Translating crisis leadership into everyday business

There’s a reason why leadership management loves a crisis, Julie Perkins, founder of Wyseminds, tells the Dive Deep, Climb High podcast. It’s...

Written by Wyseminds · 2 min read >

There’s a reason why leadership management loves a crisis, Julie Perkins, founder of Wyseminds, tells the Dive Deep, Climb High podcast.

It’s because everyone’s united around a purpose, energised by a tangible, common goal with a solid measure. It’s doing something different in a way that gives space to everyone to do the best job possible.

The all-hands-on-deck approach also generates trust among team members at all levels which creates a sense of togetherness.

Project this and project that

Julie has extensive experience of how to take the enthusiasm that’s present in the crisis room and put it to work motivating an entire workforce in day-to-day operations.

She started the SpecSavers business in the Netherlands and expanded it into the global success story it is today.

“We were brilliant in times of crisis,” she tells podcast host Mel Loizou. “We’d make up names – project this or project that. In times of crisis there were no job hierarchies. All staff, no matter what their job function, were working towards a common goal.”  

And it’s that common goal that Julie says forms the essential element that underpins everything – purpose

Blame game or game changer? 

Without purpose – in life and in work – you’re left wondering what it’s all about on the expressway to apathy.

In contrast, when people are unified behind a central goal and get the chance to contribute to it equally, there’s far more a sense of collaboration and celebration as one.

“Without this, you’ll have division and unrest when something goes wrong. Everyone blames everyone else.”

When purpose is owned equally by all, the blame game is transformed into a game changer, one that benefits your business for the better.

Purpose and the age-old search for meaning 

The search for meaning has preoccupied great thinkers throughout history, with the general consensus being it’s a natural byproduct of purpose.

Purpose – a shared objective that everyone can get behind – creates unity and collaboration. 

“A person with a clear purpose will make progress, even on the roughest road,” said 19th century philosopher Thomas Carlyle. “A person with no purpose will make no progress, even on the smoothest road.” 

Fast-forward 200 years and nothing has changed in this respect. In Julie’s early days of expanding SpecSavers in Europe, she navigated repeated ups and downs that drained her. Unable to step back for fear of everything going wrong, she was exhausted and didn’t know where to turn next.

At that time, part of the strategy was celebrating individual aspects of the business, like record weeks. But this only affected specific teams so was not achieving the unity and shared vision she wanted for all 1,700 staff.

She needed to find something everyone could rally behind – a company-wide purpose.

So she replaced record weeks with “the likelihood that a customer will return in two years” in the hope it would create a “unified celebration”.

The decision paid off. 

Owning the crisis room equally

All employees, no matter what level, now had a goal that held meaning for them and their daily work. Without realising it, Julie had translated the energy that comes from crisis leadership throughout the entire organisation. 

“We were owning the crisis room equally; it just happened to be the company,” she told the podcast. “There wasn’t the blame culture of ‘it’s your fault, it’s my fault’ anymore. It was ‘what are we doing as a team’ because we celebrated as one. There were no individual celebrations…. we didn’t need them.”

Within 12 months, she had positioned the company into a strong enough place to be able to let go and wean herself away from the small stuff. There was a healthy brand with a clear purpose that everyone shared which freed her to step forward into a new phase where there was space to breathe.

“Meetings now had a cross functional view where everybody contributed towards the common goal. People who’d typically sat back now had to step in, having earned their place at the table.” 

As a leader, she had developed the confidence to delegate to people who shared the vision, purpose and the values which made it “a much more enjoyable way of working.”