Saturday, December 20, 2008

3 things a Brand Leader can do in a downturn: hard times call for collective wisdom

These are hard times. At some companies, executives are responding by centralizing authority. Small teams of top leaders are closeting away in secret retreats to review options. Meetings that would bring the troops together are being canceled.

These actions are understandable -- we all want to "grab the ball" during tough times. But they're dangerously wrong, says Tamara J. Erickson, a McKinsey Award-winning author and popular and engaging storyteller.

She reports that research shows groups make better decisions than individuals. So during economic downturns, instead of trying to tighten control and hunker down, tap into your organization's collective wisdom.

Ms. Erickson posted her compelling views on Harvard Business Review’s website, based on extensive research on changing demographics and employee values and, most recently, on how successful organizations work. She has co-authored four HBR articles and the book Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent. She is with nGenera.

During a downturn, a leader's role is to do 3 things:

1. Ask great questions. Challenge the organization to meet goals that are intriguing, complex and important. Don't narrow the focus to the mundane or over-specify the way teams should approach their challenges. Articulate a compelling intent -- something that, in the language of complexity theory, will serve as a "strange attractor."

2. Build relationships and trust deep in the organization. Don't cut out meetings, intensify the competition among internal teams, or reduce investments in learning. Increase your firm's "collaborative capacity" by building relationships and encouraging knowledge exchange. (For more, see the November 2007 HBR article "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams").

3. Challenge the status quo. Insure that your team has regular ongoing exposure to disruptive insights through diversity and external forays. Don't cut travel or fall back on the old "tried and true" team. Bring in new people and new ideas - and take them seriously. Get outside your business sphere. Encourage brainstorming and the use of scenario analysis. Don't cut training - invest in your people.

One strategy is to resist the urge to cut out meetings. Instead, use them to encourage knowledge exchange and to build the strong relationships needed to weather crises.

In other words, don't grab the ball: Pass it.

1 comment:

Steven Paul Matsumoto said...

I'm glad to corporate America has learned its lesson from history and is trying new tactics to, oh wait...

This article is dead on. Customer facing, front line employees need to be engaged like at no other time in recent history. On Twitter the other day a friend I'm following did a play-by-play of experience he had Christmas shopping. Let's just say that a few high end brands fell flat on their face.

If the front line isn't living and breathing the brand message you're done. Thanks for the great read!