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Where is the leadership? Real leaders know that within crisis there are opportunities. It's conditions like today, that provide the opportunity to make changes that managers can usually only dream about.
The 8/8/88 is a date I remember like yesterday. It was my first day as Group Strategic Planning Manager at the Bank of New Zealand. It was also the day that the Evening Post screamed headlines: "BNZ to be rescued by $600 million". I was joining as many were being put off.
As I went up the lift to my new office on the 24th floor, I had a deep intuition that I had made a big mistake. The lift, as it climbed from floor to floor, became a symbol of the layers on layers of bureaucracy and privileges I was to encounter over the next few months.
It started with the size of my office and went down to the colour of my chair and whether or not it had arms. I was expected to use the silver tea service and have lunch in the restaurant reserved for managers and their guests. For someone like me, coming from a manufacturing background it was extreme and embarrassing. But these traditions were built in. They were part of its 125 year history. No one questioned them.
I learned some important lessons from the crisis in the BNZ.
In crisis, people are crying out for leadership. I'm talking about both top-down leadership and bottom-up leadership.
About three months after I joined the BNZ a new Chief Executive was appointed from outside. Right from the start everyone could see that he meant business and had the guts to see it through.
It was not just a matter of responding to the crisis, he attacked the crisis. Racing car drivers would call it, "attacking the corner." He did many "hard" things you'd expect a banker to do. Things like securing the funding sources and separating out the good loans from the bad loans. However, the most important things turned out to be some really simple high profile "soft" things that screamed to the Bank: "I expect everyone to become leaders of the Bank!"
This lead to a major culture change. It was implemented throughout the Bank. It involved all 6,500 people. Its aim was to release the leadership of every person to make a difference to customers. For much of the next three years I helped facilitate this process.
The results had to be seen to be believed. What we found was that the energy was there. It always had been. It just couldn't get out.
I learned not to under-estimate the grass-roots. They know what needs to happen. They have most of the answers. The energy is there. It just needs to be released.
This was so powerful for me that, even now, about 20 years later my personal mission continues to be: "To liberate the human spirit at work."
Three years later the BNZ had improved so much that it was first or second in most of the important customer measures and it was sold to National Australia Bank for a tidy profit.
Would this have happened without the crisis? I say "No!"
Today you have a crisis. You have the same opportunity. You could take it and make changes that until now you have only been able to dream about. Or you could fiddle. The difference is your leadership.
Now is the right time. It won't take a lot of money. It won't even take a great deal of time.
It will take courage. It will require your belief in your people and a sense of doing the right thing. Your people are crying out for your leadership. Are you giving it to them?
If the patterns we saw after the last recession repeat, a significantly different group of organisations will emerge as the future leaders of New Zealand business.
The new winners will be those who understand that within the current crisis is an opportunity that can not be missed.
We are at one of those rare moments in history where what you do, or don't do, in the next couple of months may make the difference. Don't delay. Somethings are just too risky to put off.
I can help. In this area I am probably New Zealand's most experienced business consultant.
Give me a call onPhone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland.
Virtual Group Business Consultants
Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland