Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What to do now, Part V

This is the final post in a five part series on What to do now? as our economic crisis deepens. You can see Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV if you need to catch up.

In this final post, we'll look at a list of leadership questions. As the leader of your organization in a crisis, you have to make sure you're doing the best possible job of leading, not just being there. Here's my leadership checklist.

1. Am I asking the hard questions?
You need to be asking questions such as these: "Am I looking at all possibilities, even those I don't want to contemplate, such as merger, closing a program, laying off staff? Am I questioning things that have been assumed for years, like our business model, or if there's another nonprofit that can do what we do better in this situation?" These are hard, hard questions, but in a crisis, everything is on the table to keep producing mission.

2. Do I have the information I need?
Probably not enough of it, or as much as you would like.....and here's the rub: you need to share information, ask everyone their opinion (see below) but then it's your job to decide--remember in the last posting I said you needed "drop dead dates" after which you act? Well, waiting for "just a little more information" is often the death of organizations in crisis. Get as much information and input as you can, but on deadline day--decide.

3. Am I sharing information widely?
John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco has this great line---"No one of us is as smart as all of us." While I cautioned you earlier to only share what you KNOW, not what you THINK, getting as much input into your key decisions as possible will only help. Don't take all the responsibility on yourself. Ask for others' ideas.

4. If staff take a pay cut, am I taking a bigger one?
In some cases, you may go to staff and ask for everyone to take a 5 or 10 or 15% pay cut to save jobs. If that happens (and it's really tricky) and you possibly can, take a bigger cut yourself. I know everyone is in a different place financially, but the leadership value of this is unbelievable. And here's the best part: Don't tell anyone. Why? In most organizations, they'll figure it out. And if they don't you'll know what you did, and it will help assuage the guilt most ED's feel when they ask people who are already probably underpaid to take even less. Think about this.

5. Am I putting mission first?
As I said when we started this series, surviving a financial crisis is not about having the least change, the lowest job loss, the smallest disruption...it's about providing the most high quality mission possible AND coming out of the other end of the crisis in the best shape possible to continue doing that. I often hear boards or ED's say---"No matter what, we don't want layoffs". Well, neither do I, but if 80% of your expenses are related to your staff......

Mission first. Use it as your beacon, your rallying cry, your ultimate metric.

6. Am I listening to everyone?
Remember John Chambers, and then remember this: There's a big difference between listening and waiting your turn to talk. Get out among your staff, let them have opportunities to talk, share, ask questions, and focus on them. Don't be checking your crackberry, or gazing off into space. Listen. They need that now, and guess what? You might hear a great idea!

7. Am I taking care of the leader?
It's really easy to stop exercising, or eating right, or sleeping at night. Although it may seem egotistical and self-centered in a crisis--you have to take care of you. That's a decision that can save your mission--so schedule you time, however it works the best. For me, in the two horrible financial upheavals I've gone through, what helped me was always one of two things-going for a run and being able to clear my head, or spending time with my kids, and having to focus on them. What works for you?

Use this checklist as you work your organization through the coming months. It will help you make sure you're doing the best you can in a tough, tough time.

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