BRIDGING THE GAP
'Khun Tada, I envy you. Your company has done well."
"I wish I could say I was pleased, Khun Kriengsak. The thing is, I'm worried."
"Why is that?"
"Our business has been successful for the past three years. This year looks even more promising. I think we can achieve our business targets easily. But my teams are new. They're young and inexperienced because we promoted them faster than usual due to the fast growth we've been experiencing.
"But we know that there's no guarantee for smooth growth. We will face some threats. I worry that when that time arrives, my teams may not be ready to cope with adversity."
"Because we've been trapped in our comfort zone too long. You know, it's like any sport _ when you get too comfortable, you have a tendency to be complacent and lazy. You don't practice as much. Once you meet with a tough opponent, you lose easily."
"That makes sense, Khun Tada. What do you plan to do to prevent that from happening in your business?"
"I have to start with the leadership teams first. People who report to me must understand this, but they're inexperienced."
"What kind of experience are you talking about?"
"From my experience, after the growth stage we'll enter a mature stage, but sometimes a business goes directly from growth to decline."
"In your case, what would be the likely scenario?"
"We could fall into the decline stage easily."
"What are the implications for your employees?"
"There are some common themes in the decline stage _ we have to be very tight about cost controlling, downsize a significant number of our workforce and change our organisational culture."
"Which one is the most difficult for them to handle?"
"Laying people off would be really hard for them. The only experience they have is hiring new staff to meet the demands of growth."
"How can you create an experience that they can learn from?"
Tada thinks for a minute and says, "Coach, I'll call an urgent meeting on Monday morning for my six direct reports. I will make up a scenario but won't tell them it's made up. I want them to think it's real.
"The scenario is that we will merge with our main competitor in three months. We have to terminate half of our staff. Among those who will have to leave, how many could find a job easily? How many of them would be unlikely to find new jobs? Once they come up with the answers. I will tell them that it was just a drill. Then I'll follow up by asking them to think about the people they identified as being unlikely to find new jobs. How would we plan to help them if we had to lay them off?"
"That's a good plan, Khun Tada. What else do you think you could do to help them learn more?"
"I think I will bring them to visit two companies that have already been through a similar experience. Do you have any suggestions about companies we could learn from?"
"Khun Tada, you might want to look at the potential companies you already have good relationships with such as one of the subsidiaries of your holding company, your suppliers, your allies, your bankers or your key customers."
"I have an idea, Coach."
"Good, Khun Tada. Now you have a simulation meeting and two site visits. What else could you do?"
"After all these activities, I will organise a workshop. From that workshop, we'll develop a transformation plan for each department."
"Khun Tada, you already have a good plan. Putting it into action is the next step. I always like to recall the words of Col Tom Kolditz, the former head of behavioural sciences at West Point: 'No plan survives contact with the enemy.' In your case, what could go wrong?"
"I think the simulation meeting has some potential loopholes _ some people may not come, some may have another engagement and leave before the end, and some just may not believe in the idea.
"For the first two, I will insist this is a serious meeting and that full participation to the end is mandatory. I plan to use only three hours, but I'll inform them it's a four-hour meeting.
"For the last group, to make the simulation believable I'll hire a friend to pose as a financial adviser who has helped me to do due diligence for the 'merger'. He's retired now, but financial advisory was his career, so he'll be very credible. He will leave the meeting right after his presentation.
"For the company visits, I'll select an advertising agency and a stationery supplier. We have a very good relationship with them. I will discuss this with their chief executives to ensure we really do learn best practices as well as mistakes that we should avoid."
Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
- Writer: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai