Interview Transcript

Gary, on the subject of crisis, it’s a tricky subject, crisis comes in many forms. If there were to the extent that it is even possible, do feel free to narrow this down to a specific instance that we can talk about. Especially on the subject of communication in crisis, at a leadership level, what can you share with us about how that’s done effectively?

Yes, I think that of when we had a specific crisis at the time I was in India. I can think of several crisis but if I pick one, it was in India because it had multiple dimensions to it, some were political, some were related to logistics. Ultimately, it meant we had huge issues with supply chain. It wasn’t allowing products to get to market. We were starting to constrain the business in a very serious way, which was going to lead to some economic hardship for the company and also potentially outcomes for people working in the company. At that time, there was a cultural divide between management and the workers that you shared what you had to share but it was as little as possible as a way of seeing yourselves as a buffer, almost as a shock absorber in these difficult circumstances. It’s true. In times of crisis a leader has to be a shock absorber to some extent to ensure that people don’t get distracted, lose focus, lose hope. You can’t share every piece of bad news necessarily in real time, that may not be helpful. You certainly do have to maintain a constant level of communication; you have to setup a routinely where the people who are aware that there’s something wrong. We should also understand that in crisis, people generally get that there are real issues. I’m amazed sometimes that senior leadership can have this failed belief that they’re the only ones who know there really is a crisis and everyone else is sublimely aware that this is really a problem for the organization.

It’s not generally true. When people feel that they’re not being told anything in those circumstances, of course, it leads to higher levels of worry, concern, that maybe management doesn’t know that there really is a crisis. Or that they’re hiding something. They’re hiding something from them, and bad news is coming, which is the worst possible outcome you can have because then people will be distracted. In that circumstance, I think the main thing to do is to reiterate what the vision is that you’re trying to achieve. Assuming your vision stays standard and in that that of ambiguity, there’s still the vision you want to pursue. You have to reinforce it and say you’re not giving up on it. Also, to acknowledge with the people that not given up means you’re going to have to make some compromise choices, some tactical choices to reach that. They’re not all going to be pleasant and there are going to be some pain points to get there. You’re going to have to be very clear with people, what are your expectations of them in that period of time. In those tactical maneuvers you’re making, what does success look like? It might look very different from the long-term picture of what you’re trying to achieve but in the very short-term, what we need to get done now, it has to be super clear to the people who are out there, what does that mean for them? What does success look like for them? It may look very different from what it would in normal routine circumstances. Once it’s clear for them, then it’s much easier for them to self-navigate to that point, to get to whatever that success is that you’ve described, but if you’re not telling them that, you’re not making it clear. The risk is that people make it up for themselves. They’ll decide for themselves what they think you want them to do, which could be actually counterproductive to resolving the crisis or navigating it successfully if you don’t provide that level of direction.

It’s far more tactical in nature, but it’s still part of the big picture. You’re still telling a bigger story about what you’re trying to do, but you’re redefining in small bite-sized buckets what it is you want them to achieve in the here and now that will get them there. It’s one steppingstone at a time. If they can’t see the next stone or they don’t know which direction to travel to get to the next stone, the risk it, they don’t make it and the crisis gets worse for you. I would say finally being prepared to say you don’t necessarily have all of the answers yet, you’re laying one stone at a time in front of you. You know where you’ve got to get to, but I can’t tell you what the tenth stone looks like yet. I promise as we get closer to it, I will come back and communicate what that’s going to look like when it’s clearer the path forward. I think if you’re doing that consistently and people get into a routine of when to expect to hear from you and what to expect to hear. Then they know, I’m turning up to the next conversation to know about the next two stones. Not necessarily the ultimate answer but I can see where the next two stones will take me and what I have to do to get there. That’s a big part of getting you through those difficult periods.

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