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Drop Your Tools! Shifting Battle Tactics in Times of Uncertainty

Filene Fellow Sekou Bermiss draws lessons from the Mann Gulch Disaster to help credit union leaders respond to uncertain times and the changing nature of work. Accompanying this report is a guide, Leadership During Uncertain Times, where we highlight insights from our esteemed cohort of Fellows for how leaders can guide their organizations forward.

Executive Summary

What does it mean to lead through change? The first step is to assess the situation, determine the plan or action, and communicate this plan to your team. But what happens when the situation has changed so dramatically that it becomes unfathomable to your team?

What is the research about?

To understand what happens in an organization, you need to investigate how people in that organization make sense of their environment and their role within the environment. 

Because people in organizations are constantly attempting to make sense of their actions and environments, effective organizations are built on routines and habitual actions that bring the same people together around the same activities in the same times and places.

There is significant value for credit union leaders to think about the sensemaking habits and routines that structure your organization right now.

A famous paper in organizational psychology written by Karl Weick entitled “The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster,” draws attention to how an extreme event can create the collapse of such sensemaking in an organization. When people within organizations face an existential threat, Weick argues that individuals are reluctant to “drop their tools” even though their mission has changed and their tools are no longer appropriate.

This research brief builds on Weick’s concepts of sensemaking and highlights four factors that can help credit unions become more resilient in the face of massive external changes and prevent the collapse of sensemaking within their workforce.

What are the credit union implications?

There is significant value for credit union leaders to think about the sensemaking habits and routines that structure their organization right now. The first few months of the pandemic was mostly reactive and rapid response. The speed of change has slowed, but the overall uncertainty of the external and workplace environment remains high. In other words, it is the perfect time for credit union leaders to take a moment to assess and make sense of their situation. In considering the four factors described in this brief, credit union leaders can work towards making their organizations better prepared and more resilient for the challenges that lie ahead.

After reading the research brief, download the accompanying guide to get recommendations and insights from Filene Fellows on how to:

  • Separate Signal from Noise
  • Build Cultures of Openness
  • Communicate With Authenticity
  • Build Organizational Resilience
  • Be Nimble

Filene thanks its members and Inner Circle sponsors for helping support this research from the Center for War for Talent.

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