Earlier this week I facilitated a session with a client to capture learnings from a significant crisis. To cut a long story short, we have had some devastating bush fires here in Tasmania and my client lost substantial assets in the fire. As a provider of an essential public service there was considerable pressure to restore functionality as soon as possible.
I have been working with this client on developing behaviours and shifting culture and something we already knew is that their people operate differently during times of crisis. We regrouped after the restoration effort to pin point what behaviours were different, why they happened and how to continue the useful behaviours going forward.
We began with an open conversation loosely based around these questions:
- What are you most proud of?
- What was your biggest contribution?
- How did it feel to be part of this?
The group was in clear agreement that the way they worked was highly efficient and productive. As the conversation flowed, we captured what worked well and why:
There was one single clear purpose. Everyone understood the purpose, it was simple and the message was clear at all levels. The purpose was consistently and constantly reinforced by messages and by actions. Everyone knew their direct contribution.
There were clearly defined teams and leaders were identified in each team. These were not formal roles, but people were asked to step up and take on a leadership function. There was clearly defined decision-making scope and the role of teams and individuals was clearly communicated to all.
The goals were defined and allocated on a daily basis and adjusted as required from information fed back from the field workforce. Achievement of the goals was reviewed daily. Everyone understood the consequences of not achieving the goals.
An interesting note about consequences is that they were not explicitly stated by management, but the individuals felt that they would be letting the team and the customers down if they did not achieve the goals. This is a useful point to remember – when the team is fully engaged you don’t need to “manage by consequences”.
There were regular clear messages from the top down and people were constantly talking within teams and across teams. There was daily discussion at the start and end of every day about achievements and the focus was on the positives. There were key contact points established to coordinate the knowledge and this was based on skills not hierarchy. Induction into each job and situation was thorough and timely so people hit the ground running every day.
The group noted that the big difference in communication was that they had real conversations, not just briefings. The two-way communication was determined to be extremely effective.
Making a difference
People felt they were a part of something special, the “core work” was the most important priority and the impact of the work was clear and visible.
Sense of urgency
Everyone was committed to achieving the purpose. People did what was needed to enable the crews to do the job, decision-making was quicker, red tape and processes were expedited to enable the work to take priority. People were focused and motivated and the urgency helped people realise what is important. It was noted that business blockers still existed, but people found ways to work around or through them.
The focus was “How can we do this?” not “We can’t do this.” It was a huge stretch goal, but people stepped outside of the normal processes and ways of doing things to make it happen. Interestingly the focus on safety and risk management was even stronger than normal and despite the deviation from the norms there were no incidents. The challenge fostered innovation and different approaches to solving problems and people challenged their own thinking.
Empowerment and ownership
There were opportunities for people to step up and do things they would not usually have the chance to do and they made decisions when needed. The teams had full accountability for their work and people ‘owned’ their work and achievements.
People stepped in to work outside their core roles and the teams relied on individual experience and expertise not roles. The business readily accessed resources (internal and external, people, machinery and equipment).
Reward and recognition
People and teams were recognised for effort and achievements from across the business. The public acknowledged and thanked workers for their efforts and there was genuine recognition and gratitude. Recognition was as simple as a thank you at the end of each day.
What fascinating insights from the front line about what enables discretionary effort!
Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.