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Coping in crisis – lessons from wartime

right people, focus and cutting back

As we navigate uncertain times, many of us are looking to the past for learnings through times of crisis. In my experience, lessons learned from crisis are generally timeless – and these three particular examples from World War II are an excellent example. No matter what crisis we are dealing with, the way we manage our people and our priorities and making smart decisions is going to make an impact.

In May, pre COVID-19, I would have been heading to the 2020 Scaling Up Summit in Dallas, Texas. These events are always an outstanding opportunity for learning and inspiration.

I wanted to share some of the great insights I took away from the last event, when I visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana during my 2018 Scaling Up Summit.

Get the right people on your team. The President selected some key individuals whose skills and networks were crucial to success. Known as ‘Dollar-a-Year Men’ they included Edsel Ford for mass production (B-24s by the hour), Donald Nelson from Sears, Roebuck for distribution and Andrew Higgins for his boat manufacturing. It was clearly about getting the right people around the challenges of the day.

Focus on priorities. The realisation that there was a war to be won – on the battle front and the home – drove a new focus in decision making. There was targeting of resources, increased labour efficiency, improved design and engineering, to bring out the best result from everybody. It truly became everybody’s job to have a contribution. (Sound familiar right now?)

Cutting back. All of us with parents or grandparents from the wartime generation will know of the hardships created by shortages of products and services. Rationing of food was common. I still remember my Dad explaining why he kept bent nails in the shed long after the war ended – simple products like nails could not be sourced when all the manufacturing focus was on Defence products.

In good times, there is plenty of waste and excess. In the current environment, as we come to terms with bare supermarket shelves and limits on purchases, we have an insight into how planning and making smart choices can impact on livelihoods and attitudes.

Whilst none of us want to live through these times of crisis, what lessons can we learn that would help us run a tighter business? What have you already changed in your business to cope with current restrictions, and how are you planning for ‘the other side’?

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