We have had the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic with the lockdown. Now we need to prepare for the second. It will be a tidal wave of challenges businesses will need to face before we can get back to some type of normality.
Never has clear planning been more vital in peacetime. For a number of reasons, a team-based approach will help you handle the numerous risks, threats and opportunities that emerge as the UK economy staggers back to work.
Over the last 20 years I have helped my clients through some tricky turnarounds and change initiatives; here are six steps that have helped me.
Collaboration is key
The first all-important principle is to engage as many people as possible in the planning process. The wider the involvement the more powerful the planning.
The planning team should be cross-functional and multidisciplinary, covering every significant function in the company. Exploit their in-depth knowledge and experience. Easy access to this knowledge will help facilitate exhaustive analysis and quick but thorough problem solving.
There's a psychological piste too. People instinctively want to help their ‘group’ survive during a crisis, so by planning as a team you can harness everyone’s personal survival instincts to help the organisation. In contrast, if you exclude people from the planning process, fear sets in and those same individual survival instincts can start to work against the group.
The reality check
Now you have your team, the next step is to get the facts about the situation from the people who really know what is going on. This means ask everyone - and I mean everyone - in the organisation for their specific take on the situation. Get them them to write it down.
Comprehensive data from all stakeholders gives you a solid basis for a systematic SWOT analysis and a deeper, more comprehensive range of facts to work with. These help you avoid overlooking things and getting tripped up by hidden snags.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen situations rescued simply by adopting this written fact-finding technique.
The planning workshop
Once you have the feedback, get the whole team together to read it. Everyone will need an understanding of the issues facing the wider business. Then move straight on to develop action plans for each of the issues raised.
Having everyone on the same page will help individual managers become more sensitive to their impact on other areas of the business - and the possible impact of other people’s actions on them.
It will also reduce the amount of opinions people have about the situation. Opinions quickly lead to disagreements and in stressed circumstances, disagreements easily turn into resistance at best and heated conflict at worst.
Team planning also helps reduce dependency on key individuals. You have no idea who will be absent for a while and you cannot afford essential processes and services to fail while someone is away. Planning with a cross-functional team ensures everyone is aware of at least the basic details of the recovery plan.
Similarly, when people are part of the planning process, they take more responsibility for its overall success, not just their part of it.
What do we need to learn?
Delegate each action plan to the relevant manager for implementation. But, before they rush into the implementation stage, ask them to consider one simple question – What do you need to learn to make this action a success?
The point is that they are more than likely embarking into new territory and so face new and unknown risks and uncertainties - there may be much to learn.
You will find that giving space for learning new things at this stage will pay dividends later. In effect this step prompts your managers to develop new skills and adopt different methods to cope with the new circumstances.
Keep stress levels down
Of critical importance in the current climate, collaborative working helps keep stress levels down. Lower stress levels mean clearer thinking, less conflict and more creative problem-solving among everyone involved.
It can be lonely at the top and never more so than in a crisis. You will find that a collaborative effort also reduces the stress for you as leader. You will be working closely with the support and loyalty of everyone around you.
Monitor progress closely
Frequently review your progress once a week and if possible daily, depending on the circumstances. Each project manager should outline what they have done against what they said they would achieve, explain why it might be different and detail what they are doing next.
This type of frequency maintains momentum and keeps everyone in touch with changes and developments.
Go slower, get there quicker
Although a team planning approach may seem unnecessarily time consuming and slow, I can assure you it is the fastest way to achieve the sweeping business improvements needed to tackle tricky situations.
Quality time spent with your whole team will pay countless dividends later on. The important point is once you start, keep up the momentum and insist on exhaustive planning work, analysis and study with a rapid transition to the implementation stage. Good luck.
Jeremy Old is author of ‘Reinventing management thinking’ – using science to liberate the human spirit’.
Image credit: Ronald Martinez / Staff via Getty Images