Learning from one inspiring example of how to navigate the current crisis.
What can we learn from the various ways companies navigate the covid-19 pandemic and the tremendous challenges that result from this crisis? Companies have chosen very different approaches, from “hunker down and wait for dawn” to “be bold and seek out the opportunities”. The contrasting approaches provide valuable insights. This article extracts lessons from one inspiring case study. [Reading time: 4-5 min]
On May 6th, 2020, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings warned that there is “substantial doubt” about its ability to continue as a “going concern”*. The cruise industry has, of course, been hit extremely hard by the covid-19 pandemic, with revenue rapidly dropping to zero. Adding insult to injury, the industry has been hit with substantial costs associated with repatriating crew who were stuck on ships all over the world – severely constrained by travel restrictions.
While all companies in the travel and transportation and the hospitality industries have been adversely affected, some leaders have demonstrated great courage, foresight and optimism in their approach. HospitalityCo, a global company in the hospitality industry, took an inspiring approach that may hold lessons for others.
When the crisis arose and contagion started to spread around the world, a key topic of discussion in the C-suite was: “Where is the opportunity?” While not perfect, the approach chosen by leadership was balanced, yet bold. Rapidly HospitalityCo’s top team agreed on a five-pronged approach:
1: Preserve cash based on discipline and clear principles
To increase flexibility, the leadership team scrutinized expenditures and cut costs where possible – without damaging the brand or the reputation of the company. In some cases, eliminating waste was simple. Upon careful investigation a number of expenditures were deemed mere “nice to have” and were cut. Eliminating bonuses and reducing pay for executives was also relatively straight-forward. On other fronts the decisions were harder. Furloughing people required careful deliberation. But with a disciplined, principles-based approach the top team succeeded in markedly cutting costs, thereby providing a longer period before financial distress might set in, and providing freedom to pursue new opportunities.
2: Establish new revenue streams by leveraging existing assets
The complement to cost cutting was, naturally, the quest for new revenue streams. Leveraging its assets, including a strong brand, a loyal customer base, a great network in the industry and loads of creativity, the company brainstormed new revenue generating opportunities. In this work there were ‘no bad ideas’ in the early days. And with an encouraging atmosphere, employees at many levels pitched in with their ideas. A diligent process of vetting, filtering and prioritizing followed, and several of these ideas are now being implemented. They will not restore revenue to its pre-crisis level, but new offerings will keep customers engaged and will – again – extend the runway before any discussion about the ‘going concern’ assumption arises.
3: Strengthen individual leadership capabilities
The two sets of actions touched on above are classical. The leadership of HospitalityCo went beyond this and launched three additional initiatives that would strengthen the organization and build a robust platform for post-crisis success. The first of these focused on individual leaders. Each senior leader was given a leadership assessment and was invited – on the back of the insights from the assessment – to articulate the shifts they wanted to bring about in their own mindsets and behaviors. Leaders were provided with a personal coach to help them interpret the assessment, articulate bold shifts and work on making these shifts reality. The leaders were struck by the strategic approach taken by the top team. This investment in individual capability building in the midst of the pandemic was highly inspiring to the team, and they engaged with gusto.
4: Strengthen collective leadership capacity
In addition to strengthening individual leadership capabilities, HospitalityCo also launched an initiative to strengthen collective leadership capacity. This included deepening trust among leaders, strengthening their ability to navigate through conflict, increasing commitment, strengthening accountability and increasing their focus on results. The collective leadership development took the form of a series of webinars, as everyone was working from home by the time this effort started. Topics covered included developing strategy, solving problems, building and deepening trust, managing performance, and giving feedback. Very quickly the team developed a new shared vocabulary, shared frameworks and a higher level of expectations of one another. Perhaps the crisis put particular emphasis on the need to act on the new learning, not just listen, absorb and learn. At any rate, mindsets and behaviors both evolved favorably in the course of the first two months of investment in this area.
5: Strengthen the organization to prepare for the rebound
The third of three strategic initiatives was to strengthen the organization. This involved clarifying roles and responsibilities, re-designing the organization to make it more customer-oriented, strengthening performance management, articulating a clearer collaboration model and making improvements in all functional areas, from Marketing through Sales, to Operations. The leadership team was better equipped to improve the performance of their respective functional areas given the investment that had been made to boost their individual and collective leadership capabilities. In each area the unit head set bold new targets for their area and laid out a detailed plan to achieve these new targets. The work is in progress now. The prevailing ethos is clear: “We must not waste this crisis. This unique period when our customer-facing work is reduced is a golden opportunity to make improvements that have long been pending”. The sense of urgency is palpable.
No one knows when the world will return to something close-to-normal. The current pause may be relatively short, and this chance to invest and improve will, in hindsight, be seen as a very special opportunity. HospitalityCo’s approach may inspire us to balance tactical and strategic initiatives to make the most out of the crisis.
*Source of the quote on Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/news/nclh-liquidity-warning/
It gives us great pleasure to share with our network of clients, suppliers and partners that we are moving into new offices in Hong Kong. With growing headcount, we are happy to move into a larger space that is also more central.
Our new office location is in
AIA CENTRAL, 1 CONNAUGHT RD CENTRAL.
The move will be effective end of May, but today we already had a small celebration in our new premises to mark the upgrade. Everyone present enjoyed the company and the spectacular view of Victoria Harbor.
Should you be in the area, do stop by and say hello.
Once social distancing rules are relaxed, we shall organize a proper reception to celebrate the move.
It gives us great pleasure to share with our network of clients, partners and friends that we have expanded into Mainland China and established an office in Shanghai with the office lead already on board.
While we have successfully been serving a growing number of clients in Mainland China over the past several years, local presence brings another level of closeness to the Chinese business environment and to our clients.
Especially at this time of serious travel restrictions, having a physical presence in Mainland China is important to us. It will allow us to serve our clients in China more consistently and predictably, without regard to quarantine regulations and other, related constraints.
Thomas Huang will be heading up our office in Shanghai. Together, our two offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai will continue to serve our clients in Greater China and beyond in the areas of leadership development, organizational transformation and strategy consulting services.
Agnus Consulting is pleased to welcome our newest member Parcae Sin, who has joined the team as a Leadership Development Analyst. Parcae will play a key role in supporting clients to develop and strengthen their leadership capabilities by designing, managing and delivering leadership development programs.
Before joining Agnus Consulting, Parcae led various experiential learning, team building and leadership development activities for teenagers. He also brings professional experience from project management, event planning, business development, digital marketing and private equity investment. Having long been passionate about inspiring and motivating individuals and teams to unleash their potential, Parcae is now joining Agnus Consulting to support leaders and organizations in their transformational journeys.
Parcae is an outgoing, enthusiastic and self-motivated learner. Because of his passion and empathy, he is regarded as a highly motivating and trustworthy leader by his peers. In his free time, Parcae loves leading camps for children to foster their development through experiential learning and outdoor adventures.
Please join us in welcoming Parcae to the team!
We are pleased to welcome our newest member Thomas Huang. Thomas is our first hire in Mainland China; he will be based in Shanghai. He will be responsible for leading projects that solve complex business issues through leadership development, organizational transformation and innovative strategies. Thomas started his career in strategy consulting at Accenture and ECON where he designed strategies, performed foresight analysis and facilitated organizational transformation programs within the oil and gas, renewables, utilities, telecom, and media industries in the Nordic countries. Since then, Thomas has worked in various roles as a consultant, business leader and tech entrepreneur. Most recently, he served as Managing Director China at Rainpower, a leading Norwegian energy company. Thomas is characterized by an analytical and creative mind, a tremendous drive for impact, and a passion for helping individuals, teams, and organizations unlock their potential, thrive in challenging circumstances, and grow. Thomas lives in Shanghai with his wife, daughter, and the cat Billy. He enjoys hiking and reading, and plays the violin semi-professionally, doing gigs on his own or with other musicians. Please join us in welcoming Thomas to the team!
Agnus Consulting is pleased to welcome our newest member Melody Ruan, who has joined the team as a Senior Leadership Consultant. In this role, Melody will support clients to develop and strengthen their leadership capabilities by designing, delivering and managing leadership development programs and workshops, and coaching leaders.
Before joining Agnus Consulting, Melody served in a number of leadership positions, focusing on strategy and finance. Most recently she was Vice President, Innovation and Capital Markets, at Fullerton Health, leading digital transformation initiatives. Melody switched her focus to leadership development after she discovered her passion for developing leaders. She combines a profound curiosity about life with a deep belief in the inherent potential of people to lead fulfilling lives, and to build effective teams and organizations that create great business value. Melody is a passionate learner and enjoys reading, fitness and music. She is an avid scuba diver, having dived in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Maldives and Palau. “Blue Christmas” has been her ritual in recent years, having spent the four past Christmas vacations scuba diving.
Please join us in welcoming Melody to the team!
We are inspired and excited to continue our collaboration with Generation, as part of our overall social outreach program. Yesterday we conducted a session where we shared our insights with students from Generation and worked with them to help them strengthen their presence in job interviews and in daily interactions. We introduced two approaches to strengthen personal presence – “outside-in” and “inside-out”.
The “outside-in” approach suggests that some ‘power poses’ – like stretching our body or resting our hands on our hips, can make us feel more confident, calm, and composed when interacting with others.
The “inside-out” approach highlights the importance of being aware of our thoughts and mindsets, which often influence the way we act. In particular, it is important to be aware of limiting assumptions or less helpful mindsets and to get these under control.
We conducted several fun and interactive exercises with students where they practiced these two approaches. After the session, one student shared: “I find the inside-out approach very powerful as it allows me to get clearer on my intention and helps me to express it.”
A big “Thank You” to Generation for giving us the chance to engage with students in this way. We also want to thank the participants for their great engagement.
Many organizations are making a bet on digital transformation. The harsh reality is that around 70% of transformation programs fail. Every sponsor and program leader must understand the critical success factors of transformation to tilt the odds in their favour. Our Managing Director, Tor Mesoy, delivered the opening keynote address at the Chief Digital Officer Innovation Summit in Singapore and shared his perspective on what increases the success rate of transformations. The following videos give you an extract of the speech about three real transformation cases and the four success factors.
Sharing three real transformation stories:
Introducing four success factors of transformations:
If you are interested to explore more on transformation and leadership development, please feel free to reach out.
By Lucy Qian.
Recently I coached Annie (to protect confidentiality, a different name is used) on an issue that she had been wrestling with for years. When she began to talk, she rapidly burst into tears. But after a short while I was thrilled when she walked out of the session with a big sense of release, feeling positive and appreciative.
As I reflected on our coaching conversation, one particular moment stood out for me. As Annie described her situation, I noticed she was torn between her competing needs. On the one hand, she wished she could see changes happen in her extended family members so that they could manage conflicts with one another in a more peaceful manner. On the other hand, she loved her family so much that she wanted to accept as they were. She was anxious, as she thought these needs could not co-exist and as though she had to make a choice of which one to address. I asked her to swap seats with me. When she sat in my seat, I asked her to talk to the part of her that was desperate for a change in her family members. After that, I asked her to swap back and talk to the other part of her, the one that wanted to hold unconditional positive regard for her family. As she spoke, she slowed down and looked as if she was talking to another person. As I was about to ask a question, she stood up, walked over to the wall, leant against it, and started talking to “both parts of herself”. This time she was calmer. It seemed as if the physical distance she had secured by leaving her seat had given her a completely new perspective. She seemed less engrossed in her own problems, but was able to contemplate them “from the outside”. As she finished, I noticed an emerging smile on her face; she seemed content and peaceful. She shared later that it was from that moment she felt she was in control of her situation.
This experience reminded me of a leadership concept introduced by Ronald Heifetz – “balcony and dance floor”. As a leader, your effectiveness depends on your ability to observe and synthesize a complex set of signs and data that are often conflicting. You must be attuned to what is most important, what is at stake, what your team really needs, and what is emerging. An important strategy to stay on top of those undercurrents is to periodically step back from your need to do something and assess your attachment to results. Instead, picture yourself leaving the “dance floor” where you are busy with action, and “getting on the balcony”, so that you can observe the action, your team and yourself. Just as in the coaching example: getting on the balcony helped Annie gain perspective in the midst of her competing needs. Achieving some distance from her struggle and engaging with the two different parts of her allowed new insights and solutions to emerge. Your ability as a leader to gain perspective on a challenging situation allows you to connect with the root cause with greater ease.
However, as a leader, not only do you need to get on the balcony yourself, you also need to help your team do it, from time to time. You may say that this might be easier if you were a professional coach. It actually does not require you to be an expert in coaching. Success hinges in preparation, and you can prepare in four simple ways.
Your intention determines where your focus is. When team members come to you with a problem, as a leader, if your intention is to solve the problem for them, you will naturally focus on the drama and the details within the problem. However, if you intend to develop their ability to solve problems, you will focus on the person: his or her motivation and needs, mindsets and perspectives, strengths and resources. When you focus on the problem, you encourage your team remain on the dance floor. When you help them focus on their vision and strategies, and help them identify their own solutions, you direct your team to get on the balcony.
Honest, open questions expand rather than restrict self-exploration. They do not push or even nudge people toward a particular way of framing a situation. They should come from a desire to support the other’s self-exploration, rather than from a need to fix a situation or a person. Through asking honest, open questions, you help your team to get some distance from the challenging situation in order to gain perspective, just as in the coaching example in the beginning. Such questions are not that difficult to ask, when you set your intention well. Here are some examples: “What will success look like for you in this project?”, “How will you know when you have achieved your goal?”, “How can you build on what is already working?”.
In his book Theory U: leading from the future as it emerges, Otto Scharmer introduces four levels of listening. He describes the deepest level as “generative listening” where you are connected to “something larger than yourself” and sense the “highest future possibility that can emerge”. When you access this level of listening, you are working at the systems level. You treat every statement someone makes as a signal from the whole system that is trying to grab your attention. With this mindset, you are able to get some distance from the issues or complaints your team brings to you. You resist the temptation to know every detail of the issues. As you filter the noise, you increase the chance of hearing what your team really thinks, what their perspectives are, their strengths and areas of development, the signals about the system, etc. It is your genuine interest and curiosity about your team, instead of your curiosity about the issue, that lift them from the dance floor and raise them to the balcony.
Many people are not comfortable with silence. In conversations, they feel that they have to say something in order to feel that they are contributing. As a leader, it is good for you to get comfortable with silence. You may want to acknowledge that it is an important way to “be with someone”. What’s more important, creating the moment of stillness in conversations gives your team a chance to step up on the balcony, think clearly, and identify meaningful actions. It is difficult for them to access a balcony view if you struggle with the urge to fill the silence in the conversation.
So, next time you prepare for a coaching conversation or any other important conversation with your team, do four things:
These four steps will build your capacity to get your team on the balcony when it is most valuable.
(Note: The details of the coaching session described at the start of the article have been altered to protect confidentiality.)
By Yan Liu.
Our team finished the Level I leadership development programme with Potentialife. As we review and prepare for Level II, we received our team statistics on the five SHARP areas: Strength, Health, Absorption, Relationships, Purpose.
We are well above the global average in many areas such as using our strengths, having a sense of purpose… But, to our surprise, we scored below average in terms of physical activity, during the week we were logging our daily activities. Maybe that happened to be a week where most of us need to sit a lot for meetings, write, think … instead of needing to move a lot… Still, it was a good reminder of the importance of physical activity.
Spurred by this low score, my colleague Claire and I moved the venue of our regular catchup from our office to a 2-hour hiking route in Lung Fu Shan. We covered all the topics we planned, and went back to office with sore muscles, energised for the remaining of the day. I certainly well exceeded my daily exercising target!
We liked this experiment a lot. We plan to move more meetings to mountains, gardens, play grounds… You are most welcome to join us while we try out more venues in nature 🙂
What do you do to keep yourself and your team physically active?