Like so many companies and organizations, this past year has been incredibly challenging. Leading a company through the reality of Covid has been so intense and difficult, certainly the most difficult challenge of my 35 year career! Here we are as we enter May, we are finishing up our on-site vaccination clinics over the next few weeks, finishing up our return-to-work planning and prep activities and starting to look at easing some of our Covid policies (e.g. outdoor mask policy, etc.). Along with these policy/readiness adjustments, we are dealing with the difficult (and wonderful in many ways) challenge of a booming business, growing very quickly, that is pushing our capabilities and capacities across our system. We are clearly in a big “Pivot to Growth” moment and I have refreshed myself on some lessons that will help us and may help you as well.
I want to emphasize the first word here, “Virtuous!” When businesses are dramatically beating budget and forecast, and outstripping existing capabilities/capacities, it is very easy to devolve into a “Destructive Cycle” of anger/blame/finger-pointing/etc. Do your best as a leader to stay calm, remind everyone that we are in this together, and that in so many ways we are lucky to have the problems of a high growth business. Remind yourself that “anger/blame & finger pointing” are rarely highlighted and key leadership tools for progressive/successful leaders in good times or bad. Stay calm, keep your cool, keep your team together and work the problem at hand!
Work the Problem
At least for our company in this Pivot to Growth, there are multiple problems all occurring at once. That dynamic is actually not surprising and should not be allowed to cause confusion. Look at the landscape, idea the problems and help the team to break them down into bite-sized chunks. Remember “Aunt Lorraine’s Law”???? “Take small bites and chew thoroughly”!
That lesson is so true now… help your team on this and get everyone focused on THE problem at hand and have other teams working on ANOTHER problem at hand but be careful to have one group working on many problems at once….. usually a situation that causes confusion and limited progress!
Search for Root Causes
As teams get into problem solving, we can find ourselves actually fixing a problem at hand and being tempted to quickly move on to the next issue at hand. As a leader help your team to slow down enough to try to identify the “root causes” to the problem so we might possible not just fix the problem at hand but identify and solve the deeper “root causes” of the problem to we don't face this challenge again. A technique that I learned many years ago is the “ask “why” five times” rule. Once a problem/issue is clearly identified, force yourself and your team to go five layers deep…. Ask, “Why did this issue occur”??? then when that answer is clarified, ask “why” did that occur??? and keep that routine going for five layers of asking “whys?”
Deploy solutions and measure success
The best part of problem solving is actually fixing the problems/challenges at hand…. duh! No brilliant insight there but again we are so often tempted to fix it and move on; not good enough! Use the measurement tools at hand or build the measurement tools to assess just how much or how well we have actually fixed the problem and improved performance. We only really learn true performance improvement through measuring our success and continuously improving on that improved performance.
Work the problem
Repeat the “Virtuous Cycle!”
I hope that this simple “cycle” can be helpful as you and your organization begin your pivot to growth post Covid! There will be challenges ahead (there always are) but none so daunting as the challenges we all faced this past year. We can work our way through the challenges of growth by keeping our cool, reminding the team that we are all in this together and working the “Virtuous Cycle” above….. those will be key ingredients for solving the growth problems that lie ahead!