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Don't waste a crisis

I read an article in Harvard Business Review recently that went along the lines of ‘If you’re not currently assessing and changing, then why not?” We have never needed to embrace the potency of doing things differently quite so much as right now. Forbes opens one of its recent articles with the line: “Never waste a good crisis” which admittedly raised a wry smile but I can’t help agreeing with the sentiment.

In business, change as a result of a crisis is inevitable. You can’t face something like Covid-19 without coming out of the other side a different shape. The trick is, surely, to use the transition period as a powerful moment to stop, think and assess how you do everything - the entire chain reaction – and approach it like a spring clean of your organisation.

People don’t, as a rule, enjoy change. They like to know what they’re doing, why and how. Change is unsettling and can create anxious fight or flight responses.

“Crisis changes all of that. Suddenly change is not a choice anymore. One simply has to adapt in order to survive. This means that change will happen almost instantly. Some of those changes may be temporary and be reversed once the peak of the crisis is over. Smart leaders, though, make changes for the long run. They don’t just make temporary fixes, but use the crisis as an opportunity to renew the organization in a way that makes it better fit for the future—one has to change anyway, so why not do it properly.” [Forbes]

Before Covid, I was running all day sessions for our peer-led groups in The HR Agenda. They are amazing and will continue in person once it’s safe to go ahead (our next is planned for September in fact). However as a short-term measure I set up mini, one hour sessions via Zoom for HR leaders to re-group, discuss, air and try to resolve their immediate crisis-related challenges. This has worked really well and will lead to a more formal online version later this year. The crisis forced the temporary measures, from which has shone a ray of sunshine as people have really appreciated them and want more. My business flexed to identify and allow this change and it’s been very positive.

Many businesses have reinvented themselves this year out of necessity. From conference organisers who have rapidly learned how to host international events with thousands of delegates online - to the corporate catering business who now deliver home-made food to households - we have enough success stories to write a book! What’s key here is that the conference organiser has a whole new service under its belt representing a far lower cost alternative for its clients but is, surprisingly, equally profitable for them, as organisers. The catering business has decided to stick with its new formula, enjoying a day that starts at 8am instead of 5am, with less pressure and lower risk.

Out of these almost forced changes has come the most interesting outcomes. What started as a response to a changed environment has spun off into something new and business-worthy for the future.

Another result for me is my attitude to LinkedIn. I have set up a closed group for HR leaders, borne from the one-hour sessions I was running. I have found a new place to gather and attract like-minded people to share experiences and benefit from each other’s collective wisdom, much as we do at The HR Agenda. I had no time or desire to get involved at this level before the pandemic hit but as we have learned to work more from home, understand how much we need our associates and contacts, master more technology and work out new solutions, I can see this has real benefits to us all in the group. I’ll keep you posted on that one as it’s early days.

Working from home has been a real eye-opener for many organisations. Once the initial shock subsided and people got off their sofas and invested in proper office set ups it became evident that, in many sectors, working from home is actually very productive. We were already halfway there with phones, laptops and the internet. For most, it was a question of fine-tuning before becoming fully fledged home-workers.

Working away from colleagues has its downsides of course and there are plenty of ways to overcome the disconnectedness, especially as we start to open office spaces again and encourage a gradual return to work. What is surprising though is how many people are happy to continue to work from home, using the office as a place to catch up, have meetings, connect and then retreat once more to get on with their work quietly and efficiently. It’s exciting in a way. Being cornered into facing new ways of doing things can often bring out our resourcefulness and allow us to show how able we are to adapt to our surroundings.

“We see it practiced in business, where after years of slow development, working from home is suddenly accepted. We see it in education, where online education takes a sudden flight. And we see it in government, for example in the EU trying to use this crisis to assemble the budget for creating a greener and more digital Europe.” [Forbes, May 2020]

Making work human is a huge motivator for change. If we can engineer change to benefit the people who make businesses successful, without compromising the business itself, then we should jump on that. Change can be good. It can be powerful and liberating. It can make us look at everything afresh, with a new perspective. Whilst being sensitive to your people, it is possible to create some significant changes, for the good of both the people and the business. It’s a crisis yes, but let’s not waste it.

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