To be a successful CEO, you need to be able to deal with crisis. That’s a given. But, this week’s guests have built a business based on dealing with crises (up to and including the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone), and have a lot to teach us about being ready, having grace under pressure, and delivering great service in the most difficult conditions.This week, I’m happy to welcome Tom & Freda Rumph from Rumph & Associates. They are experts in maintaining service and integrity in the midst of a fast-moving crisis environment.
Have the Right Team
In March of 2014, the first cases of Ebola were reported in Sierra Leone. The CDC mobilized an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Rumph & Associates was brought on board to support those efforts, providing 58 vehicles and drivers to deliver epidemiologists and vaccines to both urban and rural areas around Sierra Leone. Rumph & Associates engaged two companies in Sierra Leone to provide cars and drivers, and dealt with the need to pay the drivers in local funds. Considering the fast moving nature of a virus, there wasn’t a lot of lead-time on this, and the whole thing happened in a week’s time.
The Ebola virus doesn’t allow a lot of room for trial and error, so maintaining a high rate of operational integrity was crucial. And, managing the crisis from across the world added an additional level of challenge to the already high-stakes game. In this week’s article, we talk tips on being able to manage any kind of crisis with operational integrity and efficiency.
Both Tom and Freda stress the importance of being ready for a crisis before that crisis hits. It’s just as true for changes due to industry and economic fluctuations (check out this article for more on that) as it is for deadly viral outbreaks – just maybe with lower stakes in the former.
Relationships are vital. “You really have to have the relationships formed before you need them,” says Tom. He stresses the importance of setting these relationships up for success before you have to call on them, and this means communicating who you are and what you are up to. Tom and Freda have spent a lot of time building relationships around the world, so wherever a crisis hits they will be ready with the partnership needed to move quickly, and save lives.
Explains Tom, “We have someone in West Africa that deals with our guy in Accra, and he has a deep understanding of the country, and he has a deep understanding of Rumph & Associates.” Building on this contact, Tom and Freda are able to manage quickly hiring and paying a team of locals that understand the culture of those they are serving, as well as the culture of Rumph & Associates.
A strong internal team is important as well. When hiring, Tom and Freda focus on hiring a team that is adept at making decisions and dealing effectively with clients.
Communicate Expectations and Culture
We talk a lot about culture. I know. But, culture takes on an even wider relevance when you’re talking about company cultures, plus wildly varying international cultural ideals.
As far as dealing with the varying local cultures, the key is in those relationships built internationally (check out this article) to serve as a go-between in company and local culture. Says Tom, “It’s more important to solve the problem than to solve the problem your way.” Knowing the outcome you want, and finding the most effective means of getting there requires both a stringent commitment to results, and a flexible view on how to achieve those results.
The ability to marry company culture into international operations depends on a strong cultural foundation. For Tom and Freda, this is based in effective hiring and strong communication. Says Tom, “The employees understand what’s expected of them and they’re excited about coming in everyday so that they can make the company great.”
Know what you’re looking for. Find a balance between technical skills and behaviors. Says Freda, “We had to learn what were the skills that people needed to have when we hired them, and which ones could be taught, and that’s what made the difference.”
Make Good Decisions
In a business based on approaching crisis (and operating under government contracts with a wide-range of stake holders) it becomes even more important to have a team able to communicate broadly and make effective decisions. And then the whole Ebola thing imbues those decisions with a life and death urgency.
Says Tom, “As a CEO, I don’t make anything other than decisions, and so I would have to be effective and fact-based.” I love this quote! Basing decisions on facts rather than emotions is at the center of Tom’s philosophy, as is hiring a team that can make effective, fact based decisions as well. Being a micromanaging CEO is simply not possible in the world that Rumph & Associates operates. “Everything that we do is actually reliant on working with and through someone else. And, if you aren’t making good decisions, then I can guarantee you, everything else fails.”
Freda agrees, “We rely on our people to help us achieve the goals and maintain the standards, so it’s really important, the people you have in place.”
Learn From Your Losses
“You’re really defined by what you do when something goes wrong,” says Tom. Rumph & Associates does an assessment of every proposal they have lost. They work to honestly assess mistakes made in contracts. They look as closely as they can at the facts of a situation, whether or not those facts shed a positive light on the company.
In one case, Rumph & Associates came to the end of the first year of a multi-year contract with a client who was less than pleased with their performance. They had met the basic outline of work, but there were still areas in which they could have done better. They used their fact-based approach to make an honest assessment of the last year (presented to the client in a 17-page Power Point presentation) outlining where they had lived up to expectations, where they were lacking, and a path to move forward. This honest assessment and full ownership of responsibility impressed the client, and the contract moved forward on a more positive note. It also gave Tom and Freda a great baseline of knowledge to carry forward into other projects.
The ability to learn from losses and be fact based is crucial as you prepare for future crises
Deliver Great Service
Everything we’ve talked about here is aimed at one goal: deliver great service to your customer. In the Ebola situation, Rumph & Associates served stakeholders that ranged from the CDC to people in the rural villages of Sierra Leone. Being able to serve all of these stakeholders effectively in a crisis environment takes an immense amount of preparation, a strong team, and effective decision-making.
Even if the crisis you are dealing with is not life or death in the literal sense, it can feel that way. Being a great CEO means planning for a great future, but being prepared for the crisis when they hit.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]