Seven days ago Hutchison Ports advised 97 workers via a midnight text and a confirming email that their services were no longer required. Of course this is going to cause major upset to those who no longer have jobs, however, the way this was done has astonished everyone. Many of my colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief that something like this is still occurring in the 21st century.
Ours is not to question the decision; those leading Hutchison Ports will have a business case and full context for the decision they had to implement and would certainly have been aware of the impact reducing their workforce by 40% will have. The question is not what was done but how it was done.
It’s in the face of implementing challenging and unpopular decisions like this that brave leadership is called for. Brave leadership is acting on what we need to do, regardless of the fear we might have. The operative word is acting; part of acting is thinking critically as leaders about how others are impacted and how they will feel.
For brave leadership here some essentials that must be present:
- Trust: Leadership is first and foremost about trust; without it there is no foundation on which to build. The midnight text action caused any level of trust workers had to be wiped out in an instant. The challenge for the leaders now is how they rebuild trust with the remaining workers when this situation is resolved.
- Perspective is essential: a clear understanding of the context, boundaries, and limitations within which you are operating and about to take action is required, and need to be critically assessed.
- Empathy: High self-awareness is needed to understand your own personal values and those of your organisation, as values are critical in guiding a leader’s action, particularly during those times when action is required under extreme pressure and that as a leader you know will adversely impact others.
- Choice Not Circumstance: In initiating action leaders realise they have choices to make. Actions that leaders find themselves taking cannot be blamed on the prevailing circumstances, actions taken are based on the choices leaders take in response to the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- Communication: Brave leaders apply the five C’s of communication
- Cause and Effect. Leaders must consider what their message will cause people to do and as a result what the effect will be. There seems to have been little application of ‘cause and effect’ thinking in this case.
- Consultation. If the media reports are to be believed it would seem that the leaders did not consult widely. Wider consultation increases decision effectiveness.
- Co-ordinate. Once the message was agreed its dissemination must be carefully co-ordinated.
- Check for meaning. Who in the organisation is monitoring reaction to the messages communicated? The intended meaning is determined by the sender, however the real meaning is assigned by the receiver. Who is checking how key groups are responding?
- Correct or adjust. When it is clear that the message is not being received favourably, rapid correction is required.
- Behaviour. How leaders behave in a crisis is paramount because everything said and done is noted, everything not said or done is noted – 24/7 forever. In circumstances which unfolded seven days ago, no access to leaders, no response, and no comment from leaders is naïve.
As leaders this type of situation can befall anyone of us. For me this incident is a timely reminder to stop and question, under pressure will I not only think deeply about what I have to do regardless of the fear I might have but more importantly how I will go about implementing what has to be done because while companies have rights, it’s worth remembering people have feelings (and long memories).
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