Managing in Times of Crisis

+++ As being posted on LinkedIn +++


Leading a cruise ship in calm sea and sunny weather is nice and easy. But hardly the time can you identify great leaders. In times of crisis, leaders need to show how well developed both sides of their skills are – management and leadership. Management is necessary because you will have to show good management practices which follow some simple rules. But management alone will not do the job; leadership will make all the difference. In the following, I collected some points to think about when managing a crisis in your business.

Identify a crisis, name it such and react

Sometimes it is hard to identify a crisis because things run so nice and smoothly, all is cozy. But as every captain has to see the weather forecasts, as a business leader you need to look ahead. Managing a crisis before it becomes life threatening is always better than waiting until you are in the middle of the hurricane. Keep your eyes and ears open. Is there something disrupting your business? Do the sales numbers not behave as they should? Do not overreact and interpret a bad week as the end of the world; but do not wait until the other guy already is eating your lunch.

A crisis means that the situation is not controllable by simple correction. Larger action is needed, so radical that it might disrupt your current business flow. Managing a crisis will also mean to invest in the future. You might jeopardize short term revenues.

When Steven Elop took over the helmet at Nokia, the company was not yet in deep trouble but it also ran out of time to prepare for the future. While trouble was not there yet, it was obvious that it will be. The perfect crisis. Elop wrote a memo ( and compared Nokia to a burning platform with the choice to do nothing, stay on the platform and burn, or take the risk, jump and find a new future. He wrote this memo deliberately and was also pretty sure that it won’t be kept secret forever. But he did it to state the obvious and prepare Nokia, partners, and the world for what now had to happen.

Prepare you reaction – Do unpleasant changes quick and with a reason

The next phase is the most unpleasant one. Maybe we are talking about lay off, canceling beloved pet projects, reducing footprint, whatever. The first round of changes will effect business management. The business needs to be taken under control. Rigid cost management, clear KPIs, measurements, a review of processes. Goal of this exercise is to identify dead wood, waste. In short, things those are not part of your core competency. Knowing what you define of your core competency is of absolute help in this time.

This phase needs to be very short, so prepare it very good. And keep it deliberately short. When selling unnecessary things decide for the speed rather than for the absolute profit. Make the company go through this quickly. But keep an absolute eye on your employees; those who will have to leave and those who will stay. Have a good explanation and try to provide options. In my experience, treating somebody you have to lay off with absolute dignity and respect pays off. There are some areas where you need to guide the laid off person to the door. But in most cases giving the guys to go in dignity should be your primary goal. Picking up people at work and guiding them outside like a prisoner is a technique used by the police forces of some countries because it causes tremendous damage in the social status and self-esteem. You do not want to be like the GeStaPo.

For the people who stay it will be a very unpleasant time when you sit there and wait if you will be called in or not. So, for their sake, keep it short. Machiavelli was right when he stated that bad things need to happen sharp and quickly. Maybe he was right for the wrong reasons but still he was right.

All hands on deck

+ Declare and explain the obvious

As Elop did, it is now time to declare the obvious. The good old all hands meeting is a good idea now. Explain the why and how. Never talk negatively about those who had to go. In most cases, it was not at all their fault.

Don’t treat people like idiots. Some of them will know details because they prepared them for you. In this situation everybody expects changes. So, it is on you to deliver now.

+ Give a vision

Show a vision and a process how to get the company on the vision. Show that the changes were a preparation to get there. Companies can change tremendously when having the right vision. Again Nokia produced rubber tires before they started with mobile phones. But the vision needs to be good, understandable for everybody and obviously leading to the better.

+ Define a goal and show the progress

While the fact to have a clear vision is a necessary start, we can be satisfied with it. We need a plan how this translates into strategies and finally into actions. It is totally fine to not have all strategies and actions formulated by now, but then have a plan how to get there and when. Show that and how you measure and report the progress. You ask those people to go with you, so they deserve to be informed as much as possible. If you are member of the Shakespeare Company you might manage to get through keeping information behind your back. If you are not, better not try it. Human beings are very sensible for this and you lose their trust in the moment when you need it the most. There are things you cannot simply disclose to a broader audience… fine. Then say so and give a reason. As long as you do not have a crowd of yellow press journalists there, people will understand but trust you.

+ A crisis is time for good craftsmanship and change

Stating the obvious means also telling the truth about the immediate future. It is now time to get the business under control. This means a lot of boring stuff. Rigid cost management is one of this. Possible cuts of beloved activities or benefits. Everybody needs to understand and support. Now is the time to show the best craftsmanship in your proficiency. Make sure that people understand that it is not about controlling and judging them or their work. It is about having a clear picture on the situation to enable good decisions.

But it is also time for change. This cannot simply go on as before. So, look at the vision and scan your environment for things that do not fit into it, state it and get it sorted. For the leadership team this is the time to introduce radical change. People expect it and most of the time they are more than willing to suffer a short term for the better future. But this will not go on forever and if you miss the train, the situation gets even worse.

+ Ask everybody to help and give specific tasks

In times of crisis, normally nobody stays in bed. You need each and every one. But they need a clear position and a clear task. In an emergency training, this is called managing the scene. Do this! Have clear ideas, regular war room meetings. Share information and get information. Delegate as much as possible and keep yourself free as much as possible. Reason is that there will be a lot of unforeseen things popping up. If you are already loaded with work, you have to reprioritize all the time. Rather keep your team busy.

+ No politics please

In times of crisis, you will make new friends for life. You will discover that people are different to what you thought they are before. But you need to be open for that. Break little kingdoms by mixing up stuff and getting people to work together that normally would not work jointly. Make it obvious that it is no longer time for pet projects but for a clear check.

+ Keeping the notion of change

Keep your people informed how the situation looks like. How did we do according to the goals which we were given? Show specific actions and how they succeeded or failed. Over communicate.

But also, try not lose the idea of change. Make it a constant and keep on adopting. Small, continuous changes are better than a crisis.

The Business Lesson behind HDv 100/100: Preparing a Decision

+++ As being posted on LinkedIn +++


I had the opportunity to attend training at the Academy of Leadership of the German army. During the time there I learned an universal and pragmatic tool to cope with decisions in critical situations. I gave this tool to all of my team members ever since with the advice to see behind the military façade of it and use its core in business. You do not have to follow it slavishly but it is a good navigator**.

The military uses management by objectives. Which seems strange first – we all tend to think of a pure command and control scenario – is an absolute must. Soldiers are working in groups of specialists. Modern warfare asks every soldier to be a leader and to be led in constant change. In a way, a situation also quite common for today’s business scenario. So, having a look on the toolsets the military developed is interesting for sure.

One method is a format how to prepare and finally ask for a decision to be done from your management. At the first sight, the military way of doing it seems long and complex. I couldn’t believe it at first and asked my trainer when this is done. The answer was simple: Always, even under direct fire. Because these three minutes extra have proven to save lives later. In business, these three minutes reduce waste and save time.

So, whenever I want my management to decide or I am asked to decide, I stick to the following format. It all starts with an Analysis of the Order. It is something you do for yourself to start with but keep it in records. Whenever you give a status report or ask for a decision, you start by presenting your analysis as an introduction.

Analysis of the Order:

(1) Repeat the order given in the exact format it was given to you. This introduces all parties into the situation. Your manager might do a lot of things at once and she might not have present what the question was here.

(2) Intent of the superior in your own words. Reformulate this in your own words. Make it short and precise. It forces you to think about it and surfaces if you simply did not understand the request. If so, ask for clarification better in the beginning then after working for ours on the wrong things. Given your interpretation to the manager gives her the opportunity to see if you understood her intent. And finally, always fulfil the intent and not the direct order. Situations might change and you need to adapt.

(3) My main performance. You will probably be part of a larger team and you play a part here. Giving this information to the manager shows again if you understood what is asked.

(4) Restrictions. There are limitations (e.g. lack of resources, time constraints) and you need to make people aware of this as well as be aware to manage accordingly.

(5) Logical consequences / Check questions. You could call this KPIs or success control. Formulate questions and measurement to gauge the progress and final success of your actions.

If you know have to ask for a decision, stick to the following format:

(1) Analysis(see above)

(2) Status

(3) What has to be decided now?

(4) When needs the decision to be done latest?

(5) What options for a decision do we have (with the major arguments pro and con for each)?

(6) What option would I choose as the expert?

The key here is to optimally prepare the decision maker by giving the right amount of information. It is also a mean to steer the decision because it is easy for the decision maker to follow your advice. The preparation takes time and effort but pays back. And if you have an unprepared meeting, don’t be surprised about the outcome.

Let’s make a simple example:


Order given: Handling 3 party tracking on our customer nurturing process is a lengthy and complex process that leads to partner complaints. Your team should take over the process ownership.

Intention: Enabling a friction free onboarding of new partners as well as reducing measurement errors during tracking

Main performance: (1) Analysis of current situation, (2) requirement gathering and analysis from partner side, (3) process design and technical implementation, (4) operation and continuous improvement of process

Restrictions: (1) Process spans multiple teams, (2) current process needs to kept working until replacement is in place, (3) project has no budget assigned by now

Logical consequences: (1) Reduction in partner onboarding time, (2) reduction of measurement errors


Status: We analysed partner needs and the situation we are in. To detail out possible implementations, we look for a basic decision.

What is to be decided? To provide an agile infrastructure, we need to revise the backend and do some major changes. This might be a major investment and defines the future flow of the project.

When needs the decision to be done? It blocks further work on the project, so a fast decision taking is necessary. At latest Friday this week, otherwise project gets delayed.

What options do we have? (1) Home grown process engine (Pro: The most flexible/Con: Most complex, expensive, longest development time), (2) Using BPM engine (OSS or licensed) (Pro: Faster implementation, supported, error proved, Con: Less flexible, expensive), (3) Using cloud based BPM (Pro: Faster implementation, supported, error proved, pay what you need, Con: On heavy load might be more costly than on premise, relying on cloud provider)

What option would I choose? Cloud based BPM.

It is a simple example and certainly in real live you would add more information. But please note one thing: Reformulating the intention behind the request gives a lot of more insight. For me this is the key to success.


** It is based on the HDv or Heeresdienstvorschrift. This is a collection of standards covering all aspects of military life. It is comparable to the NATO’s STANAG. The content of HDv 100/100 is similar to STANAG 2014 and it describes a standard format to give a military order.You can find similar standard formats for firefighters or ambulances.

Fire all managers… well, better not so radical…


I saw a lot of discussion recently in the manager versus leader thing. I would not go so far as he does but you need to have a balance. From what I see, business becomes less integrated and more of supply chain management. Here I see the major field for managers today. It will be less the classical management as it is written in the standard MBA books. What is sure is, you need leaders or intrapreneurs!!

My personal impression is that still a lot of company cultures do not reflect this fact. Those intrapreneurs or leaders are not easy to handle with. They show a lot of energy, they tend to have ideas which explode the status quo. Then there are articles that you should not tolerate divas in teams. Sorry for my French: Bullshit!!!

You need to have a few of them. They need to be treated with care and respect. And you as their manager need to make sure they treat their environment with respect. Sometimes you need to let them run ahead and then make sure they come back lead the crowd to the new fields they discovered. You need to encourage people to become a leader in their field. And you need to train them that everybody can be leader and will a leader when the time comes. It is all about taking leadership and giving it to others to follow.

This means that you accept (1) that there is not the universal expert; (2) everybody is leader and a follower; (3) this includes the upper ranks; (4) this can only work if you have a clear communicated and widely supported vision; (5) learn, coach, teach…



PC Mechanic – Fix and Clean Your Machine



What are the things you do the most with your PC nowadays?? On the one side it is a working machine. This starts with doing your taxes (I am German, I know what I am talking about), maybe some studies, calculations, planning, online banking, ordering stuff online. You do lots of Email because the PC – to be honest – still is the best machine to do mails as it has a keyboard, a function clipboard, and lots of local storage. You store and sort the myriads of pictures, do a bit of post processing before uploading some of them somewhere. And finally you browse the web, do some gaming, social networking, watch videos, and much more. The killer application is the browser for sure. Here the focus shifts from the building IE to Chrome. But, most people underestimate how often they still use IE as a build in function of Windows. A lot of the functions above are supported by local applications helping you to use the additional capabilities only your PC has: Screen real estate, hard disk space, CPU power, comfortable input devices, clipboard, and the like.
As a user, some typical problems arise: Managing your disk space, especially when you work a lot with web browsers. You naturally generate junk files. So what you can ask? You have a terra byte of space. Well, having a few movies lying around as junk will show significant impact. Installing (and de-installing) local software leaves entries in the registry. Should not happen but still does. Assignments how to handle certain file types are a typical problem while the assigned handler does not exist anymore.
Last but not least, it is good from time to time to swipe things like cookies of your browsers. Maybe you want to get rid of the stored passwords in the browser. While it is certainly no final guarantee for total privacy, it helps a bit.


We were asked to build a product within 2 months to address this. So we started a project which we internally called Wolverine. It was a cross functional project involving sales, design, development, testing, and product management. It was an intense time as you can imagine but we made it. We tested thoroughly with dozens of man-weeks of testing. It was hard work but also fun to do. I hope the product shows it.

Time to say a little THANK YOU to the team:

  • Mike – Technical lead and heart and soul
  • Jorike, Daniel, Malcolm – Design is  more than pretty colours, I guess 😉 But we should have used some Comic fonts…
  • Damian – Make the thing a product is what you did…
  • Gilbert – We did it for you … and for thousands of customers 😉
  • Developers in Kiev and Malta – You made it a reality…
  • Testers in Kiev and Malta – Gave us a hart time but that’s your job 😉

PC Mechanic – Fix and Clean Your Machine is the result. We followed the idea to build a product that helps you fix typical problems on your machine by opening up the wealth of opportunities you have. And we had the clean verb in mind. Cleaning not only unwanted files, shadow copies, and the like but also looking into what we can do from a privacy perspective.
We also wanted to cater two types of PC users: The interested, technically skilled user. Somebody who treats the PC as her or his hobby. We are sure, they want to see details and have additional functions because they know what they are doing. And then we wanted to cater the user that simply wants it auto-magically happening. Looking for the one-click solution. Knowing that it might not be the ultra-ultimate but save and good. Both of you will find something in this product.
Please try it and give us feedback. And if you are a Mac user, we have something down the same line in a product called Machanic… No, the names are just by chance 😉




On the Cult of Innovation


I just saw another cartoon on LinkedIn about innovation.

One thing that is terribly wrong in the public perception of innovation is that it is so totally obvious. It is easy to smile about the cartoon here because the two guys simply do not do the obvious. But sorry, reality is most of the times totally different.
In retrospective it is always so obvious that this or that innovation had to revolutionize the world. The same will happen to us. Because we will miss to explore an innovation which later is so obviously changing the world. Why does this happen?? Because there is not only one guy with the right idea, there are millions of ideas. Some obviously do not work, some might, some go beyond imagination. You simply cannot try them all. You run in the risk to totally waste your resources. The tail of the innovator who starved is a seldomly told story. But how many of those guys we have for one successful innovator can easily be imagined.

So we play safe. Do things we know that work. Run into Innovator’s Dilemmas. Well, obviously that will not help either. What we need is a little bit of both…

I apply for 20% of time, efforts, resources to destroy what you currently do and think of different ways. If you can invest 20% into rethinking what you do, how you do it, experiment, fail and experiment again, it should prevent you from burning all your midnight oil in a senseless manner. But should keep you away from trying to roll with cubes when you could have wheels.

So, the comic above should show 4 more guys (maybe with triangles, drums, an air-cushion…)




Innovation in Konzernen vs Startup


Was man sich klarmachen muss, wenn man über Innovation in Konzernen versus Innovation im Startup nachdenkt, ist das Framing.

Wenn ich ein Spiel angeboten bekomme, in dem ich mit 10% Chance 100 Millionen verdienen kann, aber mit 90% Chance 5 Millionen Verlust mache, dann redet man hier wohl von Risiko-Kapital-Anlage. Das meiner Volksbank zu verkaufen wird schwierig und auch meine Lebensgefährtin wird mich seltsam ansehen (es sei denn, es war ihre Idee). Mit 5 Mille im Minus wird das weitere Leben sehr schwer oder man muss seine Seele alle halbe Jahre an RTL verkaufen.

Jetzt begeben wir uns in die Schuhe eines Konzern-CEOs. Vor ihm stehen 10 Manager, die alle dieses Spiel spielen können im Auftrag des Konzern. Ziemlich sicher werden 9 davon 5 Millionen minus machen, also 45 Millionen. Ebenfalls ziemlich sicher wird einer 100 Millionen verdienen. Aus Sicht des Konzernlenkers ein gutes Geschäft mit überschaubarem Risiko.

Sicherlich vereinfacht dieses Model extrem und ich habe es einem Buch entnommen („Schnelles Denken, langsames Denken“ von Kahneman , aber es zeigt wie VCs oder Konzerne funktionieren.

Warum gibt es aber dann so wenig intrinsische Innovation in Konzernen? Weil man lernen muss, dass Scheitern Teil des Geschäfts ist. Nicht alles wird funktionieren, eher im Gegenteil, das Meiste wird nicht funktionieren. Man braucht aber mutige Intrapreneure, die trotzdem den Einsatz wagen. Leider feiern wir zu gerne, die zufällig erfolgreichen und bemitleiden die zufällig nicht erfolgreichen. Aber das ist so Baby-Boomer und so nicht mehr Generation Y ( Hoffe ich wenigstens…



Man kann alles aus mindestens 5 Richtungen betrachten…


gerade gelernt:


Jedes Thema kann aus mindestens 5 Richtungen betrachtet werden:

E wie Economic – Die betriebswirtschaftliche Seite, Gewinne, Verluste, Kosten…

T wie Technical – Die technische Machbarkeit, Aufwände, Notwendigkeiten…

H wie Human – Die zwischenmenschliche Seite, Gefühle…

O wie Organizational – Wie muss meine, die andere Organisation aufgestellt sein, um dies erfüllen oder genießen zu können

S wie Social – Auswirkung auf Umwelt, Gesellschaft, Konkurrenten, Komplementäre…

Denkt mal drüber nach…




Innovation ist nicht nur technisch…


Derzeit wühle ich mich durch deutsche Literatur zum Thema Entrepreneurship und Innovation. Ich bin auf das gestoßen:

Darin habe ich einen spannenden Absatz gelesen: Für Unternehmen gibt es zwei Formen von Kraft, wenn es darum geht Produkte am Markt zu haben. Die eine Kraft braucht man um bestehende Produkte am Markt zu halten und seine Marktanteile zu verteidigen. Die andere Kraft, wenn man neue Produkte an den Markt bringt und erfolgreich macht. Letztere ist die einfachere. Es ist anstrengender Produkte am Markt erfolgreich zu halten als neue Herausforderer einzubringen. Interessanter Gedanke.

Weiter meinte der Autor, dass man sich endlich vom Gedanken der dringend notwendigen technischen Innovation verabschieden sollte. Als Beispiele werde eigentlich alle herausstehenden Neugründungen der letzten Jahrzehnte genannt: Google (Suchmaschine ist nett, aber der eigentliche Hit war die Idee mit der indirekten Finanzierung per Werbung), Starbucks (Kaffee gab es vorher, die Idee ihn so zu verkaufen war neu), Amazon (auch nicht die Erfinder von Katalogverkäufen), Apple (MP3 Player und Musikläden im Internet gab es vorher, Smartphones gab es vorher, Tablet gab es vorher). Ich kann mir jetzt lebhaft vorstellen, wie manch einer den Satz „MP3 Player schon, aber doch nicht so einen“ an den Bildschirm schreit. Right, aber hier liegen die Innovationen immer weniger im technischen mehr im Design- oder Business-Bereich. Das soll nicht heißen, man kann ganz auf technische Innovation verzichten. Aber man muss klar die Priorität anders setzen, als wir das bei Produkten der 80er und 90er gemacht (möglichst viele Knöppe dran und Funktionen, die man nur als Elektrotechniker zwar verstehen dann aber für Firlefanz halten würde).
Faszinierend sind die Gedankengänge, weil ich gerade im Bereich Enablement arbeite. Für uns wäre also die Frage, wie können wir anderen helfen derartiges aufzubauen, um am Ende per Netzwerk-Effekt selbst davon zu profitieren!?!?!




Die Idee des Work-Life-Balance (siehe definiert verschiedene Lebensdomänen wie Arbeit, Familie, Freizeit. Zwischen diesen soll man eine Balance halten.

In den letzten Tagen habe viel über das Thema nachdenken müssen. Diese Gedanken mag ich mal teilen:

Wenn man etwas in Balance halten will, muss man es zunächst einmal unterscheiden können. In der Physik bezeichnet man damit die Ausgeglichenheit aller Potentiale und Flüsse ( ).

Lasst mich mal drei Gedankenspiele machen. Was hätte der Begriff Work-Life-Balance für einen Schmied oder Müller im Mittelalter bedeutet?? Genau: Nichts. Es gab keine Trennung zwischen Arbeit, Familie oder Freizeit (äh, welche Freizeit?). Für diese Menschen war ihre Arbeit so prägend, dass sei danach genannt wurden. Ja, und ich heiße Fischer ;-). Und sie müssten Erholung, Abwechslung, Aufregung und Beruhigung – eben Alles in diesem Beruf finden.

Erstaunlicherweise empfinden wir heute dies als die „guten alten Zeiten“ und es gibt Menschen, die aktiv sich zurück in diese Zeit beamen, in dem sie „aussteigen“.

Gedankenspiel 2: Wir befinden uns jetzt zur Zeit der Industrialisierung. Die Menschen arbeiten im Diktat der Uhr. Sie werden hochspezialisiert und die Arbeit auf die endlose Wiederholung einzelner Handgriffe reduziert. Marx sieht hier eine Trennung des Menschen vom Ergebnis seiner Arbeit. Man trennt auch Arbeitsleben von der Familie und Freizeit. Was hätte Work-Life-Balance für diesen Arbeiter bedeutet?

Gedankenspiel 3: In der heutigen Zeit, in welchem Model befinden wir uns heute? Ist Arbeit und Freizeit voneinander getrennt? Oder kann man auf seine Arbeit stolz sein, es seinen Kindern weitergeben? Sind wir Mittelalter oder Industrie?

Ich denke, wir sind uns einig, dass der Marxsche Arbeitsbegriff so heute nicht mehr gilt. Was heißt jetzt aber Work-Life-Balance heute?

Ich denke, es geht nicht mehr um noch mehr Freizeit oder Urlaub. Vielmehr geht es darum, dass man mit seiner Arbeit „eines“ sein kann. Dass man Spaß daran hat, sich selbst verwirklichen kann; Spannung, Spaß und Spiel halt. Dafür lass‘ ich mich als Manager dann auch gerne verantwortlich machen.