Viral, microbial, technological, or socio-economic, disruptions like the present one are clarion calls for revisiting the immutable principles of transition leadership
I type this article quarantined in my room with just my wife for company in another socially distanced room.
From my apartment located on the second floor, I watch the empty streets of Mumbai stunned to a standstill by a virus that should not be named too often. Like all disruptions, those of the biological or microbial variety, are two-faced. One face represents danger, death, and sorrow. The other face represents opportunity, hope and happiness. If we are not engaged in finding solutions to the challenge, merely worrying about it is useless. It is also a certain route to strengthening the presence of the dark face of whatever is challenging us in our lives.
The answer is, of course, to look at the bright face. This is our adaptation strategy. Adaptability is the single reason why our ancestors survived in the cold arctic as well as the barren deserts. We adapted. The dinosaurs could not. Look where it got them.
Luckily, for the purposes of this article, how one deals with disruptions of all kinds, including those of the viral kind, is the subject of my next book. All of us are in the people business but HR and L&D people are ‘in it’ in deeper ways. It is time we understood the principles of Transition Leadership, which is how you deal with any disruption as a leader. I have summarized my approach to leading teams in their transition from an old environment to a new one.
There are 11 elements of Transition Leadership that can be summarized in the acronym T.R.A.N.S.I.T.I.O.N.
T stands for Time. R stands for reflexes. A stands for advantages. N stands for negatives. S stands for support. I stands for infrastructure. T stands for technology. The second I stands for intelligence. O stands for openness. N stands for nurture.
Time: Life/ business/ the economy/ the world leaves behind those who are too slow. However, considering one’s resources and abilities one also has to fix a reasonable time frame for transitioning for it to be successful.
- You have to know when to time a transition because do it too early and you fail because the market is not ripe for what you bring and delay it too much and others have saturated the market and taken away the first mover advantage from you.
- You will also need to have a reasonable time frame in mind for making the transition. Expecting too much too soon is a recipe for disappointment. Having too long a time frame may not be a luxury available to you.
Reflexes: It is imperative that one develops reflexes before a crisis. The damage caused by a crisis and your ability to overcome the challenges that stare you in the face depend on your reflexes. Are you battle ready?
- Change by choice
Keep looking for courses, habits, mentors, teachers and environments that force you to depart from your routine. Those who don’t change during peace, find it very hard during war.
- Travel light
Free your self of the burden of identity (Hindu, Muslim, Punjabi, Tamil, Rajput, Syed) as it comes in the way of learning new ways. Free yourself of ideologies and pet theories as well. These are psychological burdens. Free yourself of excess physical weight too. It is the light of body and mind who can leap really high.
- Build a wide network
This network has to comprise people you have helped. We make the mistake of building networks with the sole purpose of using others to solve our problems. However, the world is a place of give and take. Give to your network through the year. The speed of your response will depend on the friends who are there to support you at the opportune time.
- Embrace creative messiness
Fast reflexes do not ensure perfect responses in any given situation. Expect to fail in part or completely, take stock of the situation and try again. It is easier to be clear when it comes to communicating the virtue of fast reflexes. The art of survival is a much more messy business.
Advantages: Evaluate how the crisis places you in an advantageous position in some ways. It is not all dark out there. Look at the positive face.
- Everybody is clueless
Since nobody has a clue, it is in many ways a level playing field. This could be a situation where the Davids outfox the Goliaths. Size in, fact, comes in the way of handling transition.
- Look for resources at your disposal that can be used to succeed in this situation.
- Look for collaborators who can also benefit from the situation. The future lies with these people. These would be people who would not give you attention if things were not in as bad a shape.
- Use the time to ask yourself if a change of profession/ career/ approach would be in order.
Negatives: Approach the problems that your team is facing due to a disruption/ crisis in a compassionate manner. Awaken your compassion and help the team with the negatives as they impact them.
- Put a bare minimum support program so people are not left without jobs, financial support or emotional compass.
Support culture: Let your team know that you are with them and develop the spirit of ‘we are all in this together’. Crises/ disruptions bring agony in their wake. Knowing that one is not alone, makes a huge difference.
- Create a culture of support like the Tatas that takes care of employees even when a transition is not on the cards.
- Look constantly for ways to create cohesiveness in the team. Celebrate the wins not only of colleagues but their families as well. Felicitate victories, support with scholarships and in various other ways.
Infrastructure: You need infrastructure in place before you undertake transition. In the current scenario, it could mean creation of professional workstations at homes of employees or a work from home SOP.
- Put the technology in place
- Train people for changes that appear on the horizon
- Finance the transition costs in a manner that the team does not feel the pinch and actually welcome the transition.
- Create SOP manuals, security protocols and a clear set of dos and don’ts that will guide team members during and after transition.
Technology: Ensure that your team is tech-aware and up to date with the latest in digital office solutions that can help you make the transition smoother.
- Be abreast of latest technological innovations in your field.
- Have a technology education system in place for your team in place.
- Do not shy of investing in technological innovation because if don’t someone will and you may be rendered useless in a world that has moved on.
- Have a strong technical support team in place. New technology will also throw unprecedented challenges during a transition.
Intelligence: Without data on the nature of disruption, efforts are blind. Keep reading, surfing, reading and listening.
- Know more than your competition
- Study what the best in your field are doing in more advanced markets.
- Always look for customized solutions that keep your society, culture, company ethos and other environmental factors in mind.
- Keep replenishing your library from the best sources like think tanks, universities and thought leaders even if the ideas do not directly pertain your field of work/ expertise.
Openness: Hire people who are open to new learning and acquisition of new skills as an adaptation strategy.
- Be a change leader by changing yourself for the better so others take inspiration from you.
- Be open with the layout of the office. Be on first name terms with every one. Encourage a culture where it is okay to disagree while keeping the language and tone respectful
- Prune the nay sayers and the ones who refuse to learn because in a battle for survival, it is the weakest in the pack who fall first
- Be a great listener. Reward great suggestions so everyone knows that openness is valued.
Nurture: Create work environments that are symbiotic and not parasitic. This is what makes soldiers risk their lives during war at the command of their leaders. How far would your men and women warriors follow you in the truly defining battles of your life?
- Get interested in the people beyond the job roles.
- Walk the extra mile to make life interesting, easier and more fruitful for your people.
- Reward any initiative that is aligned to the values of transition-readiness outlined in this article.
- Develop a sense of loyalty that inspires people to go all out to support you when the time of trial arrives.