal attitude to risk for many was the determining factor when considering travel, especially overseas. An increased appreciation of what the UK can offer (no doubt helped by the Summer months), has led to a change in attitude to overseas travel for many. Good news for the domestic travel market but for a beleaguered foreign travel industry this has long lasting implications.

Convenience has clearly risen as a priority for many participants. A wealth of online exercise and streaming content has implications for both gyms and cinemas in the future. Home delivery is unlikely to drop when normal service resumes however it was heartening to see an increased awareness, appreciation, and loyalty to smaller, local stores. If our desire for convenience is matched by our desire to support local stores those stores who continue to offer online and home delivery options will no doubt capitalise.

For some, recent events have highlighted their high rate of consumption and waste, a topic of conversation before the lockdown. The threat of limited availability has brought our consumption habits into focus and led to a determination by some to reduce their levels of consumption in the future. A tightening of disposable income matched with the loss of some of the options from the high street may well have an impact on this resulting in lasting change.

% of those interviewed with/without children

Time to think

  • Have had time to reflect on values and consider ‘what it important to me / my family?’
  • More of a focus on the need for self-care, both mentally and physically.
  • A newfound appreciation of what we have. What we took for granted has now been given added value.
  • A desire to simplify the way we live our lives.

Observations and Implications

Having more time has, for some, meant a period of reflection. Be it consideration of how they live their lives, what is important to them or what they need to focus on in the future has been a rewarding exercise leading to some much needed clarity.

As previously mentioned, we only miss it when it is gone, and the realisation that we have a lot to be grateful for and how important the simple things in life are has been a bit of a revelation to many. However, reflection is nothing without action. Whilst some have taken the steps towards change in some part motivated by necessity in others by desire, the majority of those interviewed admitted that whilst the will to change was there they were likely to revert to previous behaviours once normal service resumes.

Achieving realistic behavioural change is no small feat but with guidance, discipline, a genuine desire to change and a realistic, achievable process in place, it can be done.

Key trends – Business

Remote Working

  • Majority of companies are looking at adopting a more flexible approach to office working.
  • Hatred of commuting as main incentive for remote working.
  • Time saved = increased productivity.
  • Opportunity to think strategically.
  • Using digital software more effectively and frequently to talk to colleagues.
  • Will not be needing large, expensive offices in the future.
  • A need for more flexible travel fares if no longer committing to a regular commute.
  • Remote working poses significant challenges to management and the office culture.
  • A continued need for face to face meetings, be it new business development, client management or training where remote access does not replace human contact.
  • Companies are looking for more innovative ways to bring their employees together and create a genuine team experience.
  • Companies are conducting a survey of employees to understand their attitude to remote working with a view to providing options to suit them and company culture in the future.

Observations and Implications

As one interviewee stated “it is a hatred of commuting, not a hatred of the job” that often provides the main incentive for remote working. Corporate cultures and workplaces differ as does the mindset of different age groups. As people’s priorities and experiences change, so do their attitudes.

I am wary of making a sweeping generalisation that remote working is the future of the workplace. My research suggests that the majority of those interviewed have changed their attitude towards it and expect remote working to play a larger part of their working lives in the future. There are many positives; high levels of productivity, clear communication channels, engaged workforce and financial savings. There are also significant challenges to the management of a remote workforce, not least the threat to team cohesion and office culture. For many it did not remove the need for face to face meetings (e.g. new business development, recruitment, client management and training) but, aided by improved technology, it has shattered the myths that working from home is unproductive. Perhaps the wisest approach being adopted by some is to survey the workforce with suggested options for remote working and see what their response is, it may be surprising.

For the many industries that support the existing office culture the implications of a move to remote working pose a challenge. Office space, co-working space, transport providers, catering outlets, gyms and others all stand to lose if a significant portion of the workforce opt to work from home and look to save money as a result. Businesses will need to be increasingly flexible, innovative and have a thorough understanding of the changed market if they are to meet the challenge remote working presents.

Breakdown by sector/industry of those interviewed

Future working practices

  • Some companies have formed working parties to look at future working practices often with the involvement of all levels within the business.
  • Companies are reviewing their business model to become leaner, more efficient and to minimise their exposure to risk.
  • Desire to de-risk the supply chain.
  • Accelerated use of digital platforms in the future.
  • Anticipate significantly reducing both domestic and international travel for business.
  • Predicted redundancies within their industries.
  • Reinforced the importance of an ethical approach to business.
  • Communicating effectively with staff during the lockdown has had the positive side effect of creating a ‘humanising effect’ on the working relationship between the Senior Leadership Team and employees.

Observations and Implications

In many ways recent events have acted as a catalyst for emerging trends in the workplace rather than creating new behaviours. The increased use of digital platforms, a reduction in air travel and a more ethical approach to business were emerging before we went into lockdown. What is significant is the rapid acceleration of these practices. Microsoft say that have achieved in three months what the envisaged would take three years in the adoption of their MS Teams software. Behaviours that were considered a possibility a few months ago have had to be rapidly adopted and as a result are likely to remain in place in the future. As one interviewee put it, “those companies without a digital proposition risk being left behind”.

The unintended side effects of recent events are also of interest. The wish to de-risk the supply chain (by sourcing suppliers from the domestic market) could have a beneficial effect on UK manufacturing, (who envisage being at 100% production by June). For those who have been communicating frequently and meaningfully with their employees throughout the lockdown there has been the added benefit of seeing a ‘humanising effect’ on their relations with staff, bringing the senior leadership team closer to the employees, with huge potential for a more engaged and loyal workforce in the future.

The less positive side effect of recent events sees the likelihood of redundancies across several sectors which clearly has significant implications for businesses and society. Businesses will be under increased pressure to ‘bounce back’ from the damage of the past few months. This will not only test their business practices but also their ethical proposition as they look to make savings to ensure survival.

Business planning lessons

  • Getting the business basics right was the most quoted reason for ensuring survival.
  • Having a good customer mix has been crucial, reducing their exposure to a single market and reinforcing the need for an adaptable product.
  • Importance of calm leadership through a crisis. The need for pragmatic leadership, not panic.
  • Importance of communication. Having a well thought through ‘road map’ for employees on how the business will operate both in the short and medium term and then communicating it clearly to the company.
  • Poor contingency planning and resilience of many companies.
  • Planning for the future presents challenges when there are so many unknowns. Many companies are focussed on planning for the most likely scenarios in the next twelve months but have gone no further.
% of those interviewed by gender

Observations and Implications

It was interesting to note the lessons from those companies who have weathered the storm. Often it was as straight forward as getting the basics right. As one participant put it “we were in a strong position going into the crisis, we have a lean business with limited overheads, a good order book, loyal customers, cost efficient, good working knowledge of the P&L and decent cash reserves”. Some companies took a more cautious approach, opting to rent rather than buy equipment and avoid committing to a heavy investment in assets. Others reacted quickly to the changing market and reduced costs, requested a loan, and then focussed on strategies for survival.

Crisis brings the importance of strong leadership and clear communication into sharp focus. The need for pragmatic leadership not panic was cited as a trait of the entrepreneur. Companies that failed to plan for resilience or contingency and to communicate effectively and frequently lost the confidence and trust of their employees. Those that had a process in place, or were quick to adopt one, and took time to ensure it was understood by the employees retained this trust and are in a good place to ‘hit the ground running’ as and when normal practice resumes.

Whilst planning for the future remains of utmost importance, it became clear that planning contingent on so many unknowns was difficult if not futile. Many found it easier to plan for various options in the short to medium term rather than guess what might happen too far into the future.

The Future of…

Some of the participants were able to give guidance as to what the future had in store for their sector. I have highlighted some of the key points below.

Charity. There are hard times ahead. The impact of the last few months will take a long time to recover. The future will either provide a bumper year as people commit to fundraising with people giving their time (e.g. volunteering) as well as their money, or the reverse as people are forced to consider their own finances more carefully and there is a lack of disposable income. Small local charities with poor cashflow and a lack of an online presence will suffer.

Events. Many believe there can be no return to mass gatherings until tests or a vaccine are made widely available. For large scale events it is almost impossible to put social distancing measures in place for both spectators and participants with many believing the resultant experience would deter people from participating. There is likely to be a focus on virtual offerings complimenting the physical offering in the future. There was however an overpowering sense of optimism that there will be a return to high levels of demand post lockdown with the public’s willingness to participate being guided by their personal attitude to risk. Some foresaw a renewed interest in events providing a company bonding experience. Wellbeing will remain important but without the ability to travel the focus will be on the domestic market. On the one hand some suggested that large event companies would survive whilst the small ones disappeared. An alternative future saw smaller events being the first to re-emerge, benefitting smaller charities. Will consumers support more local charity events that are close to their heart? If redundancies are likely then there could be a boost to freelancers in the industry. Either way one participant suggested they would carefully consider public opinion and reputation before starting up again.

% of those interviewed by age group

Higher Education. There are hard times ahead. As many institutions race to convert courses online to cope with current restrictions. There is likely to be a large fall in overseas students in the future, which in turn has massive implications on funding with many students not required to pay fees until the last moment it is impossible to predict dropout rates. It is likely that the distance learning options will increase, this has implications to both the student experience and the many industries that have grown up to support higher education.

Medical Services. The medical world is currently preparing for a 2nd wave. At present there are empty beds on the ICU, unknown in recent times. People are beginning to use the NHS properly, not going to A&E and hospitals are adopting a more direct, efficient approach to treatment and correction. The handling of the crisis provided a good example of existing policy being adapted rapidly to suit the current threat. It was due to the hard work of the staff on the ground that made this happen. Urgency has shown what is possible, there is a continued need for collaboration within the NHS (e.g. GP practices, procurement, and delivery of services). The use of technology to support GPs, e.g. video and online consultations has had great benefits leading to reduced waiting times, convenience for patients and a humanised relationship between GPs and patient. Increased use of remote monitoring devices in care homes has also been a great help. Is the future wearable technology? The current crisis has highlighted the need to address our attitude to death, the expectation that modern medicine will ensure a long, sustained life and the resultant shock when this is not achieved. It has also helped raise awareness of care homes and social care.

There are concerns for the future, however. The reduction in presentations to GPs may lead to an increased strain on the NHS at a later date. Delayed operations over the past couple of months mean a high working rate will be required throughout 2021 just to reduce waiting times. Patients staying away from hospital also adds to the future burden. However, the sustained low activity has allowed a pause for thought. It is critical that the time is used wisely to prep for future high workloads. There is the continued need for increased funding, but will the taxpayer accept this? As one participant noted, there is a need for an NHS wide debrief to capture the many positives from the Covid crisis.

Breakdown by UK county of those interviewed

Property & construction. Although changing, the residential rental market should do well with continued enquiries from overseas, especially in London. Construction has continued throughout the lockdown, with orders remaining good. This is good for the supply chain (e.g. builders’ merchants). It likely that demand for commercial property such as warehousing and distribution will be strong, however as already suggested office space and retail rental is likely to be hit hard. Manufacturing hope to be back up to 100% production by June. Landlords have been greatly assisted by the rates grant, and for those that have given tenants rent holidays their revenue is backloaded rather than lost. They remain ‘cautiously optimistic’.

Retail. Currently planning for a phased return to work. There are challenges to operating safe stores; lone staff operating, low admittance to stores, PPE requirements, screens and reduced opening hours not only compromise the store experience for the customer but also put pressure on the financial viability of the strategy. Some stores are moving to appointment only for high value clients. The crisis has also given a boost to ethical shopping and sustainability. Recent consumer data suggests that there has been a focus away from formal wear towards loungewear, electricals, kids wear & beauty. Recent events have also expedited the move away from the old fashioned dept stores with low turnover of goods and a poor online offering. The future will see high turnover, innovative businesses with a good online offering. This in turn has expeded the re-evaluation of the role of stores, as consumers become more confident with e-commerce and move to smaller high street stores away from large malls. It is highly likely that discounting activity will also continue. The future is online with stores in support.

Travel & hospitality. This sector has been hit hard in recent months. The implications of which might see the repurposing of hotel space to accommodate group gatherings (e.g. conference space). International hotel chains could bring disparate companies together using technology i.e. hosting a conference in multiple hotels across countries at the same time. There will undoubtedly be a short term focus on domestic travel which is good for the local economy. Perhaps the hardest hit will be short breaks or ‘city breaks’ as travellers look to travel with more meaning, (i.e. education, volunteering, experience etc) in the future. The luxury market can offer isolation breaks to the top end of the market (i.e. private islands reached by private jet). For the remainder, it is likely that the industry can only start to recover once public opinion deems that it is safe to travel again.

What can I do next?

  • Create small spaces in your schedule to spend time with family or continue with new hobbies/activities.
  • Stay connected with friends and family.
  • Focus on supporting the local / domestic economy.
  • Consider your attitude to consumption and waste, do I need all this stuff?
  • Reflect on your values and motivations, ask yourself, ‘what it important to me / my family?’. Have the discipline to change what isn’t working.
  • Focus on the need for self-care, both mentally and physically. If I want to, how do I make the change?

What can my business do next?

  • Consider innovative ways to bring your employees together and create a genuine team experience.
  • Conduct a survey of employees to understand their attitude to remote working with a view to providing options to suit them and the company culture.
  • Form working parties to look at future working practices. Involve all levels within the business.
  • Review the existing business model to become leaner, more efficient and minimise exposure to risk.
  • Focus on the basics
  • Aim for a good customer mix, reduce exposure to a single market
  • Create a well thought through ‘road map’ for employees on how the business will operate both in the short and medium term and then communicate it clearly
  • Prepare for future shocks. Create a crisis plan and contingency measures.
  • Plan for the future. Consider the most likely scenarios for the next twelve months but beware forecasting too far into the unknown.

Conclusion

The actions and reactions of business to the past few months may well shape the future of the workplace. It would be fair to say that in many cases the pandemic has accelerated or expedited change in behaviour rather than created new patterns of behaviour. Those businesses that have taken stock of their situation and the changed environment they now find themselves in are preparing to re-engage with the market, altered, and fortified for the hard times ahead. For those that are unprepared or unwilling to change a bleaker future awaits.

What is harder to foresee is a realistic and enduring change in the behaviour of individuals and therefore society. For many the ‘Optimism bias’ is strong and they hope for a better future whilst also fearing that there will simply be a gradual return to previous habits and behaviours. There is a fundamental difference between ‘want’ and ‘will’. The desire and discipline to change from a comfortable, if vaguely disappointing old habit to a new, challenging but more rewarding behaviour. To embrace realistic, enduring change requires more than just willingness. However, it is more achievable than we might think.

One participant perfectly described her behavioural change arc as being one of initial reflection leading to clarity which galvanised her into action resulting in lasting change. Many have undertaken the process of reflection over the past couple of months, which if correctly guided can lead to clarity around values and most importantly provide a clear action plan consisting of small, achievable steps and a dose of trial and error along the way. By celebrating successes, noting errors but always moving forwards it is possible to achieve lasting change.

The door now stands ajar and we are taking the first steps to recovery and beginning to think of life returning to normal. If we genuinely want to make this a ‘new normal’ then now is the time to consider your thoughts and turn them into actions; reflection is nothing without action. As another participant remarked “we will only get realistic change through provoked, persistent dialogue”. Rather than letting others drive this dialogue, drive it yourself.

My sincere thanks to the those who gave me some of their precious time and more importantly their frank insight and intelligent observations upon which this report is based.

If you would like to discuss any of the aspects of this report or explore the ways in which Coaching might assist you or your business, please get in touch.

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.

Graphics provided by Controlled Events Ltd.

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Effective Communication in Times of Crisis

What we say and how we say it matters, now more than ever. In the current climate of Covid-19 we must think harder about our message and its intended audience. Today we communicate more prolifically and through more channels than our predecessors did. This only adds to the challenge when trying to communicate effectively during a crisis.

There is a wealth of informed advice available on the art of effective communication including the importance of listening as well as speaking and the use of body language. My intention in this article is to focus on crisis communications and to share some thoughts and observations on composing messages when under pressure. This is drawn, in large part, on my experience from working on Major Incident Planning with the military, the emergency services and for clients on mass participation sports events. Their experience and expertise in this field provides us with a unique insight as to how we might communicate effectively in times of crisis.

“An effective communication is a communication between two or more persons wherein the intended message is successfully delivered, received and understood.”

Business Jargon’s definition of Effective Communication

Crisis Communications

For the purposes of this article a crisis may be seen as having two phases; the Immediate or initial phase, and the Secondary or sustained phase. Your messaging is impacted by these phases. In the Immediate phase the emphasis should be on clear, concise messaging ensuring the right people get the right message at the right time to allow them to deal with the effects of the crisis. The Secondary phase will be one of sustained messaging focusing on recovery. In this phase the messaging should provide information and motivation to those affected by the crisis.

Whilst the emphasis of the message may vary in the different phases the considerations when constructing the message will be similar:

  • What we are saying
  • Who is saying it and who we are saying it to
  • How we intend to communicate with our audience
  • When (and how often) do we need to communicate with our audience

“The single most important lesson of effective communication is this: Focus on clarity. Concentrate on precisions. Don’t worry about constructing beautiful sentences. Beauty comes from meaning, not language. Accuracy is the most effective style of all.”

David Gerrold, author of The Man Who Folded Himself

Constructing the message

What are you saying?

In the Immediate phase of a crisis we need to carefully consider what our audience really need to know, or rather what is our key message? It must be clear and concise. What might seem obvious to you may not be obvious to your intended audience. As opposed to a civilian organisation, the military are trained to deal with sudden, sustained crisis. As such their process of crisis communications, especially in the Immediate phase, can provide insight in terms of communication in the current climate, (especially as governments persist in using combative terms to describe the “war” on the virus). When a soldier first confronts, (or comes into contact with) the enemy on the battlefield, they are expected to send a ‘Contact Report’ to their commanding officers. The report, often sent under hazardous conditions, consists of essential information about what the soldier has encountered and what they are doing about it. It is intended as an immediate, concise message giving their commanders timely, accurate information upon which they can act accordingly. Whilst it is rare that these combat conditions occur in the boardroom the need for clear, concise messaging in the immediate phase of a crisis holds true.

It is also important to consider your use of language, tone and the intention of the message. Does the audience speak the same language? Beware the use of specialist language and terminology. For example, the military’s fond use of acronyms or Three Letter Abbreviations, (TLAs as they are known). Unless speaking to a military audience the message will almost certainly be lost if it is couched in abbreviations and terminology. The tone and intention of the message will also be affected by the phase of the crisis. What is the audience supposed to do with the message? Is it a call to action or a message of motivation? In the Immediate phase of a crisis the message may focus on information and immediate action. Therefore, its tone may be more formal and informative. However, as the crisis moves into the Secondary phase the tone may change to be more informal and motivational. Think of the current UK government guidance:

This simple, straight forward message informs and motivates a broad audience through clear, concise guidance to great effect and can be repeated easily across many forms of media.

Who is the message coming from and who is it going to?

The status of the sender will affect the impact of the message, especially in the Immediate phase of a crisis. If the intention of the message is a call to action it should come from a trustworthy source that the audience will respond to. For example, over 27 million people watched the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, deliver his address to the nation on the 23rd March announcing the stay at home order. As a crisis moves into its Secondary phase the desired impact and intention of the message may change which in turn may affect your decision on who the message should come from.

Having a clear understanding of who the message is intended for will also improve its effectiveness. There has been much written recently of the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence when communicating with an audience. Such skills allow the sender to refine the message and ensure it has maximum impact. Whether they be colleagues, clients, friends or family if we put ourselves in their shoes when considering the tone, language and content of the message we can ensure it is delivered in a manner to which they will be most receptive. Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International provided a recent example of this when he sent a short, emotional message to his associates shortly after the recent crisis hit. In it he informed his audience of the considerable impact of the pandemic on the business and the measures they were taking to deal with it. He went on to deliver an emotional, honest and heart felt address reiterating the importance of people at the heart of the company and his intention to guide the business through the current crisis. Sorenson’s message demonstrated a keen understanding of what his audience needed; honest, accurate information delivered with understanding and reassurance.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Tony Robbins, American author, public speaker and life coach

How are you going to communicate?

In the Immediate phase of a crisis when time to think and react is greatly reduced, having a clearly understood process is critical to effective communication and allows for a faster, coordinated response removing the need to second guess or search for information. The process should cover the key aspects of your crisis communication strategy. It should identify the command structure, assess potential risks, highlight the roles, responsibilities, and resources in place to deal with the crisis and clearly show the communication channels for messaging (often using flowcharts, graphics and tables).

A good example of this can be found in the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme, (JESIP). This lays out the process for coordinating a joint response (i.e. when more than one emergency service is attending) to a major incident. It identifies the need for co-location, communication, coordination, assessment of risk and situational awareness that covers both the Immediate and Secondary phases of a crisis. These guidelines provide emergency service personnel with a clear understanding of the process of action and communication throughout the crisis. Similarly, when considering their response to a major incident, event organisers rely on their Continuity of Operations plans (COOP) to provide staff with a clear, reliable and trustworthy process for crisis control and communications. As with the JESIP it will provide organisers with clear guidelines for the process of dealing with a crisis in both the Immediate and Secondary phases. A good example of this is the Communications Matrix which identifies the audience by sector, the channels of communication available and the pre prepared message for each likely incident.

When do you send your message?

The timing and frequency of messaging should reflect the requirements dictated by the Immediate and Secondary phases of the crisis. Ask yourself what the audience need to know and when they need it by. In the Immediate phase of a crisis critical information is required to ensure the audience can carry out the correct response. However, as the crisis moves into its Secondary phase the intention of the message changes but the requirement for frequent communication remains. For example the military are trained that once the immediate threat from an action has passed there is still a requirement to give ‘Situation Reports’ for the secondary or sustained phase of the action, whereby critical information is given to commanders in a format similar to the ‘Contact Report’ keeping them informed as the situation develops. Consider also the continuing daily briefings delivered by the UK Government at present. The need for information however must be balanced with the risk of over communication. Whilst your audience will need to be kept up to date on the ever changing situation, too much information, given too frequently risks diluting key messages and losing the interest of your audience. Finding the right balance is critical.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Abraham Lincoln

Conclusion

Successfully navigating a business, team or family through times of crisis depends upon effective communication. What we say and who we say it to carries considerable weight. Good messaging is remembered forever and can galvanise people into action, reassuring and motivating them when they need it most. Taking time to think about your message and your audience and to prepare in advance for what might come later is time well spent.

Ask yourself the questions:

  • What is my key message?
  • What does my audience need to know?
  • Who is my audience and how are they feeling?
  • Are the lines of communication (internally and externally) clear?
  • How often do I need to speak to my audience?

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.

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How do we know when we are happy?

We are currently living in remarkable times and are being forced to reassess the way we live. As a result, we have a unique opportunity to take a good look at many aspects of our daily lives and ask ourselves some challenging questions. This article will explore some of those questions and hopefully lead you to further reflection and exploration.

What is happiness?

We get it; happiness is important, we should all be happy. There are shelves stacked with books telling us how to obtain it, but isn’t that part of the problem? There is so much advice out there that it is difficult to pinpoint the answer. The problem lies in the broad nature of the question. What works for you is likely to be different from what works for me. Whilst many of the factors are no doubt the same; family, work, money, health etc. they will appear in a different order for each of us. Then we face the challenge of achieving them. Most of us have commitments that prevent us from leaving our job and living in the South Pacific drinking Margheritas all day (now you know my definition of happiness). By asking ourselves a series of questions and taking time to genuinely consider the answers we might find out what works for us.

Where do I start?

“Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”

Immanuel Kant

There are many interpretations of happiness, where do I start? Kant suggests some simple rules which are echoed by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, Laura Whitworth and Philip Sandahl in their book ‘Co-active Coaching’. They suggest that we should aim for fulfilment, balance and process in our lives. That our daily ‘agenda’ is influenced by these three factors and our day to day issues are subordinate to them. A fulfilling and happy life is one of meaning, purpose and satisfaction. If you can find the shape of your personal fulfilment, then you can take your life in any direction you choose1.

What appeals about this is theory is that there is plenty of flexibility for individual interpretation. How I derive meaning, purpose and satisfaction in my life might be different for you. However, it does provide a strong starting point on the quest to find happiness and the basis for our considerations and questions.

Considerations

Values. Start by exploring what is truly important to you. So often we think we have a clear answer to this question but when was the last time you really gave yourself time and space to think about this? Accept that your values might change, that what was important to you in your twenties might not be important to you in your forties. There are plenty of exercises to assist in this, but a simple mind map can help lay it out on the page. Seeing it in black and white can be both surprising and revealing.

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Be honest. Asking yourself what is important might seem straight forward enough but do not be guided by others or by a social conscience. Be guided by an honest assessment of what gives you meaning, purpose and satisfaction. If work really is the most important thing in your life (right now) then recognise it, consider why this is the case and how this affects the rest of your values and priorities.

Be realistic. We are surrounded by people who seemingly have it all; social media has a lot to answer for. However, for us mere mortals this can seem like an impossible dream. I like the simplicity of the ‘Health, Money, Time’ formula. You can have one or maybe two of these at any one time, but you can’t have them all. Furthermore, I like the idea that this is a formula in flux. Accepting that what you have now is not necessarily fixed for life, can be a release from the stress of trying to achieve them all at the same time. There may be different times in our lives where we deem one to be more important than the others, but this will likely change as our priorities or circumstances change.

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”

Gerard Way

Work/Life balance. I had a coach once who challenged this concept (it would be fair to say he detested the saying). He held that work is part of life therefore we cannot choose to have one over the other rather we need to hold them both together in balance. The truth of the matter is that many of us will spend more time at work than with our family so balancing our work and life priorities is an endless struggle. The stress of modern life is often the result. By way of understanding our relationship with stress I like the simple formula of Comfort, Stretch and Panic as zones of learning. Recognising that we will move in and out of these zones at various times in our lives is important. But this needn’t always lead to stress. Some people derive fulfilment from existing in the Panic zone for long periods of time whilst others want to exist wholly in their Comfort zone. Recognise what works for you and how you are going to achieve it.

Do you love what you do? If work is such a key part of life, then it follows that enjoying our work life is a critical part of achieving overall fulfilment and happiness. Whilst I hold this to be true, (we should all strive to enjoy our work) the achievement of this is one of life’s greatest challenges. As my coach used to say, being valued at work can often come down to answering the simple question; ‘am I heard, and do I matter?’ I envy those who can say, ‘I love my job’. If that’s you then consider why this is the case and remember it for future roles. The reality is that for many the dream job often remains just that; life gets in the way. Therefore, we should start to look at our job as part of a whole. If we cannot ‘love’ our job then it must reward us by providing the things that make us happy (e.g. money, status, time with family, helping others etc). If this is the case, then ask yourself if this is enough to give you meaning, purpose and satisfaction.

Happiness = Success. There are many tales from successful people as to how they made it. This is often attributed to various factors; hard work, luck, failure, money etc. However, when reading about others (and judging ourselves against them) we must ask ourselves the question ‘what does success look like to me?’ Rather like the initial question regarding the meaning of happiness it must hold true that success looks different for all of us. Letting this be defined by others only leads to disappointment. Be honest with yourself about what success looks like to you. Success can sometimes resemble a mixing bowl of ingredients; little bits of everything blended together, leading to an overall feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Albert Schweitzer

Take a moment. In his book ‘The Power of Now’ Eckhart Tolle extols the virtue of taking time to appreciate the moment you are in now. To reflect on what you have, where you are and what is going on around you2. Our lives are often full and fraught, with little time for reflection or appreciation of what we have and where we are. Carve out some time to look inwards and consider what make you happy and how you might hold onto this.

As the saying goes; ‘A wise person knows when they are happy’. Take time to reflect on these considerations. If you have ever wanted to know if you have meaning, purpose and satisfaction in your life then have the courage to ask yourself some challenging questions, explore the answers, make a change and go after it.

Questions

Ask yourself the questions:

  • What does happiness look like to me?
  • What is important to me?
  • Am I leading a balanced life?
  • What gives me meaning, purpose and satisfaction?
  • How do I achieve this?

Bibliography

  1. Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. 3rd Edition (2011) by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Philip Sandahl & Laura Whitworth
  2. The Power of Now: A guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. (1999) Eckhart Tolle

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.

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Leadership in Crisis

Key things to consider as a leader in times of crisis.

What makes a strong leader?

Every leader is different. You may not even see yourself as a leader, but in times of crisis every business or team needs one. If it is you, then accept that this is your role and consider carefully what you need to do in order to steer your business, or team and its people through times of trouble.
You don’t need to be Napoleon, Churchill or Gandhi but you do need to give guidance, reassurance and comfort to your business or team when crisis hits.

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high, and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

Chris Hadfield

Considerations

You are not alone. If you find yourself in a position of responsibility, then firstly realise you do not have to do this on your own. Find others to support you and include them in your thinking. The final decision may rest with you, but the advice can come from others.

Right or wrong, do something. Making tough decisions in times of crisis can be the hardest aspect of being a leader. However, the business and its people will expect decisions to be made.

Times of crisis will necessitate faster decision making than under normal operating conditions however, this should not come at the expense of consideration; Pause, Think, Act. Take a moment to consider the advice, information and options before deciding on a course of action. The art of decision making under pressure is to make an informed, timely decision and then act on it.

Factors might change and opinions might vary but there must always be an outcome. Accept that the decisions you take may not always be the right ones, (failure is an ever present outcome), but it is better to get it wrong and endeavour to correct it, than to do nothing. Strategy is nothing without action. From this, others will gain strength and guidance and move along that path.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

John C. Maxwell

Communication is key. It is all well and good making an informed decision but without fast, efficient and accurate communication it will be worth little. Consider what resources you have at hand, how best to use them and who might help you to communicate them. Be clear on your message, think about how it might be received by the audience it is meant for. Then send it.

Be prepared for change. A strong leader must demonstrate flexibility and the ability to react to change. By its very nature a crisis does not stand still, it evolves and so must your strategy. What was right yesterday might not be right today. Remain agile and do not be loathed to change yesterday’s plans.

As in a game of chess do not just play the move in front of you but try to anticipate the next move and the move after that. With the information in front of you, your experience and the advice of others, try to consider what might come next and plan your strategy accordingly.

Inspiration and morale. It is all too easy to consider the business needs and overlook the needs of the people within it. Crisis creates unease and unhappiness. Low morale leads to low motivation and low productivity. Keeping the team’s morale up is a vital part of keeping the business afloat in times of crisis.

The ability to inspire others and build morale is the most critical characteristic of a strong leader. Your attitude and bearing will be noticed and echoed by others. Be realistic and honest in your outlook and demeanour (being over enthusiastic or excessively happy will make you seem out of touch with the reality of the situation) but consider how your mood, language and reactions will affect others. You don’t need to throw a party or send amusing emails and messages every day, but you do need to demonstrate emotional intelligence and empathise with your team’s position. Consider their environment and communicate with them regularly and efficiently (Get Out Clause: If this is not your forte, then find somebody on the senior leadership team who can do it for you). There is an end to every crisis, a good leader will let his team know that and show them the way through it.

“The boss drives people: the leader coaches them. The boss depends on authority, the leader on good will. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says I; the leader says WE. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The boss says GO; the leader says Let’s GO!”

Harry Gordon Selfridge

Questions

Ask yourself the questions:

  • Who can help me through this?
  • What will my team need to know?
  • What information do I need to make the critical decisions and where can I get it from?
  • Are my team ok? What do they need to get through this?
  • What has changed since yesterday?

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Events, an ex-Army Officer and a qualified Executive Coach. He has worked in the field of team development and leadership for the past eighteen years.

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