Leading the way to recovery
Get the balance right!
Get the balance right!
Leading the way to recovery is perhaps the most urgent role for many managers, as the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. And a key question is just how we go about re-building. Here we’ll focus on the importance of a recovery which gets the balance right between restoring and renewing.
Leadership has always been a balancing act, but when facing a crisis, getting the balance right matters more than ever. There are critical tensions to face which often seem to present as competing demands:
To help explore these dilemmas we’ll consider recovery as a balance between restoration and renewal. For the purposes of this article:
Protecting is about keeping a close eye on your processes, ensuring that they do what they’re supposed to do. It means trying to spot problems early, protecting the people and processes you manage from avoidable negative impact. Recovering from a crisis requires concentration on your key value adding processes, the parts of the business that really make a difference for your customers and service users. Often this is the organisation’s people, so pay particular attention to how you can protect your most important asset.
Pruning means cutting back. It’s an activity that should be done periodically, but when recovering from a crisis it can be particularly helpful to think about where activities can or need to be curtailed. But remember, pruning doesn’t mean just making wholesale cuts, which is a much too frequent course of action. Across-the-board cuts are indiscriminate and can hit parts of the business which could be key to helping an organisation grow out of a recession. Pruning is targeted and focuses on areas where unnecessary complexity or reduced effectiveness is apparent. It’s about stripping back to the core of what you do but with a managed, measured approach. Pruning is a preparation for growth, and ensures that you are in the right shape to grow.
Preserving represents a transition between restoring to renewing. It’s about keeping the essence of what makes your organisation, products, services or brand distinctive. You need to preserve this in the current way you work, and through any changes you plan to make. It’s easy to lose what makes you distinctive as an organisation during the best of times, never mind during a crisis. Cuts to staffing levels, re-organisations and re-structures all carry the very real risk of losing or damaging the engagement of staff and the culture of the organisation. In times of change, leaders need to work hard at preserving all that is distinctive about their organisations.
In the midst of a crisis there can be an understandable tendency to spend more time on restoring activities. However, leaders need to find a way to hold the tension and hold their nerve. Try to ensure that the necessary focus on restoration is balanced with an eye on renewal. When times are tough it’s easy to think of renewal as a luxury but even the worst of bad times will most likely pass. Planning for renewal might just be the key to not just surviving, but to growing out of the crisis.
Planting is the most familiar kind of change and improvement. It is about building and expanding on what you currently do to offer new services/products. Planting is about growing based on your existing strengths, building your capability. This may seem difficult in the middle of a pressing crisis, and never more so than in one which threatens not just an organisation’s existence, but it’s people’s lives. But good leaders need to keep as much an eye on the future as they do on the present. So, remember to continue to build on what you already do well, planting the seeds for new products or services once the crisis has begun to pass.
Pioneering is a more radical view of the future. It’s about finding the opportunities that could take the organisation in new directions. There are always opportunities, even in the most difficult of circumstances. And necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. In coping with the current crisis situation, have you found new ways of doing things that might open new doors or opportunities in the future. For example, if you’ve been forced to cope with a virtual workforce, is there an opportunity to widen your staff pool once the crisis is over? Could you recruit new talent or bring in new contacts now that you’ve found a way to manage staff in remote or virtual teams? Has your coping mechanism during the pandemic brought you new skills, products, services, ideas or horizons? For example, have you survived by offering delivery, rather than service on your premises? Is this something that could be a permanent part of your provision going forward?
Persevering means just keep going. Keep doing what you’re already good at. Keep looking for new ideas or opportunities. Keep a positive attitude and remembering that the crisis won’t last forever, that ‘one day this too shall pass’. Reflect on some of Thomas Edison’s famous words: “Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe”, and “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. So look ahead to the time when you will reap the rewards of the planting and pioneering you do today.
Here are some things to think about to get your leadership approach in balance. Use our Restore and Renew model to:
Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!
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If your leading the way to recovery, this article is a good place to start. But it’s also important to build a shared understanding of what recovery means and how best to go about it. That is, what it means to your team and more widely, to your organisation.
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