Tag Archives: business leader

10 Steps for Dealing With a Suicide

(Adapted from A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing With the Aftermath of a Suicide)

Death jars our concept of the way life is supposed to be. That dissonance is multiplied when the death is by suicide.

Following the tragedy of death by suicide, the workforce will include people whose personal struggles already leave them vulnerable and who now face increased risk for destructive behavior, including suicide. Tragedy can beget additional tragedies. Sometimes irrational blaming behavior includes violence. Sometimes suicide contagion, or “copycat suicides,” occur. How leaders respond (postvention) after death by suicide is critical to stopping that negative momentum.

“Postvention” can be prevention

Defined by the Suicide Prevention Resource Council as “the provision of crisis intervention and other support after a suicide has occurred to address and alleviate possible effects of suicide,” effective postvention has been found to stabilize community, prevent contagion and facilitate return to a new normal.

  1. Coordinate: Contain the crisis. Like the highway patrolmen on-sight at a traffic accident, postvention aims to prevent one tragedy from leading to another and return normal progression as soon as is safely possible.
  1. Notify: Protect and respect the privacy rights of the deceased employee and the person’s loved ones during death notification.
  1. Communicate: Reduce the potential for contagion. Communicate, communicate, communicate meaningful information. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Focus on solutions to immediate issues. Repeat it. Repeat it again.

Crisis Care Network, the largest provider of critical incident response services to the workplace, developed a crisis communication process that has been helpful for business leaders. The acronym ACT describes a means of acknowledging, communicating and transitioning amid a crisis.

See Also: 6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicide

Acknowledge and name the incident

  • Have an accurate understanding of the facts and avoid conjecture.
  • Demonstrate the courage to use real language that names what occurred.
  • Acknowledge that the incident has an impact on team members and that it is okay that individuals will be affected differently.

Communicate pertinent information with both compassion and competence

  • In the absence of information, people create it. Providing information reduces the likelihood of rumors, builds trust and provides a sense of order that supports moving forward.
  • Although very difficult to do when affected by traumatic stress oneself, communicating with both competence and compassion demonstrates leadership effectiveness in a caring way. Employee assistance program (EAP) consultants often help business leaders by scripting and coaching their messaging.

Transition toward a future focus

  • Communicate an expectation of recovery. Those affected must gain a vision of “survivor” rather than “victim.” Research indicates that humans are an amazingly resilient species and overwhelmingly bounces back from adversity.
  • Communicate flexible and reasonable accommodations as people progress to a new normal. Employees should not all be expected to immediately function at full productivity (although some will) but will recover quicker if assigned to simple, concrete tasks. Structure and focus are helpful, and extended time away from work often inhibits recovery. “If you fall off a horse…..get back on a pony.”
  1. Support: Offer practical assistance to the family and those affected.
  1. Link: Identify and link affected employees to additional support resources and refer those most affected to professional mental health services.

How to lead effective suicide postvention was likely not part of most business leaders’ education or training. When these tragedies occur, leaders often engage their EAP to deploy critical incident response experts – behavioral health professionals with unique training in response to tragedies. These consultants will:

  • Consult with the organization’s leadership regarding crisis communication strategies that facilitate resilience
  • Draw circles of impact and shape an appropriate response
  • Let people talk if they wish to do so
  • Identify normal reactions to an abnormal event so that people don’t panic regarding their own reactions
  • Build group support
  • Outline self-help recovery strategies
  • Brainstorm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-function and return-to-life obstacles
  • Assess movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care. Following death by suicide, they will be especially attuned to assess others for risk of self-harm.
  1. Comfort: Support, comfort and promote healthy grieving of the employees who have been affected by the loss. Critical incident response consultants will guide, coach, and script leaders regarding compassionate messaging. Leaders must “give permission” for help-seeking behavior.
  1. Restore: Restore equilibrium and optimal functioning in the workplace.

Sensitively resume a familiar schedule. People do best when their natural rhythms kick back in. Routine. No surprises. One foot in front of the other, just like yesterday.

Facilitate successful completion of familiar tasks. Doing something tangible reduces that sense of powerlessness and helps people focus on what they can do, rather than panic about what they cannot. The structure of doing what one knows how to do is helpful in finding a “new normal.”

  1. Lead: Build and sustain trust and confidence in organizational leadership. The team will never forget the leader’s response. Neither will the leader. Effective provision of both guidance and support will lead to the team feeling cared for in the workplace and result in loyalty and faith in their leadership’s abilities. People will go through the crisis with or without leadership. Lead them.
  1. Honor: Prepare for anniversary reactions and other milestone dates. Mark these dates on the calendar and then respectfully acknowledge them in large or small ways. Honor those affected by the death.
  • Sustain: Move from postvention to suicide prevention.

All involved stakeholders will now own the fact that “it can happen here.” Use that momentum to keep others safer. Following death by suicide, leaders all become “first responders.” Rather than being overwhelmed by the first tragedy, they can prevent others.

3 Skills Needed for Customer Insight

While working in Amsterdam, I was reminded how insight analysts and leaders can shine brightly in very different contexts.

In the Netherlands, a mixture of training and facilitation was helping an events business. What struck me was the similarity of the challenges faced by their insight teams to the challenges I see in the U.K.

The more I work with insight leaders across sectors and geographies, the more I see how much they benefit from highly transferable skills. Here are three that are relevant to very different businesses and locations:

Prioritization

I’ve yet to work with a company where this isn’t a challenge, at least to some extent. As more and more business decisions require considering the customer, it’s not surprising that demand for data, analysis and research continues to rise. Most insight teams are struggling to meet the demand of both regular reporting (“business-as-usual”) tasks and the range of questions or projects coming in from business leaders. There have been many attempts to solve this struggle, including “projectizing” all requests (which tends to come across as a bureaucratic solution to reduce demand for information) and periodic planning sessions (using Impact/Ease Matrix or similar tools). In today’s fast-changing businesses, I’ve found that local prioritization within “the bucket method” works best.

What I mean by the “bucket method” is the identification of the silos (mainly for decision-making) that are most powerful in your business. This often follows your organizational design, but not always. Is your business primarily structured by channel, product, segment or some other division of profit and loss accounts? Each silo should be allocated a “bucket” with a notionally allocated amount of insight resource, which is based on an appropriate combination of profit potential, strategic fit and proven demand (plus acted-on results) Regular meetings should be held between the insight leader and the most senior person possible within that silo. Where possible, the insight leader should meet with the relevant director.

The bucket principle relates to the idea that, when something is full, it’s full. So, in reviewing progress and any future requirements with the relevant director, you challenge him to make local prioritization calls. Going back to the bucket metaphor, adding more requires removing something else—unless the bucket wasn’t already full. Due to human nature, I haven’t seen the bucket principle work company-wide or group-wide. However, it can work very well in the local fiefdoms that exist in most businesses. In fact, it can support a feeling that the insight team is close to the business unit and is in the trenches with them to help achieve their commercial challenges.

Buy-In

When trying to diagnose why past insight work has stalled or why progress isn’t being made, stakeholders often identify an early stage in the “project.” The nine-step model used by Laughlin Consultancy has a step (prior to starting the technical work) called “buy-in.” It takes a clear plan or design for the work needed and sends it back to the sponsoring stakeholder to ensure it will meet the requirements. Often, this practice is missed by insight teams. Even mature customer insight teams may have mastered asking questions and getting to the root of the real business need behind a brief, but they then just capture that requirement in the brief. Too few interpret that need and provide a clear description of what will be delivered.

There are two aspects of returning to your sponsor to achieve buy-in that can be powerful. First is the emotional experience of the business leader (or multiple stakeholders, if needed) feeling more involved in the work to be done. As Alexander Hamilton famously said, “Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” It’s so important in the apparently rational world of generating insight to remember the importance of emotions and relationships within your business. Paying stakeholders the compliment of sharing the planned work with them ensures the intended deliverable will meet their needs and is something that often helps.

The other benefit of becoming skilled at this buy-in stage is learning to manage expectations and identify communication requirements. With regard to expectations, you should set realistic timescales (which, first, requires effective planning and design), along with openly sharing any risks or issues so that they don’t come as a surprise. Communication—and asking how much a sponsor wants to be kept in the loop—can make a real difference to keeping your sponsor happy. Some sponsors will be happy with radio silence until a task is complete or a decision is needed (they value not being disturbed). Others will lose confidence in your work unless they hear regular progress updates. It’s best not to confuse one with the other.

Communication

Training customer insight analysts in softer skills often results in a significant portion of the course focusing on the presentation of findings. This isn’t surprising, because, in many ways, that’s the only tangible product insight teams can point to, prior to driving decisions, actions and business results. Too frequently, I hear stories of frustrated insight teams that believe the business doesn’t listen to them, or I hear from business leaders that their insight team doesn’t produce any real insights.

Coaching, or just listening to others express such frustrations, regularly reveals that too many analytics and research presentations take the form of long, boring PowerPoints, which are more focused on showing the amount of work that’s been done than presenting clear insights. While it’s understandable that an analyst who has worked for weeks preparing data, analyzing and generating insights wants her effort rewarded, a better form of recognition is having the sponsor act on your recommendations. Often, that’s more likely to occur based on a short summary that spares readers much of the detail.

Data visualizationstorytelling and summarizing are all skills necessary to master on the road to effective communication. Most communication training will also stress the importance of being clear, concrete, considerate, courteous, etc. Many tabloids have mastered these skills. Love them or hate them, tabloid headline writers are masters of hierarchies of communication. Well-crafted, short, eye-catching headings are followed by single-sentence summaries, single-paragraph summaries and then short words, paragraphs and other line breaks to present the text in bite-sized chunks.

Transferable skills

Insight analysts and leaders who master such crafts as prioritization, buy-in and communication could probably succeed in almost any industry and in many different countries. Many directors will attest to the fact that sideways moves helped their careers. A CV demonstrating the ability to master roles in very different contexts is often an indication of readiness for a senior general management role.

growing

If Growing Gets Tough, Tough Get Growing

Successful businesses continuously draw on their strengths – and their people – for growth.

How do you describe the strengths of your business now? How would you describe the strengths that you’ll likely need in a year? In a few years? And how do these strengths translate into the skills your people will need in the future? For most companies, the answers to these questions are always evolving, as disruption increases and the pace of business picks up.

We’ve seen the recent evolution of companies’ capabilities — like fast-food chains rolling out deluxe coffee-shop menus, or utilities delving into smart home appliances.

A lot of organizations have solid processes for evolving their business strategies. But as sound as the development and approval process is, it often leaves out an important aspect: Can your people evolve, too?

Most CEOs aren’t certain that theirs can. In our latest CEO survey, nearly 80% of U.S. business leaders say they’re concerned that a lack of key skills threatens their organizations’ growth prospects.

This stat raises the question: Are some of these organizations taking their growth strategies too far afield, beyond their core strengths, in a desperate search for faster growth?

In Strategy+Business Magazine, we recently wrote about how companies that deliver sustainable growth remain true to what they do best and take advantage of their strongest capabilities—what we call a capabilities-driven strategy.

It takes a substantial effort. As we say in the story, “If you respond to disruption by changing your business model and capabilities system, you can’t dabble. You have to commit fully.”

That level of commitment is only possible, of course, with the right people to step up and deliver on your company’s greatest strengths.

Think of the potential talent issues at hand for so many businesses: How does a legacy technology company avoid disruption and commoditization? How can a fast-food chain turn up its café side of the business without trained baristas on hand? How can a utility amp up the tech-savvy talent needed to design Internet-and-data-fueled thermostats and security devices?

They’ll all need to align their talent strategy with their business strategy.

In our advisory work with clients, we are in frequent talks with companies that need to make these moves. And talent is at the top of the priority list.

Before preparing to grow your strengths, think about the capabilities in your current ecosystem of people and where gaps might pop up: 

People strategy, leadership and culture: Does our people strategy support our growth initiatives (and, more importantly, is there a strategy)? Is the right leadership development system in place, including a robust global mobility program? Will our culture support the execution that’s required?

  1. Reward: Does our compensation and benefits strategy still fit? Is pay competitive? Are there areas to be restructured that could free capital for re-investment?
  2. Talent acquisition: Do we need to pull in brand-new talent by strategically hiring from the outside or by making strategic acquisitions?
  3. Organization design and operating model: Have we designed an organizational structure and operating model that have clear links between all our capabilities?
  4. Change management and communications: Do we have the right program management structure and strategic change methods for execution? Do we know who the real information brokers are in the organization who will informally drive the change?
  5. Technology: Do we have the right technology to support the kind of employee experience our people need? Are we leveraging workforce analytics to retain our top-performing people, and are we conducting frequent employee surveys to understand the pulse of the organization?

These are just a few of the talent areas that are important to understand.

Odds are you won’t need to revamp all of them. But a carefully designed and innovative talent strategy underlies the successful evolution to get growing.

 To read more details on the strategic changes you may need to make to stretch your growth, read the full article, “Grow from your strengths” in strategy+business magazine.