This is the fifth in a five-part series about demonstrating BOLD leadership during a pandemic transformation from our colleagues at Aveus. Each entry in the series focuses on the characteristics of BOLD leadership that can help move organizations from reacting to COVID-19 to proactively anticipating and preparing for the opportunities that lie ahead.
Authored by Olivia Peterson, Samantha Guseyn-Zade, and Ellie Sjordal
Among the long list of names and descriptions given to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have heard “The Great Pause” come up a time or two. For many – non-essential workers, students, fans, fiancés, travelers, etc. – life has come to an abrupt and unexpected halt. Almost 95% of the U.S. population resides in a state or city that has issued an official shelter-in-place order as of April 2020. Work and learning? Remote and virtual. Travel plans? Rescheduled. Gatherings and events? Postponed or cancelled altogether. Together, it would seem we had all hit pause en masse.
But the truth is, we didn’t – not all of us. In fact, what came as pause for some, came as an unrelenting wave of urgent decision-making and prioritizing for others. As the economy, the healthcare landscape, customer needs, and legislation have changed drastically in the past couple of months – and as they continue to do so, sometimes, overnight – business leaders everywhere are facing the same pivotal question: Where do we continue with business as usual and where do we change our strategy?
In crisis, leadership teams must confront challenging questions left and right, in daily decisions both big and small. However, identifying the “right answers,” or the next in a series of many, is just the beginning. The organizations we see transforming themselves and their communities amid this pandemic are activating and rapidly implementing these answers. They have BOLD leaders willing and wanting to DO the hard work to execute on what they believe is right.
BOLD Leaders DO
As illustrated in this series, we know that the leaders who are moving the needle in their organizations are enrolling Believers among their teams, staying Open to new information and ideas coming at them apace, and quickly Learning new methods and skills and answers. They are harnessing trust, curiosity, confidence and empathy to scan their environments, identify internal and external needs, and strategize their next steps. And they are DOING. BOLD leaders know that strategy without action is just an idea. We think about this type of leader, by definition, as:
Someone who thinks and acts beyond the existing organizational limits, is imaginative, and is willing to take risks to get rewarding results.
As businesses are questioning how to move forward, BOLD leaders must shape a change-ready culture that enables them to navigate the unrelenting challenge of our current environment and activate ideas
into motion. This allows for rapid solution development that supports the unique needs of both customers and employees.
Of course, with time not a luxury and crisis standing in the foyer (already through the front door), the global pandemic has challenged leaders to manage their organizations in newfound ways. So where should they start?
DO: Get Ready
Not every organization has an established culture or framework that embraces change. In the current COVID environment, many organizations are being forced out of their more certain status quo, whether they’re ready (and prepared) or not. When we partner with firms who are actively seeking support to change, we steer them toward our Change Readiness Assessment. They and we need a clear-eyed view of our starting point. In the wake of COVID-19, we’ve created a condensed version that focuses on the factors most important in this environment. It is vital for leaders to be aware of both the limiters and strengths that exist within their current operations that will impact the effectiveness of their rollouts. This need not be a long or painful diagnostic. The assessment can be revealing in literally minutes. The value comes from the conversation it forces. That conversation can look like:
- What does success look like? (Too often we jump right to problem solving and forget the all-important conversation about a clear objective – or in the case of COVID-19, the immediate, mid-term and longer-term goals!)
- What clear values and principles will you use to drive prioritization and the behavior change you need?
- Then: What to change? How to change? And, how fast can we change?
- What resources are required? Be specific!
- Articulate the skills and capabilities needed.
- Considered how to best focus and deploy initial resources to obtain maximum impact.
- What structural and system changes are necessary?
- How will you help leaders understand the needed changes and expectations?
- Who are your informal leaders who can be change champions?
These conversations aren’t light, but they are necessary. In COVID-19, and in any significant change situation, you are setting the foundation for the future of your organization. BOLD leaders add value fast by making assertive decisions that balance ambiguity with “just enough information.” This, in turn, allows initiatives to rapidly evolve to meet demand. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Once an organization determines the who, what, and why, leaders are tasked to stand up an approach that will execute the vision quickly and efficiently.
DO: Both Lead and Manage
Adaptive change requires adaptive tactics and approaches. We often hear change leadership and change management described interchangeably. They are not! BOLD leaders know that both are needed and must be used together. This is especially true during a crisis.
As the brilliant Peter Drucker so clearly defined the difference years ago, “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”
Change management requires a tight process and discipline that is detailed and demonstrates control through project plans and milestones to make sure the right things happen and adapt as experience and learning occur.
Change leadership embraces ambiguity within dynamic environments and allows for greater creativity and constant refining to ensure you’re doing the right things.
The managing versus leading change chart is a simple tool we use in client conversations to bring to life the value that each approach brings. You may have noticed that change leadership aligns closely with the readiness assessment, and for good reason. Change leadership prepares the organization for significant change and builds a foundation of transparency, communication and trust both internally and externally. Managing change is the tactical side of the house where control, measurement, and outcomes are the focus both internally and externally.
The right balance aligns each organization around the needed change and empowers employees with the freedom to act in new ways to DO new things. The daily COVID-19 news coverage shows examples of this in restaurants converted to food services for the shut in and for isolated people in their community, factories converted to make ventilators, designers and clothing manufacturers now making masks for front-line workers, distilleries adding sanitation products to refill the supply chain, and the list goes on. All of these examples demonstrate BOLD leading and managing entire teams to DO new, important things with a clear sense of purpose.
DO: BOLD Things – The Y Twin Cities Example
An organization that has stood out as a Doer during this time is the YMCA of the Twin Cities. The Y is a great example of how BOLD leaders jump into “doing” when faced with unprecedented times. The CEO, and other key leaders, rapidly developed solutions prior to having all the answers. This resulted in services that were desperately needed and kept many employees working. They filled gaps in the communities they serve through:
- Childcare for health care employees, first responders, and critical workers
- Support for youth and young adults facing homelessness, eviction, unemployment and more
- Wellness checks to seniors and being a resource to them to stave off social isolation
- Nutrition to youth, families, and seniors who need food by partnering with local businesses and nonprofits
- YMCA 360 (YMCA360.org) – a set of virtual exercise classes and wellbeing programs for all ages to do from home
Glen Gunderson, CEO, released a heartfelt video message with a request for members to consider supporting the organization’s commitment to provide free services to those in need by retaining their membership through this COVID-19 period, while access to Y facilities are unavailable.
In a BOLD leader interview a few years ago, Glen shared that, “BOLD leaders want to change the world for the better. Not for themselves – for the world. They focus on the destination, never on the wall (or some immediate impediment). Walls are just part of the day job that you have to break through.” It has been inspirational to see how Glen and his team have worked to make the world a better place in these pandemic days that for so many can feel very hopeless.
DO: Be BOLD – Today and Tomorrow!
While unprecedented times result in unprecedented market adaptation, BOLD leaders see this crisis as something that can define an organization’s culture and marketplace opportunities for years to come. Turning crisis into opportunity, they allow for the adaptation needed today and a tolerance and preparedness for turbulence in the future. They inspire greater trust and commitment among employees and loyalty from customers.
We invite you, we ask you, to please… DO BE BOLD!
A couple questions to consider:
- How are you positioning changes that your organization is executing to your employees? Customers?
- If you are holding off on taking action until more information arrives (be it data or COVID updates), how can you push the initiative forward using the information that exists? Can you adapt the initiative along the way?