Using a crisis as a catalyst for change in coaching teams

Post by Diego Kerner, Managing Partner for Latin America.

I recently had the privilege of coaching an International Category team as they worked to re-start their business following the easing of lockdown, one of the four COVID-related growth challenges (below) we posted on here. The company had been badly hit, as most of their portfolio was snacks for out-of-home consumption, distributed in traditional ‘Mom & Pop’ stores. It was inspiring to see the team respond positively, rapidly creating a growth strategy that was enthusiastically endorsed by the board.

In this post I share learning on coaching teams to respond to a crisis by using it as a catalyst for growth at a brand, business and team level.  

1.YOU control how you respond to the crisis  

Facts, such as the COVID-related challenges of 2020, are just facts. It’s our interpretation of these facts that drives our reaction. A common response is victimhood – avoiding taking responsibility for your destiny by blaming someone or something else. 

Strategy workshops with the team encouraged an alternative approach, taking a famous Churchill phrase as our motto: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. We challenged ourselves to use the COVID crisis as an opportunity to re-set the category, to evolve, to make the brand portfolio and business stronger. Much stronger.

2.Use the crisis to ACCELERATE change  

The COVID crisis forced to the team to speed up how they worked. They adopted the ABCD approach we posted on here:

  • Agile: working quicker and more flexibly to respond to constantly changing market situations, by simplifying processes
  • Business-focused: the team worked on over-due changes to the business model, pruning the portfolio and re-focusing investments. Different challenges were prioritised based on the size-of-prize (monetary impact) and the likelihood of success, taking into account future trends and foresights
  • Consumer closeness: staying in touch with evolving consumer habits and attitudes
  • Digital transformation: the process forced a recognition that the company was lagging behind in e-commerce and needed to make a step-change

3.The crisis forces you to get FIT and in shape

In the ‘good old days’ pre-COVID, rising markets helped the company’s brands grow, even in cases where the strategy and mix in place was not top-class. However, the pressure cooker of the COVID crisis ruthlessly revealed these areas of weakness. 

Thorough analysis and honest reflection by geography highlighted where brands needed to get fitter and in better shape to survive and thrive. Key changes included pruning portfolios, sharpening brand positionings to make them clearer and more inspirational and improving the consistency of communication to create distinctive memory structure. 

4.A team can become TIGHTER in a crisis

Above all, the process proved to be a time to strengthen what lies behind any great team: trust and collaboration. The strategy exercise was a fantastic way to get the group even tighter and more united. Open and honest strategic discussions brought out problems that had long been “hidden under the carpet”, allowing solutions to be found. Conflicting ideas were exchanged with respect and facts. Finally, the category leaders collaborated to successfully present the new strategy to the Board in the grand finale of a highly intense but fulfilling process.

In conclusion, a crisis like the one we’re all living through now presents huge challenges. But when coaching teams it can also be a catalyst for change and growth, for business, brands and for people.