CASE STUDY – Recovering after the Unthinkable

CASE STUDY – Recovering after the Unthinkable

  CASE STUDY – Recovering after the Unthinkable

It had been the jewel in the crown, and then came the announcement: Harry’s unit was up for sale. With no warning or explanation, the brutal news hit them like a knife thrust they could not avoid. It hit the intranet at the same time as it hit the press. The impact was immediate and inevitable. Everyone around him looked at each other incredulously. “How could they do this to us? And in this way? Our results are good. We bust our guts for this! … ” It seemed impossible, and yet there it was! Within the space of a few minutes, and with a few words, all Harry’s certainties, and those of his team, had been reduced to nothing. All their plans—investment, product development, client loyalty…—had suddenly become irrelevant. All those future possibilities they had designed with their well-crafted presentations and action plans appeared to have been swept aside by the wave of a hand. The disappointment—even some anger—was palpable.. Many felt betrayed, dispossessed: “What are we going to get up in the morning for, now? How could they have told us, even last month, that we were the best, that our unit was important for them and for the group, that we had excellent results, and that they really appreciated our motivation? And today they make this announcement without the slightest warning!” Everyone began to look for something to hang onto so as not to go under. “Maybe it’s a mistake… They can’t really be selling us to a competitor, can they?” Harry wanted to tell them: “No, things will turn out alright, I’ll soon be back with some good news.” But without wanting to admit it to himself, he knew he could not give them any guarantees. He was no longer in control. The decision had been taken without him, however difficult it was for him to stomach it as the head of the unit. The blow seemed so much harsher in that no one had seen it coming. A reorganization had been mentioned, but not to that extent! They had only given him a few short minutes’ head start over his teams to prepare himself, process the shock, and recover. When Harry came to see me, barely a few hours after the announcement, he fluctuated between anger, bewilderment and the desire to do something extraordinary to demonstrate to those who had made the decision that they were wrong, and should not have taken it. Harry took advantage of the neutral space I offered him to express his anger. The fact that this anger masked his feeling of powerlessness was palpably obvious—that feeling of bewilderment we have when we are faced with a situation where we have no leverage, a situation that has been imposed on us from outside, irrespective of whether we are a leader or not! I was listening to him, and watching him compassionately for the moment when, between the lines, I could spot the tipping point that constitutes an acknowledgement, however partial, of what was inevitable, and that enables a person to recover, however slightly.
Finally the moment came. Harry laid down his arms for a few seconds, and as he did so he looked towards me for the strength to let go. During those few short seconds, he stopped trying to demonstrate to me that things could still change. As he felt my unconditional acceptance, he admitted that he was not in a position to believe, or to ask others to believe, that the decision could be reversed. That would only complicate matters. It was then that something wonderful happened inside him. Though he could not change the decision that had been taken thousands of miles away by a small group of people without any prior consultation, he realized that he could still influence the way the decision was implemented, and even before that, influence the way the decision would be perceived by his teams and by the future owners. At that precise moment, Harry found a new mission for himself, even if by definition it was a temporary one. At the very heart of total uncertainty, he realized that he could still be a lighthouse in the thickest of fogs, the one who shows his teams the North Star so that they can rediscover a sense of purpose in their daily lives and find the strength to go forward. Harry decided to set up a workshop with his top team. He allowed each member to take a step back to recover their inner integrity and the motivation they needed to follow through their action plan, temporary though it inevitably was. Together, they journeyed. Together they arrived at the same conclusion: “The business must go on as usual, and each and every one, to the very end, should be able to feel proud of what they had contributed right to the finish.” Together, they even decided to set an ambition for themselves: that their unit would be the one to integrate the most successfully out of all those that were being sold. His top team thus assigned themselves the job of making the transition, which no one else had asked them to do. They also set their own objectives. This ambition revealed itself to be a safe stronghold during a time of uncertainty and high winds, and became a stable reference point that led the teams safely back to port, where they docked at their new destination.

[1] I have altered names in order to preserve anonymity, but maintained the essential aspects of their experience.

TO DEEPEN THIS THIRD COLLECTIVE LEADER® ‘S KEY HABIT


– FIRST KEY HABIT –
Uncertainty, I will accept

– FIRST KEY HABIT –
Uncertainty, I will accept

– FIRST KEY HABIT –
Uncertainty, I will accept

–SECOND KEY HABIT–
My Strengths and Weaknesses,
I will Known

TO GO FURTHER – NEXT KEY HABIT


Copyright Paule Boffa-Comby – ReThink & LEAD

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