Leading through a crisis and harvest long term impact

Adrien
3 min readJun 27, 2020

The last couple of months seem to be filled with crisis and societal change that deeply impact how businesses operate

COVID crisis, like most other crises, comes with consumer behavior change and imperative for adaptation whether it is by adapting products or adapting to a new strategy and a radical change in the work. These changes do include the Data department across many companies.

You will hear often: “we need to change”, “we need to reinvent ourselves”. Still, it is unclear what lead through a crisis look like for people and employee often feel useless when such change happen.

What does leadership look like in this troubled period? What is the role of individual contributors?

The leaders’ side

  • React fast to what needs to be done fast

Welcome to the crisis, most likely the first reaction will be to do damage evaluation and control then try to cut costs. This will generate uncertainty in the company, speculation, and much more. Do it fast as such to prevent uncertainty. Try to ensure that all this is temporary and that cost-cutting does not become a way of living. Especially in tech where talent is everything, employees enjoy the way of living, cutting cost will signify them to leave. This is even more true if other industries are not affected as much. On the other hand, you need to do it to manage cashflow…

  • Be bold, you cannot manage crisis

The truth is, you cannot manage a crisis, you have no clue how long it will last nor what will be the precise impact of the business or on the consumers. What you can do is prepare for recovery and adapt to consumer changes.

You had a project that was gonna move your profit margin from 33 to 34% by a one-off data science project… Guess what if 50% of your consumers are gone, you have bigger problems, and most likely given the consumer behavior change, the data science won’t work as well for some time on many projects.

Launching new projects is fine to adapt but iterate fast, drop projects even faster, reallocate resources smartly.

Focus on product differentiation during this period. It is essential to Capture opportunities rather than focusing on long-term fundamental innovation:

Don’t be the Blockbuster focusing on streamlining operations while the world is moving to streaming content.

Ther are only 2 things you can manage in the storm: the cashflow position to survive and the adaptation to changes

  • Inspire a bright future and talk to people

We all have this image of a crisis war room where leaders make decisions in a small committee of 10. Well, that’s the wrong way to do it in a modern corporation. You need to get out and inspire, share your views, involves employee is renewing the vision of the company or of the department.

Everyone understands the challenges and the need for change but telling people we are continuing as before is probably a lack of vision.

Adapt the vision, shuffle priorities and explain why.

The worst thing to do will be not to care about communicating and focus on tactical initiatives.

Individual contributor side

  • Feel that BAU is changing

It is gonna be ok…

Really it is not, don’t be stuck in pre-crisis mentality, Adaptability will be key to success during this time but it starts by realizing that the world is changing. Hunt for opportunity during this period, the truth is, leaders need you and need to hear you. Suggest new projects, investigate on your own if necessary, you do not need permission to pull data and do some EDA in 1 hour.

  • Don’t be naive

My skills are always going to be needed. Truth but it does not mean you will be the one doing it nor that you cannot be automated or that your work cannot be prioritized. Show impact during this time, not work. Hard work does not matter.

In the same manner, do assess the relevance of the product you are working for. Will it be a key product given the change in consumers' preferences? Think of your positioning for the future.

Conclusion

React fast, Adapt quickly and communicate with your teams

Some reading

https://hbr.org/2020/03/are-you-leading-through-the-crisis-or-managing-the-response

https://hbr.org/2020/04/leading-your-team-past-the-peak-of-a-crisis

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Adrien

Strategy/Data/Leadership head of DS at OCBC ~~ exTwitter ~~ ex-gojek