Meet the Experts Helping Business Leaders Prepare and Handle Crisis

If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it’s that crises with an impact on a potentially worldwide scale can appear anywhere (or everywhere) virtually overnight. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, essentially no company, organization, or industry was left untouched, and the sheer level of its effect on businesses and consumer markets alike is yet to be truly measured and analyzed.

However, as our societies and business operations have continued to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic operations, one thing has become increasingly clear; the organizations and companies (and those who lead them) which both were able to better withstand the pandemic’s initial onset and its subsequent fallout were able to do so because they were better equipped to handle this crisis.

For any business or organizational leader, the ability to prepare for and handle crises rarely comes easy. It requires a clear and concise strategic plan, a cohesive team that is able to navigate the complexities of organizational life during a crisis, as well as the capability of leaders to rally their workforce through internal culture and values in order to lead their teams (and their company) towards a path of success.

This is one of the goals behind the mission of Organizational Performance Group (OPG). As an organizational development consulting firm spearheaded by the expertise of co-founder Laura Freebairn-Smith, PhD, OPG and Freebairn-Smith both understand that people and their ability to work together and inspire one another are critical to the success and competitive advantage of any organization, particularly during times of crisis.

Helping leaders organize their organizations

As we transition from one event-filled year of uncertainty into another, it can be helpful to reflect on the impact of recent crises and paradigm shifts to better prepare for the future.

“Throughout history, humanity has always been weathering crises of one kind or another, in different parts of the world, but technology, travel, and global warming have changed the scope and impact of crises – they are deeper and more widespread,” said Freebairn-Smith. “For example, we had several crises in play in the United States, some of which were global, and some of which had been in play for a long time but were more widely recognized and felt. Opioid crisis. Global warming. COVID-19. Income inequality. Racial justice. Social justice. The list goes on.”

Freebairn-Smith continues by explaining that, as managers and leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only forced our organizations to respond directly to a crisis, but also to reevaluate how they might respond to future crises. This, in turn, has given those organizations and their leaders new skills, ideas, and strategies for dealing with crises in general.

Adding to Freebairn-Smith’s point, venture capitalist and CEO of the Vancouver-based firm Triumph Advisors Rahim Rajwani told us that since the pandemic’s onset, “Companies have changed their approach to risk management. Before COVID-19, companies were strictly looking at sector risk; now companies are also considering macro events.

“In particular, complete shutdowns are now part of risk mitigation policies,” Rajwani added. “Companies are looking at ways to pivot when such events occur. An excellent example is clothing or textile companies retooling to produce masks or other personal protective equipment. This type of pivot has become part of risk-mitigation planning.”

“In OPG’s workshops,” Freebairn-Smith continued, aligning with Rajwani’s message, “we look at what we’ve learned and create methods for embedding that learning in our organizations and the ways we lead.”

According to Freebairn-Smith, OPG understands that it is possible to create well-run organizations in which employees understand the complexities of organizational life and are productive contributors within those constraints by providing them with support, expertise, and analytical skills to accomplish this. Their work operates within the context of relationships, which involves working with an organization’s leadership to ensure continued monitoring, discussion, and implementation of new ideas to create innovative solutions that yield bottom-line results.

Encompassing all organizational factors to ensure success

Early in her career, Laura spent four years working in a Cambodian refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. Since that time, however, she has helped organizations create new units and paradigms to respond to changes in their internal and external environment. Along with being credited for creating Yale’s Organizational Development and Learning Center — the Ivy League university’s first OD unit, Freebairn-Smith also helped the Gesell Institute weather a severe financial downturn earlier on during her professional career.

More recently, Freebairn-Smith’s doctoral work created a new leadership model – Abundance Leadership – that helps leaders operate from a base of confidence and optimism in the face of both troubles and successes. That ability to operate confidently and with optimism, even (and especially) during times of crisis, is a major contributing factor that organizational leaders must utilize in order to help bolster their company’s internal culture and the morale of its employees during periods of immense challenge.

Co-authors and executive consultants Russ Hill and Jared Jones add credence to this point. In their book entitled The Great Resignation, Jones explains how, “Any leader can deliver short-term results, but in order to sustain and scale results, you have to build a team that has clarity and alignment. Alignment, trust, collaboration, and candid communication are signs of a healthy organization.”

Indeed, the higher on an organization’s leadership chart someone is, as Jones explains, the broader the wake formed by the experiences they create becomes. Whereas many leaders may only think of their job as managing processes, more leaders must consider their role as one focused on managing people. The key to this lies in a leader’s ability to consider the beliefs they need their team to hold, followed by creating experiences that foster those beliefs with a team’s culture.

“Culture is what ultimately rules an organization,” Freebairn-Smith said, “and our services at OPG ensure that each one of our clients and their organizations are working in the best way possible to serve their internal and external constituents. Our company uses a very personalized approach uniquely tailored to the specific needs of each of our clients, working with a small number of clients at a time to ensure we implement the best customized organizational development services for them, starting from within the core of their organization and its culture so that the outward-facing needs are covered.”

As Freebairn-Smith explains, OPG’s clients come to them from all sectors of industry and the economy; from well-established companies to entrepreneurial businesses, from government organizations to educational institutions, from nonprofit agencies to religious organizations. Their unique combination of the services they provide and the programs they offer, combined with OPG’s humanistic approach, has helped hundreds of clients achieve new heights of success.

With her qualifications in strategic planning, executive coaching, organizational development and design, and more, Freebairn-Smith’s expertise in these realms uniquely positions her and her team at OPG to help organizations and their leaders better understand what is necessary to prepare for insofar as handling current and future crises and other challenges.

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