Practical Advice for Businesses in Crisis – Team

Do you have the right team to implement your strategy? What should that look like and how do you get there from here?

When embarking on a new strategic endeavor, I evaluate the team based on:

1.    Desire and drive to achieve the mission and the vision of the organization

2.    Innate ability to consistently operate within the organization’s value system (transparency, honesty, integrity, doing the right thing…your value system)

3.    Experience, skills and abilities to fill a needed role 

4.    Desire and ability to seek out and tap valuable resources when they have the needed skills and abilities, but maybe not the experience (desire to adapt and grow)

1 and 2 are non-negotiable. 3 is ideal. However, depending on important organization  knowledge and history, and potential time constraints, 4 can work just as well as 3, if 1 and 2 are strong positives.

For 1 and 2 to be non-negotiable, the mission, vision and values of the business must be memorialized in writing, openly presented as key and non-negotiable tenants of the business, and be regular and consistent drivers of the business day to day, with you leading the way. 

People who are not on board with them, may either self-select out of the business, or may self-destruct and be appropriately asked to leave the business. If they are “riding the fence,” they may need your help in making their decisions. Time is of the essence. If your team members are not aligned on mission, vision and values, others will not be either. Those people will slow the organization down by constantly wanting to revisit or disprove what has already been thought out and agreed upon. 1 and 2 are non-negotiables to keep everyone focused and going in the same direction together.

When I look back at the teams I’ve led through crises, or even in doing mergers, acquisitions, or start-ups, the team’s commitment to the organization’s mission, vision and values has been the single most important ingredient to our success. They are the glue that truly binds the team together. 

Before looking at 3 and 4, decide the needed roles for your implementation and ongoing team, as well as the experiences, skills and abilities needed to best fulfill them.

If possible, include your team in this effort. Continued inclusion, transparency and communication will keep them engaged and may help them think about and make some personal career decisions as well.

Build an optimal organization chart of roles first, not people, for implementing your new strategy. 

Next list the roles and the experiences, skills and abilities you believe best to implement your strategy and achieve the goals of your mission and vision.

Do not let yourself be constrained by the current organization chart, or anyone else’s idea of what “all” organization charts should have. What’s best for someone else’ organization may not be best for yours!

Then, look at your current organization chart, roles and people to decide what changes need to be made and how they need to be made to transition to the new organization chart and roles. I advise keeping somewhat flexible on the new organization chart depending on the people you end up hiring and their capabilities. 

The Founder/CEO of a Fintech company was unhappy about a flat top line, a shrinking bottom line, and the decreasing value of the company he founded years earlier, which had been very successful. Now it was experiencing significant growing pains. 

Showing a high level of self-awareness and wisdom, he split his role and brought in a new CEO to grow both the top and bottom lines. The following organization charts show the organizational transformation that took place.

You can see that in the three phases, six people were eliminated or replaced, and one was moved to another role.

There are a lot of articles, blogs and books on how to hire right and “get the right people in the right seats on the bus”, which was done very well in this organization. The new team achieved and realized a 300%+ value increase in the company in about two years.

But few want to talk about how you change out people who are no longer a good fit for the new organization and/or the new direction.

From my involvement in several organizations changing out leadership team members and from being on both sides of that fence, here are nine lessons learned and best practice suggestions on how you might do this well:

  • Start working with your human resources and legal resources early in the transformation process to ensure you will be compliant with regulations and policies all along the way. They can keep you out of big trouble. 
  • Communicate the mission, vision, new goals and new direction to the organization before you start the transformation to keep people from guessing and wondering too much about why you are making changes in leadership. Alignment across the team is critical.
  • Plan for peoples’ departures and transitions. Sometimes, overlapping outgoing and incoming people works out okay, especially if there is unique knowledge that needs to be transferred, but sometimes it doesn’t. If you want fresh perspectives, I’d overlap as little as possible. You may even want to assume the role while the search is on (or continues). That can give you a fresh perspective on what the challenges really are to discuss with the incoming replacement, if one is needed. Is one really needed?
  • Respect the person leaving as a person and a professional. Assume first that person wants to be successful and do a great job. Even if you think they don’t, it will go a lot better if you treat them like they do. Just because they are no longer a fit for your new direction, they can still bring fresh perspective and be very successful with their skills and abilities in another organization. And that should be what you want for them! 
  • Don’t expect the person leaving to be happy about it, or even totally understand it, although some may. But you should not, and you should try to not let them, burn a bridge.
  • Remember that this action not only affects them, it affects their families as well. Do the best you can to help them soften the landing into their next opportunity, however you can. Severance, outplacement services, references, and reference letters can all be helpful. This is an area where your human resources and legal people can be especially helpful, too.
  • Work with them on how they will transition and/or exit. 
  • As soon possible, have a meeting with the person’s team and then the whole organization and keep them abreast of what is happening, how the change fits into the new plan (without denigrating the person leaving), and how the organization will proceed forward until the replacement comes in.
  • Be transparent and open with the rest of your team about your thoughts that validate the moves you are contemplating, especially what it may signal to them individually. You may think they can’t do what you want, or anything else you need, and you may be totally wrong. Communicate!

There are many other details to be considered and taken care of that your human resources and legal team can help you with that are not covered here.

Mike Sayre has successfully piloted businesses through difficult times of crisis for over 20 years – as a CEO, President & COO, CFO, and/or Board Director. He is currently an independent executive leadership consultant working through Civilis Consulting and the Innovative Leadership Institute, trusted partners inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses.

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