SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19: Part 3 "Awareness"

Eileen Brown, co-author of Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution, is writing a brand new blog series on the UTP blog called "SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19." In last week's post, Eileen discussed the concept of executional “rhythm," and why organizations need to be proactive to deal with unexpected demands during the coronavirus pandemic.

In her third installment of the series, Eileen addresses the subject of ‘awareness’ – the third and final lever in the foundation of the sustainable execution model featured in her book.

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Officials are warning us that now is the time that we will be experiencing some of the pandemic’s worst numbers – very sobering information. There is no more important time than now when we need to execute flawlessly together.

As difficult as it is to deal with the facts of this pandemic and watch the tragedy of it all unfold on the daily news, it is more difficult not to watch. Being aware helps us to hone our judgement to make better decisions about our own behaviours and actions. Awareness helps us to understand the "why" behind decisions and improves our motivation to comply.

At the press conferences every day we see the government leaders being pressed by the media for transparency and awareness. Awareness has to start at the very top in order to make it acceptable for everyone else in the organization. Those leaders and organizations that execute best, embrace the need for awareness and transparency – they do not penalize people for speaking their mind; they do not "shoot the messengers" or squelch those who identify concerns; they are not afraid to hear and answer the tough questions; and they are not fearful of being accessible to others.

Engagement:

In Canada I believe our leaders have done a good job of engaging Canadians to fight this war against the COVID-19 virus by communicating on a scheduled cadence of press conferences – asking for citizen’s co-operation with passion and commitment to justify and motivate behavioural changes. Communication has been simple, clear, and repetitive – go home and stay home. Requests were made in an incremental sequence of increasingly stringent guidelines that Canadians could comprehend and with which they could effectively cope on a progressive timeline.

At the provincial level, the progression was made from school closures (which got people focused on day care arrangements) and the limitation of visitors at hospitals and long-term care facilities, to social distancing and working from home, to closure of non-essential businesses, public spaces and prohibition of gatherings, all the way to tightening of non-essential services and increased focus on nursing homes. It was a three week journey to lead people through the behavioural changes required, and ensure the engagement and compliance of all stakeholders.  I do believe that the majority of all Canadians received consistent messaging and are indeed fully engaged. These basic principles are applicable to all organizations. Ensuring awareness through the engagement of all available resources is fundamental to developing successful and sustainable execution capabilities.

Objectivity:

I can’t think of anyone more dependent on execution than the Commander of a naval air craft carrier. The lives of not only pilots, but everyone on the ship, are dependent on seamless and precise execution by every single person every day. The Commander’s ability to follow protocol and orders would have to be well proven to achieve that position. They cannot afford any level of confusion, misunderstandings, delays, or skepticism when it comes to decision-making. In the military, I would expect that objectivity in decision-making would be the rule. This is why it was such a departure to see navy Commander Crozier forfeit his career by breaking ranks to save the health and lives of his crew affected by COVID-19. It was clear why he made the decision to broadly share information when he felt it was necessary. His crew understood and gave him a cheering ovation upon his departure. We will likely never fully be privy to the reason behind the navy’s decision to relieve him of his duties or whether that decision was made objectively, but the public’s sentiment was certainly supportive of Commander Crozier’s decision. Objectivity builds trust because people understand how decisions are made and can see that the process is fair, unbiased, and predictable. Trust is essential to driving long-term results through sustainable execution.

Isolation:

It was interesting to see Canada’s federal government set up a warehouse in China to help ensure the reliable flow of shipments of critical medical supplies from Chinese suppliers. By utilizing local resources to expedite orders and secure product, the language and time zone barriers were eliminated, and there is better calibration with cultural and geographic norms. Who better to negotiate on our behalf, than residents who understand the nuances of the country? Such an approach combats isolation by breaking down the geographic silos. The local resources’ familiarity with the environment in which they are working should give them an advantage when it comes to building co-operative and collaborative supplier relationships and creative solutions to establish a reliable supply chain. Barriers that isolate any part of the organization impact the level of awareness and the overall ability to execute.

Insularity:

A poignant example of an insularity barrier, was the US President’s directive to prohibit shipments of medical supplies, specifically N95 masks, outside of the US borders. Was he aware that Canada provides the pulp that is the raw material for the masks? If Canada retaliated, production of all masks might have been impacted. Also, over a thousand healthcare workers live in the Windsor area and travel over the border on a daily basis, risking their lives to fight Covid-10 in Michigan’s healthcare system. Some countries might have prohibited these workers from crossing the border until they got the masks. In times of stress, it is human nature to want to ‘circle the wagons’ to protect your own agenda. However directing a global company to over-ride the ethical processing of its order backlog could be risky in this situation. Canada made the decision not to retaliate but instead work through the established processes to achieve resolution. The ethical or political debate is not the point I am trying to highlight. Instead, the message is about self-awareness: it is important to contemplate the reasons behind your decisions. Do you have deep-rooted or myopic perspectives that are preventing you from being open to properly assess risks and consider relevant new information? Personal agendas have the ability to warp decision-making and result in debates and confusion that create extra stress, consume valuable time, but most importantly cause an enormous level of distraction that impacts the execution effectiveness of all involved.

Awareness, both across the organization and relative to your own motives, is a differentiator in building sustainable execution in your organization. You can get by with just structure and rhythm, but allowing the difficult discussions and letting go of personal biases, is the lever that sets apart those who are the best at execution.

Now that we have discussed the three levers of execution, in the next installment of the blog, I will address the various shifts that can be deployed to orchestrate the three levers to improve execution, as described in our book, Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution.

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Click here to find out more about Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution.