- IMD Business School

From crisis to recovery: leading your operating system to success

59 min.
June 2020


In this webinar, Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur, IMD Professor of Leadership & Organizational Behavior, looks at factors that have supported companies in previous crises and at three business behaviors exhibited by companies that emerged fitter and healthier than those who stagnated.

It appeared live on 5th June 2020 at 11am CEST, and was facilitated by Susan Goldsworthy OLY, IMD Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change.

Professor Ben-Hur delves into his recent research into factors that support the creation of a leadership operating system that puts both leaders and their businesses on course for sustainable success.

Listeners will benefit from hearing real-life stories from companies as diverse as Staples and Kellogg’s, examples from heads of government, and insights from in-depth research including that from his book “Leadership OS: The Operating System You Need to Succeed” co-authored with Nik Kinley. Suggestions for practical actions presented for the road ahead abound, apt for this new phase in which we start to rehabilitate our lives and economies after the coronavirus pandemic.

What distinguishes companies that thrive in a crisis from those that barely survive?

As always, there will be winners and losers coming out of this crisis period. In previous crises we saw that only 9% of companies thrived and some three quarters really struggled to survive, he explains. Company size and pre-crisis performances are not great predictors of whether a company will be a winner or a loser in this context.

Professor Ben-Hur has identified three business behaviours, however, of those companies that have done well in past crises: efficiency, evolution and empowerment.

He speaks about each of these in turn and shares specific actions that winning organizations take. For example, did you know that Rice Crispies were created and introduced as part of Kellogg’s product evolution which, together with advertising on the radio, gave it the competitive edge over its rival during the Great Depression?

“Different organizations within their specific cultures may take different measures at different times, but the key is to ensure you focus on all three,” explains Professor Ben-Hur.

What do high-performing leaders do to create the conditions for sustainable success?

Factors that promote recovery and appropriate business behaviours need a finely tuned operating system to function optimally.

Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur says: “Our research found that leaders of high-performing companies create the environment – the operating system – in which trust, clarity and momentum flourish.

“They don’t solve all your challenges as a leader when you look at their correlation with performance, but they can explain 75% of what it is that affects performance.”

The first, trust, is “the most important to people and matters more than how much they enjoy their jobs,” he declares, referring to empirical findings.

Professor Ben-Hur shares the positive example of how Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, responded to initial challenges with the service openly and publicly and restored trust in the company at a crucial time.

As for creating clarity, this is, says Professor Ben-Hur, probably “the most challenging thing in a crisis as suddenly your strategy is out of the window.” The way to deal with that fact is “to push key pillars of new normal for your organization.”

Be transparent and communicate regularly and you will cascade clarity into the organization. Here he explains the example of Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Verizon.

Then there is momentum, which is essentially the energy for keeping motivation high and confidence strong, as well as the art of giving a sense of empowerment. It increases loyalty, creativity and entrepreneurship. And it is the very opposite of anchoring in silos, and of allowing toxins to seep in.

We are also invited to look at New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership throughout the pandemic as an example of someone using the operating system to its full capacity. She was able to create an environment of trust, clarity and momentum for the New Zealand people, building a feeling of unity in the face of a crisis.

The right operating system will make (good) things happen

In a nutshell, the key to coming out of a crisis fitter than when you entered is “to combine the three business behaviours of efficiency, evolution and empowerment with the three leadership factors of trust, clarity and momentum,” says Professor Ben-Hur.

That way, you can create an operating system that is well oiled for success.

To view all webinars, please visit our Leading in Turbulent Times page here.


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