VirtualCrisis
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  Creating a Virtual Crisis

The Gentle Art of Provoking Change

Tom FitzGerald


Knowing what to do is easy. Making your people WANT to do it is the real challenge.

In this time when change is the only constant, in this period when even the nature of change is changing and the pace of change is accelerating, when there is need for ever more rapid adaptation, when business is that which leads and drives the pace of change, humanity remains defiantly the same: Reluctant to change; accepting of it only under duress; desiring to slow it to a standstill. And in this environment, between the horns of accelerating change and the human instinct for stasis, a CEO must exercise leadership. For without this leadership there will be no business.

It seems impossible, that this very real dilemma can be resolved. Perhaps short term it is understandable, in the face of crisis. But long term? Year after year? That seems impossible. Yet that is what is needed now, the skill of catalysing change, of provoking change, of making people want to change. And do so time and again. Without burning others out or being burned out.

It can happen. It does happen. Some few have this gift by birth. But every CEO, everyone who manages or leads or hopes to, must master it. It is the second of the five great, cardinal, skills of successful managers.

So, how can one do it? How can one learn? Fortunately, it is not too very difficult. Most of us have within us that skill, at least in nascent form. And it can be understood. It can be evoked. It can be mastered.

For most of us, who must learn through the mind, there are clues to be found in the ordinary world of crisis, and they are known to all:

1 Crisis simplifies politics;

2 crisis gives us energy;

3 crisis is the mother of invention;

4 crisis makes us pull together - out of the crisis;

5 the defeated - witness Germany and Japan - come back the strongest.

So, can we contrive a crisis?

Of course! Sometimes your books will allow you to accelerate some write-offs and declare an emergency, announce retrenchment, get everyone's attention. (Beware: unless you own the company this can become an actual crisis for you.) But this crisis, now real, traumatizes everyone at all levels of the company. The innocent and the responsible. A huge amount of energy is generated by fear and erupts destructively and mindlessly throughout the company. But some is left for you to work with at the senior levels. And you can use it there to make the change you need; for all real change must come from the top.

But this is not an economic way to do it. Nor is it ever safe. By far the better way is to create a Virtual Crisis©. One that is focused only upon those who must change and generate change in others.

So let's define this Virtual Crisis.

It is based on truth.

It is focused only on the management team.

It is safe for all.

It simplifies politics.

It generates as much energy as a genuine crisis for the people who experience it.

It radically exposes the real performance drivers of the company to its managers.

It forces true acceptance of what is - as well as understanding.

It causes intense discharge of emotional energy.

It allows energy to be focused in a new direction, invested in a new vision.

It leads to immediate action.

It is remarkably easy to create a Virtual Crisis. Management teams seem to know how to generate them themselves, with a little help from you, the CEO. There are just a few steps:

First, create a safe, emotional place for your management team.

Second, surface the real drivers of corporate performance. Almost always these are found within the emotional life of the company, especially near the top. Questionnaires, geared for management, are available for this.

Third, cajole, force, insist and persist until the management team, individually and as a whole, addresses these at the emotional level and reacts, lets loose the energies of revulsion.

Fourth, invest these energies in a new direction, a new vision.

Fifth, take action.

A real business crisis creates havoc. And even companies that survive and flourish in the long term are weakened in the short term. And few can stand a second crisis in a single year.

But Virtual Crises, when done properly, are very different. They energize, refresh. And can be repeated in a quarter or so. And some CEOs who have really mastered the techniques can focus them, not only in the teams but on the issues and generate a process of continuous and proactive adaptation.

Mastery does take time and watching someone do it first is helpful. But all that is really needed to begin is a managing officer who wants success and has the courage to make his managers look deep into the heart of the company and not flee.

© Copyright, Fitzgerald Associates, www.managementconsultants.com
 All rights reserved. Revised: August 9, 2006
 

 

Tom FitzGerald has personally consulted with more than two hundred organizations, his articles have appeared more than a hundred times in magazines around the world.  

 
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Last Updated:  January 04, 2017 14:21 -0000