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Good Managers Manage Well Anywhere and Anytime

On June 8th, the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed that the U.S. officially entered a recession in February 2020. Just speaking for myself, the announcement was not helpful (in that it did not help me as a manager make or change any decisions). It was like the doctor pointing to the tibia protruding from your skin and saying, “hey, your leg is broken.” Uh, thanks.

However, over the past three months, I have had the good fortune to discuss and compare notes with clients and my team on how we can best manage these virulent, volatile and sleep-losing times. While most of my conversations occur with folks in the timber and forest products industries, I also talked with consultants, investors and service providers outside of these industries, and made note of common themes with how we as fellow humans and actors on this stage are adjusting.

Good managers manage well, even during a pandemic. A few times over the past several months I’ve gotten up in the morning, looked in the mirror and thought, “how do I help today (given that I don’t know what’s going to happen)?” I hear the same from clients. At the end of the day, good managers and colleagues do what they say they’re going to do and communicate in advance if complications arise. Just as they would during normal times. Along the way, they share information and updates which helps others support the problem solving and decision making. At Forisk, my team has been a source of support, ownership and inspiration as we jointly develop next steps, and for this I am grateful. My friends across the industry have shared similar stories about their teams. Forestry attracts good folks.

Leaders have more freedom to decide up front when less information exists. While counterintuitive, the onset of the COVID pandemic and the responses by corporate executives, now that we have a few months to look back on, highlighted where decisions made in the “fog of war” actually helped or hurt. We have known from the first weeks what data we needed for clarity. Regardless the success or failure of getting this data, the forest industry, overall, demonstrated tremendous discipline. We see this in steady (though lower) wood flows and in viable end product pricing. My calls in March and April with managers and executives centered on (1) supporting employees and reinforcing safety; (2) “right-sizing” production to support and keep clients and customers; and (3) managing cash. To me, the thinking across the industry was clear and focused for dealing with the current situation given limited information. Now that we know more, decisions become more straightforward (but not easier).

Effective teams share common values. We work with a business consultant who helped our team strengthen Forisk’s business processes over the past 18 months. Brett and I spoke recently about the current state of affairs and, as we usually do, ended up touching on our common values. Again, the idea of values has been consistent in my calls with clients. Leaders require a core set of beliefs and values against which to test ideas and make decisions, especially during uncertain times. Consider the context. With no data and little clarity about the future, how does one choose a course of action? With common values, clearly communicated over time with a team, decisions have, at a minimum, a source of validity and rigor.

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