The Solution to Your Crisis May Be Found in Another Industry

It’s nearly impossible to know how you will react under pressure until you’re put to the test. Difficult times create stress, and stress makes us revert to our comfort zones. When a crisis hits, many leaders react by withdrawing, shutting out others, and putting up a front of assertiveness.

Unfortunately, this behavior exacerbates the issue. When your company’s in crisis, seeking advice from others is critical. You must identify the root cause of the problem, develop a plan, make necessary changes, and measure the progress. In the best of times, I encourage clients to put operational measures, KPIs, and metrics (MKM) in place through a visual dashboard. MKM dashboards give executive teams insight and help them understand how each change is working; in a crisis, it can be hard to determine where to start.

This is where an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable — the solution to your crisis may present itself in a completely unrelated industry. If nothing else, looking to other industries enables you to face a problem without the biases of internal culture, outdated standards, or best practices, and take advantage of technology or processes you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Here are a few solutions companies have found by looking at another industry’s practices:

Finding the right shift model
Many businesses recognize that the 9-to-5 model doesn’t work for everyone. Many also struggle to give workers the flexibility they need while maintaining productivity.

I once worked with an automotive Tier 1 supplier, producing a complex in-car infotainment system. The developers and engineers were required to be in the office by 8 a.m., although some were on the phone with Asia each night to align various tasks. The developers were miserable, and the schedule wasn’t sustainable.

Many manufacturing plants use a shift model, and that’s what we implemented. It allowed the engineering teams 14 hours of productive work per day without getting burned out or reducing their effectiveness by handing off work to their counterparts in Asia. To cope with working across different locations, we stole a secret from manufacturing plants and established four core working hours. During this time, the entire U.S. team would be present to allow at least some overlap without creating an office of caffeine-fueled zombies.

Adopting a more productive office layout
Many tech startups, advertising agencies, and sales teams have stolen a workplace layout from design studios, newsrooms, and trading floors. When restructuring New York City’s mayor’s office in his first term, Michael Bloomberg took a lesson from the trading floor: He tore down the cubes and office walls, putting his desk in the center of the room. He created a single space from which to administer the city and used the act of removing the walls as a demonstration to staff that things had really changed.

An open floor plan facilitates communication, encourages teamwork and collective problem-solving, and breaks down barriers between leaders and subordinates. Since everyone can overhear phone calls and conversations, it alerts team members to new changes, and ideas flow more naturally. Best of all, when team members are within earshot, the need for productivity-draining meetings, emails, and phone calls is reduced.

Organizing into self-directed teams
Companies can fall into the trap of micromanaging and wasting time with complex layers of approval on projects. This can cause massive delays, impede performance, and put a damper on employee morale.

Borrow a lesson from Hollywood’s movie editors and ensure each employee has his or her own set of deliverables, clear and measurable goals, and the flexibility to create a work schedule as long as expectations are met on time. Giving employees more autonomy allows them to work in the way that suits them best and holds them accountable to very specific standards, leaving management more time to focus on strategic solutions.

How to benefit from outside industry knowledge now
If you wait until a crisis hits to seek outside solutions, it might be too late. Here are a few ways to proactively form relationships with companies across industries:

  • Join an organization like Young Presidents’ Organization or Rotary International, where you can network with like-minded professionals.
  • Attend conferences that attract people from multiple industries to get out of your bubble.
  • Take on an external board role with a nonprofit. The board will be populated with business professionals with different backgrounds.
  • Participate in executive education to expand your network.
  • Engage an advisory board. Use them as your sounding board when you hit a wall.

Don’t wait until a crisis hits to cultivate your network in other industries. If you expand your horizons now, you’ll be able to approach any problem with a clearer mindset, a bigger toolbox, and the perspective to solve the problem as quickly and effectively as possible.