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After far too many years as a C.E.O I am struggling with the ever changing and often contradictory information – and that’s before I get into the Facebook and Twitter posts. But C.E.O.s are by nature people who get things done. Allow me therefore to share my views on what each enterprise, regardless of sector, should do now.

Move 1 – The Best man in charge!

All students of British Naval history know that when a British ship went into battle action then the Quartermaster – the most experienced and skilled helmsman – took the wheel, and stayed at the post throughout the battle – unless he was shot or bombed – then he was carried below and one of his almost equally skilled underlings took over.

Why the Quartermaster at the wheel? To ensure that the ship was steered as well as she could be, and to reassure all the stakeholders on board. To set an example, and to ensure direction is optimal.

C.E.O.s need to step to the wheelhouse and take charge – this is no time for either delegation or dithering. This is the time to lead from the front. Be a dictator in your own business. The C.E.O needs to lead from the front, and to clearly communicate to all on board that they have personally taken responsibility for managing the enterprise through the crisis.

This is what a C.E.O. does in times of crisis. Visibility of the enterprise’s leader is key at a time when everyone on board is looking for information, for direction and for reassurance.

None of your staff or team of employees or workers has ever gone through such times, but neither have they had the experience and training which the C.E.O has had to equip him or her to be able to manage the pressure, take care of the team and guide the business, all at the same time.

Move 2 – Define a core management team – the ‘O’ Group

Enterprises need to define a core management team to meet – and in the current situation “remotely by technological means” might need to be added” – on a regular basis to discuss not the current situation but rather to plan the immediate and likely upcoming developments and more importantly how we are going to use our resources to address the unfolding situation as best we can.

There is a Golden Rule of Etiquette for ‘O’ Groups – anyone can give their opinion and even disagree with the Commander, but when the meeting ends, no sign of disagreement is communicated outside of that meeting to others.

1st step is to define the core team for the ‘O’ group and define on a day to day as well as a week by week basis who does what and to ensure directives are executed.

Move 3 – Proper Planning

As all good students and practitioners of military strategy will tell us – the essential ingredients to a successful battle plan are:

  • INTELLIGENCE – information on the enemy, and how they are organised
  • ASSUMPTIONS – basically trying to work out the most likely scenarios
  • DEFINED TARGETS – troops knowing what they need to do
  • OUTCOMES – definition of what can and cannot be achieved

The enterprise needs today to start building a plan for what they are going to do given the likely challenges of demand, workforce availability and possible restriction of movement, and the overriding challenges to cashflow.

To build a Plan we need to start making assumptions on what are likely or possible future scenarios and to start planning for how we flex the operations and the very shape of the enterprise to meet the envisaged challenges.

Ask the following questions as extreme basics:

  1. What made us unique to our customers?
  2. How has the pandemic affected the buying behavior and choices of our customer?
  3. How can we adapt to this new buying behaviour?
  4. How will the market evolve from there?

All the management teams I have worked with know my mantra of 7Ps – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance. We need to apply it.

But we also need to be flexible. Today we can do more than just speculate how COVID-19 will hit Mauritius, we can plan against reasoned scenarios and have outline plans in hand, ready to adapt as necessary.

Move 4 – Communication is Key

Fake news on COVID-19 has revealed through Fake News articles the nasty side to human nature, but the reality is that in times of adversity people are prone to false information, especially in a stressful and highly uncertain situation. We should over communicate with our colleagues across all levels of the enterprise, and beyond.

Employees who are living in fear, will communicate with your customers in fear.

I recommend setting up and communicating a timetable of regular briefings, either by calling meetings or by using technology to communicate the current situation and context and what the enterprise is doing. Stick to the schedule, daily or weekly, even if there is little new to impart from management, be available for the personnel.

Agree on who is the spokesperson – my own preference is always for this to be the C.E.O. – and make sure that in communicating that employees have the chance to ask questions and hear answers. Be accessible.

Move 5 – Hearts and Minds

I want to end this article with a personal plea because we are entering into a period of uncertainty for us all, with the risk of mortality looming over each of us, and each of our families, and job security being challenged for many, and many worries about financial and even social stability.

All too often we put in our reports and our mission statements that “our people are our most important asset”.

We need to be highly tolerant of changes in attitudes and perhaps unusual behavior as we enter what looks likely to be a prolonged and uncertain times, and as each of us struggle to understand what is happening.

And we need to be certain that we treat people as our most valued asset, and that we do our maximum to maintain their well-being and their respect.

Protect your people and team so they can protect the customer.

Richard Wooding

Richard Wooding

Director - Matrix 8 Services

Chief Executive with a proven track record of successful business development and leading turnarounds. Skilled at driving profit growth and market penetration in 3rd world markets, and managing significant strategic change and restructuring, in both multinationals and privately owned businesses. Over 25 years’ experience at CEO level in FMCG and other industries. Has lived and operated in 15 different countries in Africa and Asia. MBA from Cranfield (UK). Cosmopolitan, culturally astute, high energy and leads from the front.

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