In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, leaders have a critical role in both guiding and supporting their teams and also in managing their business effectively1. Insolvency is a genuine risk for many businesses and leaders have to tackle the enormous task of balancing employment and lifestyle sustainability for their team members with business survival.
Alan Joyce and his executive team at Qantas have experienced massive disruption. Qantas was founded in 1920, it is a 100 year old business. A business with an unwavering commitment to quality and safety, it survived the biggest events of the 20th century. Due to Covid-19 Qantas this week had to make the unenviable decision to stand down roughly 20,000 people in their workforce.
There are learnings in how Qantas acted. Alan and his executive team stopped or reduced their own salaries once they realised how bad things were looking and cancelled bonuses — they took the hit weeks before their teams needed to. They then acted decisively to ensure that Qantas will remain a viable business when this event passes and that they will be able to stand their teams back up. It’s not a nice decision, but it seems a necessary and decisive one.
My five tips for leading through uncertainty are as follows:
In a rapidly changing situation you cannot wait for information before you act. You have to trust mathematical models and act on limited information. Colin Powell has a heuristic of P=40–702, which means that you should act when you have roughly 40 to 70 percent of the data that you need in order to make good decisions. You need to act quickly and decisively and be prepared to get some things wrong.
Your team are adults. They are facing into uncertainty and they need information to know how to act. There is nothing worse than trying to prepare your personal situation without transparency from your leaders. Be open and honest about the business situation, update your teams daily. Ensure that they have support and care.
Reduce operating cadences.
You need to drastically reduce your planning cycles. Annual planning cadence must become quarterly cadence, quarterly cadence must become monthly cadence, monthly cadence must become weekly cadence, weekly cadence must become daily cadence. The company’s operating cadence must suit an environment of exponential volatility.
It’s ok to be anxious yourself as a leader in these times. It’s ok to not have all the answers. A problem shared is a problem halved, share your challenges and your team members can help you to find ways to navigate through.
Remote working will be the new normal in three months. Innovate around a new world where customers are more distributed. Empathise with their challenges. Mine insights from China and Italy, they are ahead of us. Innovate around your supply chain challenges. Leaders who step up now and courageously invest in growth have the opportunity to create extraordinary value. Elabor8 is very lucky. We’ve been working with distributed and remote teams3 for a decade. There is nothing to fear in this new world, in fact once you try it your teams are probably never going to let you go back. This will become the new normal, get your business ready for it, and innovate around the opportunities it will create.
These are five heuristics that I have been using over the last six weeks or so and I hope this note is of assistance to people who are leading teams through tough times.
There are people with decorated careers who are currently out of work. This is an event that affects all of us, not just some of us. Let’s act as a collective and get through this. It’s time to step up and lead in your business and in your local community.
We’ve helped many of our clients rapidly adapt their businesses to remote working and we’re here to support you too. We can help you evolve your operating and governance models4 for the future of remote work.
- Preparing our community for a new future | An open letter
- The 40-70 rule
- The hierarchy of remote working needs
- Operating and governance models