Learning and Adapting the Organisation Out of the Crisis

May 13, 2020

By Dennis Kerslake

With many countries now reporting passing the peak of the coronavirus, organisations are beginning to evaluate their response to the unprecedented challenges of recent months.  For some of the leaders the Merryck & Co team have spoken with, there is now a definite lens adjustment from the immediate urgent response to focusing on what happens next.

In our white paper Navigating the Leadership Landscape Out of the Crisis, we discussed the importance for leaders to have a thinking framework. Creating an environment in which leaders can calmly reflect on the key considerations impacting both themselves and their organisations will enable them to emerge more quickly and more effectively from the current crisis.

In this article we look at some of the invaluable learnings leaders have reported. We also explore how this learning “in the moment” is framing their thoughts on how their organisations can best navigate the (still) unclear path forward.  There will be time for looking back later on.  More importantly what is becoming clearer that can help us now?

A unique set of lessons

As we mentioned in the white paper, every leader’s situation over recent months has been different. Different organisational models, territory coverage, markets, culture, and leadership style has meant there is no universal experience or singular lesson to learn.

Each organisation we speak with is, however, learning valuable lessons… but unique to them. For some, many lessons are positive.  A degree of agility, previously unimagined, has been brought about in a short space of time.  Others have reported new strengths and examples of resilience emerging from members of their team – and not always from the people they’d expect.

Some teams have demonstrated greater alignment, collaboration and productivity in the face of adversity.

Digital transformation previously permanently ‘stuck’ at the bottom of some organisational agendas has not only soared to the top, but in many cases been ticked off too.

Suddenly, a new-found focus and clear prioritisation has made decision-making somehow quicker and easier.

That’s not to say it’s all been plain sailing and many leaders have faced sizeable pressures and challenges to find the right route to protect their organisation’s survival.  For some the crisis has crystallised vulnerabilities in the operations, team and approaches. The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has prompted people to react differently and not necessarily strategically to the perceived threats (see our previous article – Reacting to and managing threat from the crisis).

The need for reflection

There is though, a growing appetite to reflect and evaluate. Many organisations we speak with are now trying to anticipate what the next phase or phases of the crisis will involve and when.

Keen to take stock of the key lessons from recent months, leaders are using their thinking framework to consider questions such as:

  • How well have we adapted to the speed of constant change – what have been the plusses and negatives that we need to build from?
  • What strengths and examples of resilience in our people do we need to protect, sustain and nurture?
  • How has our strategy, or more specifically, our approach to strategy execution shifted in the past few months? What are the leadership implications of these shifts?
  • What patterns have emerged – both good and bad?
  • What are we learning now to stay flexible, alert and energised?

Finding courage to face the new 

Leaders alone are unlikely to have all the answers, but by having time to pose questions in their thinking framework they can reflect where best to source answers or find clues to solving them within the organisation.

The answers when they come are helping organisations to adapt to be more effective despite the lack of clarity ahead.  Some leaders we have spoken with say the past months have given their team greater courage to challenge old norms.  Others are already focusing on how best to meet the demands of customers and markets as Government quarantine measures are gradually lifted.  Some are even questioning the relevance of their business purpose and values in view of what has gone before and lies ahead.

Questions being explored by leaders in their thinking frameworks here include:

  • What structural changes need to be made, given what we’ve learned from the past weeks/months?
  • What is our anticipated timing and approach for these changes and how can I/we as leader(s) shape and drive them?
  • What deeply held assumptions do we need to re-visit and challenge deeply to shape the future? What are relevant and what are not?
  • How must the team operate differently (for example in terms of pace? Decision-making? The supply chain? Innovation?) in the future to meet the changing demands?
  • Have we got the right talent where we need it for the next phases?

Summary

Whilst it is still unclear what’s next for organisations in the coronavirus crisis, there’s a growing appetite amongst leaders to take stock from their initial reactionary measures and learn.  Keen to prepare their organisations despite the unpredictability, many leaders are reflecting on the key learning points and considering what agility and resilience will require on the path ahead.

As well as learning points for the organisation and its different facets, leaders are also questioning their own approach.  As this phase changes and the next begins their people will still look to them for clarity, answers and direction.  What key lessons have you learned in the past months?  How can you prepare yourself as a leader to lead in the new context/phase – however long its duration?

About Merryck & Co.

Merryck & Co. has been helping organisations for 20 years accelerate the impact of leadership. Merryck & Co. is a global firm of experienced CEOs and top business leaders who bring an operator’s lens to executive development. Their services focus on succession, senior leadership development, strategic enterprise transformation, and emerging leadership development. The firm’s clients include some of the most successful executives within the highest-performing companies in the world, boards of directors, and select teams of individuals. For more information please visit: https://www.merryck.com

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