Get Ahead of The Three Stages of Disruption

This is week 2 of Corona Quarantine and we’re settling into a “new abnormal.”  We’re discovering some universal lessons for dealing with this, and future disruptions.

Early in the crisis, a CEOs I work with said, “You know, I think this is going to come in three stages… the initial shock, the now and the next.”  After speaking with a dozen other leaders, he’s right!  The big idea here may be to simply identify and embrace the stage you’re in and prepare for the next.  The reality is, we’re all making this up as we go along, but let’s listen to and learn from each other!

Stage 1: Shock and Triage

The goal here is aligned and impactful action.  Most of us were here on March 11th, the day before the NBA announced they were cancelling all games.  Before this, I was in an extended watching phase of, “This probably won’t impact me.”  Suddenly my indifferent observing turned to, “oh no… it’s here!” Canceled events, stay-at-home orders, schools closed, confusion, ambiguity… a massive wave of fear, uncertainty and doubt. The danger here lies in two extremes… paralysis on one hand or tunnel-vision on the other.

We saw the best leaders quickly gather and focus their teams.  They focused on filtering information, making quick, clear-headed decisions and rapid outward communication. 

  • Signal or noise:  Filtering the irrelevant and unhelpful information from actionable information.  Jon, who runs high-end health clubs in multiple states, assembled his team and tapped his network to pull relevant information from staff, members, owners, competitors and government officials to determine if and when he’d need to close the clubs. He knew before the new media knew and was ready.
  • Act and adjust: Some leaders froze, others acted. They quickly assembled and consulted their teams and found the compressed timeline brought closure and clarity.  They acted quickly even with imperfect information.  
    Pat, who leads a home delivery meal kit company had to be bold in ramping up production to meet demand while creating new protocols for keeping workers safe, increasing the physical space between workers, offering flexibility to customer and narrowing menu options.  Their agility is paying off.
  • Rapid communication: In just hours a situation can evolve sharply. To ensure a unified response, we saw the best leaders provide daily, even hourly, guidance and updates to teams.
    Ben, who leads a large construction firm, did a daily 10-min check in and added an afternoon “check out” and followed up with a all-staff briefing with updates on state-by-state rules changes, client and contractor developments. He left no room for ambiguity with his team.

Stage 2: The New Abnormal

The goal here is sustainable productivity.  In checking in with leaders this week, it seems while the smoke is clearing, most are preparing for a long-haul 12-16 weeks.  The bold, frenetic moves of the last week are being adjusted in small ways. The danger here is depression and inactivity.  Here how the best leaders are staying focused.  

  • Normalize, don’t formalize:  The best leaders are scaling back triage-mode activity and finding a more sustainable rhythm.  We’ve worked with dozens of leaders to codify their new focus into a temporary Rally Cry with Defining Objectives including items like employee health new work routines, be creative, build relationships with customers and vendors, stabilize finances, etc. They are very slow to create new policies or procedures as this is still a temporary stage.
  • Circle back and check in:  Leaders are starting to reach out to individuals and show some human love and concern.  More than one CEO is joining virtual meetings with next level teams just to say hello!  One CEO, who was tracking the state of 2 individuals who had symptoms realized, “Oh, I should give them a call to say hello, pulling for you!”
  • Get Creative.  People are starting to get creative, asking, “What else can we do?”  One team offered staff $200 matching funds to be generous with neighbors. Another, a voluntary salary reduction to be given to those in their community in greater need.  One CEO is telling their employees to expense their home Wi-Fi for the next few months, another offering DoorDash™  gift cards.  Another CEO is connecting furloughed employee with temporary work at another companies who need help. Still another is disrupting his product roadmap to produce hand soaps and hand sanitizers to meet demand.

Stage 3: Planning for What’s Next

The goal of this stage is readiness for the future. One CEO asked, with a touch of guilt in his voice, “so, when can we give ourselves permission to think about what next?”  The world is going to be a bit different when this is over.  The danger here is either coming off as opportunistic or being caught off guard.  It may be too soon for some.  For others, it may be right to dedicate team time to future-oriented possibility thinking. 

Here are some thought-provoking questions:

  • What is our playbook for re-opening our locations?
  • What opportunities does this time offer us?
  • What changes can we make during this time to be revealed/launched when the restrictions are lifted?
  • How can we honor our employees who have sacrificed and performed during this season?
  • How can we memorialize this time and celebrate our “we’re back” moment?
  • What new practices / processes / products might we consider keeping?
  • How can we make it up to those who helped up along the way?
  • What new needs or preferences will society have in the future?
  • How will our marketplace/industry look different?

Call to action:  Share this article with your team with your own comments.  Plan a 60-90min conversation with this prompt… what stage do we think we’re in now?  What can we do more of, better or differently in this moment?  What should we plan for next?

Want to talk about this more?  Leave me a note below.

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