As a senior mergers and acquisitions director at PricewaterhouseCooper's Transaction Services group and as a second lieutenant in the Norwegian Navy, Wenche Mittet is used to dealing with critical situations. With over 16 years of experience across a wide variety of sectors, Wenche has often been involved in the turnaround and restructuring of stressed and distressed companies – the most critical situations in the corporate world. Here she talks about how to handle critical situations successfully.
1. WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL IN HANDLING A CRITICAL SITUATION?
The ability to keep calm and stay focussed. If you start running around too fast you will not be able to sort it out. Strangely I find I react to others getting stressed and anxious by becoming calmer myself.
2. WHAT CRITICAL SITUATIONS HAVE YOU FACED IN THE PAST?
I was running a big SAP (systems applications and products in IT) installation project in Sheffield for a stainless steel company when I realised that the budget and the number of consultants I could access were not going to be enough to meet the completion deadline. Requests for more resources were turned down. What could I do? I decided to train staff from the stainless steel company to be IT consultants. They were mainly steel workers in their mid-40s, so they had no experience whatsoever. I installed a coffee machine and biscuits in a barrack-style building to attract interest among the workers, and chose ten to train up. At the start they knew nothing about IT, but within months they were a proper team and had successfully installed and tested the new SAP system. The project was completed on time and they got a new skill which changed their lives. Two went into consulting, three are now independent SAP contractors (two of them overseas) and I still get emails from many of them saying thank you.
3. WHAT DID YOU LEARN OVERALL?
I discovered that you can motivate people to do anything much more easily than I imagined. We organised bowling evenings, and I took some of the guys who had worked really hard to an England v Wales football match at Old Trafford with champagne and souvenir T shirts and caps. We consultants take things like that for granted but it was a very big deal for them. Fairly small things like free coffee, creating a space for people to learn and develop, and having a laugh daily, can be huge motivators. I also learnt that you can have a much bigger impact on people lives than you could ever imagine.
4. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF?
That I am motivated by the capacity to change people's lives.
5. IN YOUR OPINION, WHEN YOU OR YOUR TEAM HAVE HAD A NEGATIVE OUTCOME FROM A CRITICAL SITUATION, WHAT MADE IT SO?
I have not had a negative outcome. However, a few years ago I was working on a project for General Motors to restructure SAAB in Sweden and we managed to sell it to Spyker Cars owner Victor Muller rather than splitting it up. At the time it was seen as a success, but the SAAB staff had lost their motivation – there was no optimism left in their bones. Two years later it went bankrupt. I learnt that you cannot control the long term outcome of a deal.
6. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS FACING A CRITICAL SITUATION?
Trust your own abilities, ask for help if you need it and stay focussed.
7. WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP YOURSELF FOCUSED AND MOTIVATED DURING A CRITICAL SITUATION?
I try to exercise and get enough sleep, otherwise I don't have the energy to stay on top of situations, which is important because you have to be seen as a leader – in order for other people to want to follow you. You also have to enjoy what you are doing otherwise it's hard to motivate anyone else.
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