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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published March 15, 2020

WEBINAR: How to Lead Your Organization Through (and Out Of) This Crisis 

These are strange, disquieting times...

For me, it's a continuance of what I found myself amidst in the very first day of my adult work life.

Check out what 7 recessions (and two extended sessions in the foetal position) taught me about leading through a crisis:

Running time: 11' 11"     Don't forget to leave your comments below!

Read Transcript

My first day at work was in the early 1970s ...believe it or not.

I had secured a place to study to become a Chartered Accountant, which is the UK equivalent of a CPA. It was called being an 'articled clerk'.

I actually paid for the privilege for the first year and on my very first day Britain was in the middle of an enormous recession - it had been for some time and was going to continue to be so for almost two years - I started on my first day and continued for a number of months every single day by using a slide rule - Google that, kids 🙂

A thing called a slide rule to recalculate our clients cash flow projections. Interest rates were hovering between 20 and 30 percent and changed every single day, often by considerable amounts.

And this was before the era of personal computers.

Visicalc, the first spreadsheet to be invented was 6 - 7 years away. A spreadsheet was literally that - it was a sheet of paper that was graphed out, and looked exactly like a spreadsheet does on your screen these days.

Desktop calculators hadn't quite made it - they arrived about a year, two years down the line, but there I was with an eraser and a pencil literally, every single day for months recalculating our client's cash flows as they struggled just to stay afloat during what was a really difficult time.

Five years later, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and struck out on my own. I was self-employed and have been ever since then.

And so I went through the recession of the 1980s in the UK and the same in the 1990s. We actually had what was called a double dip recession at that point.

I moved here to the US in the late 1990s and then of course, we went through the Dot-com bust in the early 'aughts', (as they're being called) which was then heightened by the events of 9/11 - and of course the 2008 to 2012 Great Recession or whatever you want to call it.

I went through all of those, every time on my own dime, running my own business.

And I've also had exposure to those times when there hasn't actually been any major economic headwind, but my own business or businesses have suffered their own particular crises.

I remember the time when I invested a lot (this is also a long time ago) in a business that refurbished PCB's - printed circuit boards. I put most of my then net worth into that business, only to watch over the course of the next year what I didn't know then was the start of the transference of any of that type of labor-based work around computers to the Far East - and our business just disappeared overnight.

I remember the time when, in the early 2000's, my entire financial existence depended on a database - an email list of about 40,000 HR practitioners around the country here in the US.

And I was selling (this is just before I was going to move into Predictable Success being my core - only - business) and at that point I was teaching mentoring and coaching, employee orientation, onboarding - and retention was a big issue back then.

And my one marketing tool was this email list, and I somehow managed (this was way before Dropbox and cloud computing) I somehow managed to do a thing called an FTP transfer - which some of you remember - which ended up actually destroying the database.

It overwrote with something that was just gobbledygook, and it was unusable.

But thankfully my then webhost had a backup, and somehow somehow they managed to write the malformed version of the database over the good backup rather than the other way round.

And there was no option - I tried everything - we had no other backups.

Now that was stupidity on my own part, but it led to an enormous crisis from a business point of view.

Anyway, I've been twice, literally, in the foetal position. I don't use that phrase metaphorically - I mean literally on the ground in the foetal position, gripped by an existential fear that I was in the middle of something that wasn't going to get fixed.

I've been through those seven recessions. And as I mentioned every one of them except the first one, I went through them on my own dime. I experienced them affecting me and my business.

And one of the things that thankfully was happening all along, was that as I experienced each of those crises. I was more and more becoming to understand and develop what became the Predictable Success model.

And there's a sense in which I learned more in developing Predictable Success about how to deal with adversity and crisis then I did about how to deal with positive, growth times -because those are the times when you learn things.

It's just that that's not the aspect of what I learned that I teach most often because what most people want are the positive aspects of Predictable Success that talk about growing and growth moving forward.

But I have discovered that there are 4 absolutely specific key imperative aspects of leading any organization - for-profit or not-for-profit - through a crisis and we're seeing some of those play out just where we are literally today.

Now those 4 things are first of all understanding yourself as a leader, intimately, in a way that shows you not only what are my strengths that I want to bring to bear here, but also - what are my blind spots? What are the things that I'm not seeing?

That's so crucially important.

Second. It's vital to understand your core team (what we call here at Predictable Success' T1') - the group of people whether it's just two of you or 20 of you who are making the core decisions right now.

You must know in a clinical sense what your strengths and weaknesses (as a team) are in a crisis.

The third thing that's absolutely crucial is you've got to achieve a forensic understanding of your organization's recent history.

Now, that might sound a little academic or arcane, but a lot of what you're going to have to make decisions about right now and in the immediate future has to do with unpicking aspects of what your organization has just put in place - shoring up some things that you've either just put in place or have had for quite a while, and absolutely stopping some things - and also starting to do some new things.

And you need to know in a forensic manner what you can stop that won't hamper you from rebounding out of this crisis and also what you might need to start in order to get out of this crisis.

And the final thing that you've got to know is what - from what are sometimes an overwhelming set of potential next steps - what are the next steps that are right for your organization.

Not necessarily [right] for the industry or the overall market or the area that you work in or contribute in, or that your not for profit is in - not the right steps for an organization like yours.

What are the next steps for your organization, where it is at the moment, to get through and get out of this crisis.

Now, I don't often or usually teach those principles but clearly those are the very principles that most of us (me included) are grappling with. I'm no more exempt from what's going on right now than anyone else.

So I'm going to do a free webinar on March 24th, and I'm going to go into great detail about those 4 principles - plus 3 subsidiary principles, which I don't have time to talk about in this brief video - on how to lead your organization through this crisis and out the other side.

I'm doing it on Tuesday 24th, which is not this Tuesday but next as we're recording this, so there's no immediate rush to register therefore, but my Zoom channel only does have 100 seats - that's what I pay for each month.

So if you want to be sure to get on board just scroll down and register below.

If you can't make it for that time and date, you can register for the replay. There is a small charge for that, but as I say you want to take the webinar live, it's absolutely free. 
And I'll teach you the core principles of the very specific steps that you need to adopt to take your organization through and out of the specific crisis that we're facing right now.

I hope you'll join me then.

My name is Les McKeown - for now feel free to scroll down leave some comments. Do register and I'll see you on the webinar!

2020-03-18 UPDATE: "The 2008 downturn was the absolute best thing that ever happened to us."

Yesterday I was on a call with a long-standing client.

We were discussing the COVID-19 crisis and comparing it to previous crises we'd been through together (John and his company have been a client for along time :-), and he said this:

"The 2008 downturn was the absolute best thing that ever happened to us.

Really. We went down from 111 people to 43 - but they were the 43 best. We hunkered down, we made money every year during the downturn because we were so disciplined.

When we came out of it, we came out like a slingshot - we had eight years of double digit growth."

(By the way, lest you think this is one of those made-up stories, my client's name is John Estabrook and he's the Owner and President of Pella by Horne. I have John's permission to share this with you). 

Just read John's comment again, one more time...

The 2008 Great Recession was 'the absolute best thing that ever happened to us'.

John's company had 8 straight years of double-digit growth from 2008 on...

That's a pretty impressive response to a crisis.

Now, I know that there's a lot more at risk in this current crisis than just money. Profit and top-line growth isn't everything - but as a leader, you can't secure the health and wellness of you, your family, and that of your employees, partners, members, congregation or any other stakeholders without first securing the structural and financial well-being of your organization.

John was kind enough to also say this when discussing the reasons behind his company's remarkable response to the 2008 crisis:

"To your credit, you know, Predictable Success really did change this company."

I share that with you not to brag. This isn't a time to brag.

But it also isn't time for false modesty. I know the power of the Predictable Success model.

I've seen what it has done to transform organizations of all sizes, in all industries, for-profit and not-for-profit.

I've seen how it has fundamentally altered businesses and organizations just like yours - helping them grow and succeed in good times, and even more powerfully, helping them react and respond in crises like this one.

Next Tuesday (24th) at Noon Eastern, I'm holding a webinar during which I'll teach the Predictable Success principles for leading your organization through (and out of) this crisis.

I hope you'll join me and learn how you can one day look back and say "The 2020 crisis was the best thing that ever happened to us":

2020-03-20 UPDATE: "I feel a little embarrassed to say this, but I feel really good about the medium and long term."


That's a straight quote from a coaching call I had today with one of my long-time clients, the CEO of an Inc 5000 company based in the mid-west.

Brandon (not his real name - there are sensitivities at play here that I want to respect, but yes, he does exist and these quotes are his) has a payroll of hundreds of people, a product portfolio that is complex, and is working in a tight-knit local community that feels like a fishbowl at the best of times.

And he is confident about his company's future, even in this, the most devastating of crises any of us have ever faced.

If you knew Brandon, you'd know two things: (1) that his embarrassment is real - he is, like all of us, devastated by the events of these last couple of weeks, and (2) that with his mid-western adherence to fact-based reality, to say something so positive is based on hard-nosed calculation - not some pollyanna-ish hopefulness.

How can Brandon be so upbeat when so many of us are distraught, lost - casting about for a sense of direction in the most devastating crisis of our times?

Well, the main reason of course is that Brandon is a great leader, with a great team, and a rock-solid product offering.

But so are you. As are so many others - leaders of best-in-class manufacturing and service companies, world-changing cause- or faith-based not-for-profits, churches, charities and NGO's - all struggling to envisage a future, let alone feeling confident about the medium and long term.

So what makes the difference? Where does Brandon's confidence come from? Well, one component element is something Brandon said in an email he sent later, after our call.

During our call Brandon had mentioned that one of his re-sellers was experiencing growth problems, and that he'd like to connect the two of us. Here's part of what Brandon said in his introductory email to the two of us:

"[Predictable Success] directly played a significant role in our ability to navigate our way through Whitewater. Les was and remains a significant asset and mentor for me and [my company]".

As I've said before, I share that with you not to brag. This isn't a time to brag.

But it also isn't time for false modesty. I know the power of the Predictable Success model.

I've seen what it has done to transform organizations of all sizes, in all industries, for-profit and not-for-profit.

I've seen how it has fundamentally altered businesses and organizations just like yours - helping them grow and succeed in good times, and even more powerfully, helping them react and respond in crises like this one.

Next Tuesday (24th) at Noon Eastern, I'm holding a webinar during which I'll teach the Predictable Success principles for leading your organization through (and out of) this crisis.

I hope you'll join me and learn how you say "I feel a little embarrassed to say this, but I feel really good about the medium and long term":

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