Leadership in Distress: Planning During a Season of Transition

The GrowthPlay leadership team examined the sign of the times, and asked, what is it that we want to offer our community to elevate hope? That will create clarity and will drive some measure of control and confidence so that people can act courageously in this distress and post stress?  With our Leadership in Distress Series we hope we can draw wisdom and best practices from those who really make a living navigating and helping leaders flourish in all times of prosperity and in spaces of crisis and distress.


Planning During a Season of Transition

Deb Knupp: Make time for porch parties and that’s also another takeaway – hopeful realism and the virtual porch party nuggets – I think this will sustain us as well beyond this time, you know, as I’m thinking about again.

The advice that you’re giving right now to clients. I know you’ve been incredibly busy. And these last few weeks, and it’s, you know, with the inquiries of clients and how they’re thinking about systems and teams and really beginning to think about how do we continue to build our professional development and our human growth and our talent development. How do we do this, how do we, you know, prepare and plan and anticipate the things that we’re going to need to grow and prosper.

In spite of distress, because while it’s this pandemic. Now, I suspect that our brains are tuning that there will be other breakdowns or other distress in the future, so what advice are you giving to people not to miss this because this is a great training ground where we don’t have to waste any of this experience so as you’re thinking about the advice you’re giving, it would be great to hear some of that wisdom and again for our audience to begin to incorporate some of the benefit of that. Should they be in a conversation with you as similarly?

Lisa Slayton: Yeah, you know, it’s an interesting moment – part of what I’m sort of known for – working with clients around is helping them to navigate disruptive moments, right, and seasons of transition. So, you know, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with both clients. I also serve on a couple boards of national nonprofits and helping them think about, you know, what has to happen in this moment.

And I’m going to reference an article that was written by some colleagues of mine. It was called Leading in the Blizzard I think was the title of the article by Andy Crouch and Dave Blanchard and Kurt Keilhacker. The metaphor that they use, which I think is really powerful, is that we’re currently in a blizzard, right, and you know the snow is coming down. It’s piling up. We might have anticipated the blizzard, but most of us really didn’t. And so how do we manage and navigate through the blizzard? But then, based on what we’re seeing, we’re going to head into a long season of winter. Right? And so winter’s coming, it’s here or the Blizzard has started it, and we may get more blizzards along the way. But, we have this long season of winter.

And then, the third piece of their metaphor was, could we have economically certainly and relational, could we be entering into a longer time of cold that they call the Ice Age? And so, we have the blizzard. The winter in the Ice Age and, you know, if we wanted to put time constraints around that. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but I developed a framework that around this metaphor.

You know the blizzard is, you know, now for the next six weeks, let’s say, ‘till the end of April or into May. What do we have to do in that time period. If the winter is, you know, between now and the end of the year, make a 12-month period and then if an Ice Age is, you know, they’re calling it a mini Ice Age, I don’t even know what that means. Three years right? You know, because there is real concern about this skidding the entire global economy into not just a recession, but potentially a depression.

I was listening to the news this morning. The unemployment numbers are starting to come out. I mean, it’s ugly, right. It’s brutal and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. And so, what does it look like to begin to think in those kinds of time blocks. If we’re only reacting and responding, which is what you do in a blizzard, right, like you know make sure we have enough toilet paper. The country took care of that. Right.

You know, those kinds of things, those behaviors, and those ways of moving are not going to serve us over longer periods of time. And so what opportunity does this create for us to step back and examine one who we really are.

What really matters most to us for most organizations, this would be called your purpose, your guiding purpose or mission or vision, whatever language you use – and your core values and then through that grid. How do we want to be moving in this season and that has implications.

The way I broke it down in in the framework that I’ve shared with a couple people is that it has financial implications, it has operational implications, it has strategic implications. It has personnel implications and it has vision or purpose implications and, if you kind of look at, you know, what does it mean in the short term, medium term in the long term?

For us, and I wouldn’t even start with the long term right now. I just do short term, medium term, and based on who we say we are, where are the opportunities. And I think that’s where you begin to see people moving into the innovation space. The reality is some organizations aren’t going to survive this. It’s hard, and it feels sad and painful, but many will in new ways. If they’re willing to create the space to try some new things.

And this is where we begin to step into the work of this idea of complexity science and the learning that I’ve had and how I’ve seen that began to play out in organizational life.

Deb Knupp: So again, just so that folks that are listening and you said you know once you sort of re-establish who you are, and what you stand for, what matters most, then you said you press it through the grid. So can you repeat the grid again so if you look at time horizons of near end blizzard. Yeah, and the winter between now the bounce a year. What are the areas that people should be looking at them.

Lisa Slayton: Well, I think they’re, you know, they’re four or five buckets that every organization is paying attention to. So, it’s a long term vision or where the opportunity.

Deb Knupp: Is it should.

Lisa Slayton: Be in there certainly strategies, what strategies are we currently executing on. Are they working? Do we need to adjust them? What are the implications of that for the short term?

Operationally can have to do with your people, your physical space, you know, all the various aspects of running an operation. And then, you know, financially, I think we have to look at financially. The implications of this in the short term – does that mean laying people off? Does it mean taking salary cuts? And then how do we sustain that over time? So, so, I think, you know, those would be the four or five big buckets I’d look at.

The temptation is going to be to look at financial first and I think you have to write in some cases, you gotta stop the bleeding, right, if your business is dried up or slowed down significantly. You know, I was honest with the CEO who has got three different business lines running. One of them is not going to happen right now. And so he made the hard decision of letting a small team of people go on Friday, so that he can put his energy into the business line that he knows has the most potential.

Very painful decision. He’s invested a lot in this business. He said, I believe it will come back again. It’s just now’s not the time. Right? So those are all hard decisions but don’t make the financial decisions in a vacuum, as part of what I would say.

Deb Knupp: Terrific.

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