There is no doubt that we are in some very challenging times. When your organisation is faced with ambiguity and change that is not within your control, your people will look to you for strength and leadership.

For many of us, how we will respond to the COVID-19 crisis is very much akin to a ‘walk in the fog’ style of project, where we’re unsure of what is to be done and unsure of how to go about doing it.

So how do we navigate a ‘walk in the fog’ and arrive safely to the other side?

Leadership in times of crisis

Effective crisis management requires an organised and directed approach to minimising the negative impacts to the stakeholder community, a focus on getting things done, and forging collaborative effort to delivering outcomes.

However, it’s not about having a pre-defined response plan: Effective leadership is about behaviours and mindsets that will not focus on or overreact to yesterday’s developments, but instead, look ahead.

The recent bushfire tragedies in Australia shows us what good leadership can look like in a crisis. RFS Shane Fitzsimmons has been widely acclaimed for his authenticity and a leader among equals, acknowledging that it is the sum of the parts that make the whole – not any one individual.

So as we are faced with some unprecedented challenges, leaders that adopt the characteristics and structures of successful walk in the fog projects may find that taking their organisations through this crisis is not only manageable but also meaningful in the experience of real and sustained capability uplift in project delivery to the organisation.

We don’t have all the answers

As people look to their leaders for direction and guidance, it’s critical that leaders acknowledge that they do not have all the answers. Authenticity and honesty are paramount in building trust because it is the narrative and behaviours we exhibit as leaders that are critical success factors above all others.

Strong communication is also key: Acknowledging and embracing uncertainty whilst simultaneously keeping a firm grip on the destination (i.e. the outcome you seek) will help leaders to navigate often tricky ground.

What worked before won’t necessarily work now – or in the future. Our people are dealing with a lot of unknowns but what is clear is that there is a ‘new normal’ developing. As consultancy firm KornFerry puts it:

New habits are forming quickly – people are working from home and consuming products and entertainment in very different ways out of necessity. Building a culture that not only tolerates this shift but thrives in it will separate the winners from the losers. This may mean thinking differently about performance and target setting, to keep teams motivated and ensure everyone works collectively for a shared purpose – even when working remotely. It will certainly demand a proactive and empathetic communication response from leaders, who will need to consciously demonstrate the values and behaviours they wish to encourage across the organisation.
Source: A Leader’s Playbook For a Year of Two Halves, KornFerry (2020)

Making hard decisions in a timely and definitive manner is a key feature of walk in the fog projects and it’s paramount.

No good or bad news – just news

As our economic and social dynamics change in response to the challenges of COVID-19, the ability of leaders – and their teams – to be able to assess the criticality of their options will be a vital factor in being able to concentrate on the key strategic issues and not get bogged down in the weeds on operational matters. That is what your teams are there to do.

It is essential, however, to communicate with your teams what information you need to be able to make your decisions.

A critical enabler is a ‘no good or bad news, just news’ policy.  This is not a time when you need only good news – your teams need to be able to feed the relevant information to project leadership so that the right decisions can be made.

Adopting agile thinking for the journey

Another critical enabler of success in walk in the fog projects is the ability to distil the journey into manageable and prioritised, akin to sprints in the Agile world. This will be invaluable as you do not want to progress too far one way only to find you’re heading down the wrong path.

Leveraging small teams rallying around a common cause will not only help deliver on the promise of the outcomes but foster a sense of camaraderie and group purpose in times of real uncertainty. Each small step builds a new capability and value, with the learnings providing direction for the next step in the journey.

A simple example of this is enabling remote workplace working. Adopting and implementing collaborative software rapidly and then bedding it in as a business tool could be a chunk of your response.

Once the fog has cleared this new capability may also become part of the ’new normal’ for your organisation.

Do we stop now – or keep going?

As leaders, it can be difficult to know whether to stop or keep going, because decisions are subjective and need to be made in a collaborative environment of trust. Traditional measures of success such as on-time and on-budget are largely meaningless in the crisis we’re seeing unfold. Consequently, these projects are the realm of strong stakeholder management and require a clear and shared understanding of value.

Walk in the fog projects thrive on innovation and creativity. Encouraging and supporting the team with an innovation culture will also be a key driver of success. As we move our teams to work in the cloud, an example of how to capture that ingenuity might be the introduction of virtual Kanban boards for the business so all the teams can visualise what is happening – this becomes more powerful when the team are dispersed.

Keeping the horizon in sight

There is little doubt that we are walking into the dense fog at this point, however, it is vital to keep in mind that this crisis will end. The impacts may be far-reaching, and we may all find that on the other side there is indeed a ‘new normal’.

However, when we ensure that our people understand what we need as leaders and we collaborate with our teams as we navigate through the fog, we are bringing them along on the journey. And that ensures that we are better prepared to walk out the other side ready for what lies ahead.

As project specialists, we work with our clients to deliver the best outcomes for their projects and programs.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...