The way in which leaders create both an environment and desire that lead to sustainable change is the art form of leadership.
Like other types of artists, leaders can be quite varied in their approach to these objectives. Some preferring to move swiftly and others favouring a slower approach: testing, exploring and designing until their optimal change vision emerges. Thereafter, of course, it is all about execution.
THE IMPACT OF BUSINESS STRESS
In times of stress, however, leaders have neither the luxury of time to hold back and get their change vision absolutely right, nor can they afford the risk of moving forward in haste whilst potentially being off course.
Unfortunately, as smaller businesses need to operate at a higher ‘urgency’ level than their bigger siblings to begin with, this problem is magnified and is the reason that small business failure is frequently due to their poor or slow response to a problem.
“IT IS NOT THE STRONGEST OF THE SPECIES THAT SURVIVE, NOT THE MOST INTELLIGENT, BUT THE ONE MOST RESPONSIVE TO CHANGE.”
STEP 1 – ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS
In parallel to this dynamic, most stress ‘events’ are also accompanied by a negative cash flow consequence, which they are often blamed for causing. Whilst sometimes this is correct, a business weakened by poor cash management is not equipped to withstand much in the fist place, let alone a substantial event such as:
- Decreased sales
- Supplier problems
- Loss of key staff
- Owner is unwell or unavailable
- Product quality problems
- Shareholder dispute
- Market shift
Asking the right questions can unearth whether the event is really to blame or, in fact, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Irrespective, our critical first step towards recovery and growth is establishing exactly “where we are”.
In practically terms, this means assembling necessary people and information quickly and then truthfully answering those tough questions that will allow us to build a viable change vision and recovery plan. To begin with:
- What constraints do we face (time, supplier support, cash, personnel, customer patience, contract terms… etc)?
- What opportunities are available to us (sales, alliances, investors, supplier arrangements, alternate use of IP, negotiable areas…)?
- What are the financials (honestly) saying?
My tip – To make sure you don’t sugar coat the truth involve independent experts who are sufficiently distant to ask the tough questions that others may not. Your level of honesty in answering these is directly correlated with both identifying and surviving your real predicament!
STEP 2 – FEEL THE REASON
It might seem that feeling a change vision would be the last thing required when your business is under stress, however let us not forget that a key reason for this step is connecting your change-driving-team to your deep-and-heart-centered-reason for change.
Only through properly connecting your team and vision will they ever choose to follow you towards it.
In undertaking this step, remember to consider how you would feel if you were a team member rather than a leader in your organisation: chances are that the reason you are looking for will need to be much more than just “survival” but will also need to be realistic.
My tip – dig deep and find the personal, substantial and achievable vision you really want to achieve. Not only will this vision become your means of connecting with your team, it will also be your fuel to persist when times are really tough.
“SUCCESS IS THE ABILITY TO MOVE TOWARDS YOUR GOALS IN SPITE OF TOTAL DISASTER.”
STEP 3 – DEVELOP A SIMPLE PLAN
Although most of us will have heard that the definition of insanity is repeating the same activities whilst expecting different results, it is often the case that “the same activities” are so entrenched in our habits that we continue to repeat them unaware.
For this reason, we should firstly consider “why” we do what we do. What are our objectives?
Thereafter, “what activities” we do is of greater significance if our aim is to turn around our whole business, so that it “thrives”, than if our change vision is only to achieve a financial turnaround (ie – cutting costs and restructuring the balance sheet so that the business “survives”).
With objectives clarified, let go of any attachments to old ways and make room for what you need to do: reinvent, move forward, adapt. This means identifying those simple, teachable and repeatable activities that will lead to different results and then setting about doing them.
My tip – Work out how to build feedback loops into your core activities so that your business is constantly learning, improving, re-aligning to its market and better engaging with its staff.
STEP 4 – ACHIEVE POSTIVE & SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
In most situations, this is where it starts to get very messy and personal!
Achieving positive and sustainable change from a stressed situation is only possible when your team choose to follow YOU. Not surprisingly, this requires a deep connection and then an ongoing commitment to maintaining it by keeping your leadership environment tight.
In the absence of this connection, any improvements gained are likely to arise form your personal effort or as a result of your micro-management. In both of these cases you become a (tired) bottleneck and changes are seldom sustained.
As a heart-centered leader, however, you will connect with your team in a human way first; parking your ego, taking 100% responsibility and conceding your contribution to getting the business into the situation it is in.
If you feel this is something your ego may really struggle with, try to remember that most of your staff probably already know the real situation even if you have not told the directly. The best thing you can do is to open up and let them help.
My tip – In connecting with your team, it is both your humanity and your willingness to take ownership of problems that lead to success – both of these lead to trust.