Navigating choppy waters and managing the unforeseen

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Written by Jo Burns-Russell, Marketing Manager, Reed Professional Services

When extreme circumstances arise, it’s all too easy to be reactive. Many organisations across both the public and private sphere were already feeling the strain of preparations for the EU-Exit, add the extreme situation of the Coronavirus outbreak and the still unknown knock on effect it’ll have, and you won’t be alone in thinking there are simply too many plates to spin. We developed the points below for our recent webinar on ‘Managing the Unforeseen in the EU Exit’, which was delivered in partnership with Digital Leaders a few weeks ago. Here, we’ve extracted some of the key themes that can be applied to help mitigate external factors and keep the delivery of critical projects on track in these exceptional times.

One thing is certainly clear: it’s imperative that organisations acknowledge limitations and realise that business as usual operations may not be suited to the current situation. Decisions will need to be made quickly. Swift, effective and transparent communication will be essential, and attitudes towards project completion may need to shift.

Here are the key areas our experience tells us leaders should focus on:


We may be stating the obvious here, but speed is of the utmost importance. However, when we talk about speed here, we’re not necessarily talking about how quickly a project can be completed or a delivery timeline crunched, but rather the speed of governance and decision making. Right now, where making the most of every day is essential, it couldn’t be any more critical. New processes and management structures may need to be put in place to facilitate the required speed, and tough questions will need to be asked. Can your organisation push critical decisions through more quickly without losing accountability and with the proper governance required? Are your management teams equipped to make decisions quickly and, if not, what is standing in their way?

Failing Forwards:

Yes, it sounds like a rather fluffy marketing term, but owning – and being ok with – things failing is going to be paramount over the coming weeks and months. In any organisation, there will be projects that move too slowly or fall through the cracks. The best approach is to acknowledge projects that are in the red, properly flag them, and work swiftly to rectify and learn from the issues uncovered. Nothing should be carpeted over.

This is where Culture is King; do the people of your organisation feel they’re able to raise issues with management?

In reality, this is about instilling an understanding that it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from failure and implement those learnings going forward. This starts with making people comfortable seeing the colour red and teaching them how to react to it. Make people comfortable stating that something didn’t work so there can be intervention to remedy the situation. The lack of adaptability is the failure, not the item that’s gone adrift.

Having a Critical Friend:

Sometimes, you need help from outside your immediate environment to see the big picture, and that’s where a critical friend can be essential. This may be an external specialist consultancy such as ourselves, or it may be a peer in your organisation. The key is emotional separation from the day-to-day detail of a project and the subsequent critical thinking that can be applied to it as a result.

Your organisation should encourage a culture of supportive yet honest feedback. Critical Friends should be able to speak truthfully and constructively without fear of things turning adversarial or competitive. Asking for guidance and support should be a cultural norm; the fear factor removed.


Organisations need to be able to respond quickly to changes in situation. This means not only having processes in place that mean you can continue working while outcomes are uncertain, but also having processes in place that allow you to monitor the external environment. It may well be that your organisation needs to readdress what ‘done’ means. Is a minimum viable product solution the answer in the short term? This doesn’t have to mean it stays at MVP for the long term, but this will allow you to ‘triage’ and move on, revisiting the rest of the outputs as and when you can. Resources will need to be allocated at speed and your teams need to be comfortable working outside of their wheelhouses.

Culture Shifts:

As with any complex change programme, culture is key. It’s important to think not just about the processes, policies, and workflows that will be changing, but also about the changes the people enacting them will need to adapt to.

Fostering a culture of openness and honesty streamlines workflows not only between departments but also with third parties. Issues are more likely to be identified and dealt with sooner. Never is this more important then in times of uncertainty, and once again, this may require a cultural shift alongside a reassessment of how you measure success. An environment of blame shifting or a lack of ownership creates the potential for project pitfalls to slip through the net, resulting in a much larger problem further down the line.


Communication is vital for all organisations. Employees need to understand why changes are being made and how they will be impacted. Communication should be two-way, allowing employees to get answers to any questions they might have. Likewise your teams need to feel they are safe to communicate at all times and that they will be supported.

As with everything we do here at Reed Professional Services, we know that culture is king, with the right approach to the cultural impacts of fast changing environments and situations, everyone in your organisation can approach these challenges together, thus helping to avoid pitfalls that could arise further down the line.

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