MHA | Dealing with upheaval in your business

Dealing with upheaval in your business

Posted on: December 15th 2022 · read

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I don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous blog, but I think much of life, and the world, can be better understood using the idea of a Venn diagram – sets or groups of ‘things’ which overlap each other to varying degrees. Those ‘things’ could include products, services, people or ideas.

In a sense, a Venn diagram might be a useful way to think about how creativity and innovation emerge.  Creative thought,  in any aspect of our lives, could be thought of as the process of creating/forcing an overlap to occur between two sets of ideas  –  which until that point overlapped very little or not at all

And,  in a rapidly changing world, there is often a need for creative, innovative thought processes to both allow us to make some sense of what is going on and also to identify new opportunities – or threats.

I had this thought recently whilst reading the 2019 book by Jared Diamond  ‘Upheaval – How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change’.  At first glance, this title might suggest limited relevance to the challenges facing businesses. Diamond identifies 12 factors relating to the outcome experienced by a country in crisis (sometimes to an existential degree) and, with only a small degree of rephrasing, these could be a useful way to reframe how we think about a challenging business issue.

The 12 factors are:

  1. The broad consensus that there is a crisis.
  2. Acceptance of responsibility to do something.
  3. Building a ‘fence’ to delineate the problems needing to be solved.
  4. Receiving help from others to deal with the problem.
  5. Using others as a model of how to deal with the problem.
  6. A clear sense of group identity.
  7. Honest self-appraisal.
  8. Historical experience of previous crises.
  9. The ability to deal with failure.
  10. Adopting situation-specific organisational flexibility.
  11. Clear group core values.
  12. Freedom from external constraints.

And how these might apply to a business issue are:

  1. Seeing the world as it really is; not as we would like it to be.
  2. Recognising that the leaders of the organisation will have to take proactive steps to deal with the issue.
  3. Don’t make the issue bigger, or smaller, than it really is.  And don’t let it ‘infect’ other areas of the business which are performing well. Don’t ‘catastrophise’.
  4. Asking for help, whether from mentors, colleagues or advisers is not a sign of weakness.
  5. That help might be in the form of others’ relevant war stories.
  6. Building organisational morale and culture when things are going well is not irrelevant.  It is making an investment in your goodwill bank.
  7. Related to factor 1, see you and the business’ strengths as they really are; not as you would like them to be.
  8. You will have faced difficulties in the past and come through these. Reflect on those ‘character building’ experiences.
  9. Recognise that whilst failure might not be an option – it might be an outcome.  Identify past instances when you have successfully dealt with failure.
  10. Assess what the organisation’s real ‘redlines’ are; building flexibility might mean taking difficult decisions such as understanding which customers are key and which might need to be let go I order to deal with the crisis.
  11. Related to 6, build a clear sense of the organisation’s values and truly live by them.  These will help to re-orientate the business’ direction of travel if it is in an acute crisis.
  12. You are unlikely to be free of all external constraints, but what is key is understanding what precisely these are and how specifically the business might be constrained by them

There is a lot to look at here, far too much for one blog piece. 

If any of this has struck a chord with you, my recommendation would be to get a  copy of the book and not only start reading it but, more importantly, read it through the lens of ‘How might this apply to my business?  What might it be suggesting to me?’.

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