The Coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that business as we know it can change in a heartbeat. That, at any moment, a company, its leaders, and their teams may need to do a 180o pivot to shift gears from high performance to mere survival. Global pandemics aside, business-altering challenges can and will originate from a wide range of sources–a public relations crisis, supply chain disruptions, unstable political systems, and inevitable economic fluctuations.
Conceptually we know that leaders must be able to quickly change course and lead their teams through the chaos back to a place of safety, normalcy, and productivity. While there is no one playbook that suits every scenario, there are key steps leaders can take to stabilize the course, quell employee anxiety, and harness new ideas that ignite renewed engagement.
The following highlights some of the steps leaders can take to lead their teams with confidence to a re-stablized “normal.” The associated examples for each step might spark your own ideas of how they may apply to you.
Acknowledge what you can and cannot control and seek help when needed
The trap for leaders is trying to control everything when everything seems out of control. Of course certain actions may be immediately warranted when costs need to be contained and cutbacks considered. The risk with over-control is when unnecessary new layers of approval are instituted for minor decisions. The result is an organization that becomes less responsive, employee frustration growing with each new constraint.
Now is the time to differentiate between those actions that must be taken with immediacy vs. those hurdles that can be tackled organically as they arise. Determine where responsibilities and decisions can be delegated to others and strive to engage teams in collaborative problem-solving, pulling together insights and solutions for an aligned and strategic approach.
Example of using your team’s insight to address client retention and identify new client needs: “Realizing that we risk losing a significant part of our client base, and that we don’t know when or if they might return, what can we do proactively to maintain those relationships? Let’s discuss your thoughts and any information you have through your collaboration with the account team that might generate new ideas–including addressing other problems that these accounts might be facing. We’ll plan to meet ASAP to brainstorm additional clients to pursue.”
Create a plan that includes “what ifs?” and future outlook
From the start it is important to anticipate the impact of a crisis on your business, which requires that you consider how significantly and for how long the demand for your product or service will be reduced. Identify potential scenarios A, B, and C, and determine how you will know which one is materializing by creating a dashboard of internal business and external economic metrics. Then put a game plan in place for addressing each scenario, should it arise. It is a good idea to routinely conduct a SWOT analysis to focus on strengths and opportunities as you stay abreast of potential threats and weaknesses. When difficulty arises, be prepared with a set of actions to take should various circumstances occur. Most importantly, don’t let a crisis prevent you from keeping your eye on the future outlook of the business.
Example of a discussion regarding staffing levels for various “what if” scenarios: “Let’s consider our course of action if the Coronavirus disruption continues to the extent that business is projected to decline by x%. We can consider the options of an across the board pay cut, mandatory PTO, and reducing the number of hours worked by everyone so that we can keep employees for the long-term. Research what other organizations are considering and what is emerging as best practice. Let’s also identify the progressive reintroduction of roles once quarantine orders are lifted.”
Conduct an analysis of available internal and external resources
While many leaders instinctively and rightfully hunker down to weather the storm, the best leaders not only address the problem at hand head-on, but focus attention and marshal resources to chart a new and better future. The notion is that you do what it takes to survive as best you can in the present as you position the company with a new competitive edge for when the crisis has passed.
Tap internal resources, assembling diverse teams to retool and to innovate: create new services, streamline operations, and forge new alliances. Explore external partnerships—even with competitors as unlikely bedfellows—much as industry leaders and competitors GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi announced an “unprecedented collaboration” with the aim of producing a Coronavirus vaccine.
Example of leveraging external resources to solve a problem: “Our supply chain in the Philippines has been destroyed due to the recent hurricane. Let’s reach out to our other manufacturers in Europe and Asia to see how they can increase capacity to address these orders.”
Present a positive and inspiring attitude that others can look towards and balance empathy with execution
During times of crisis leaders play a central role in looking out for team members, creating an atmosphere of understanding, accommodation, and support. In some cases, the most critical indicator of survival is the positive outlook of a leader. One of the most important things you can do is demonstrate empathy by acknowledging your employees’ stress and their real-life struggles as they juggle personal/family issues with work deliveries. Be calm, confident, and convey an attitude of optimism and resilience, emphasizing that better times are coming and providing reassurance that the problems they are facing now are not forever.
Example message of how to address stressed employees: “I understand that we are all stressed by the changes and by the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Be aware that I am strongly advocating for our current team structure and continue to express how important our projects are to achieving our annual goals. At the same time, I have been having conversations with executive leadership about engaging our team in the exploration and execution of innovative ideas. I’ll keep you informed of developments as they unfold. In the meantime, you know that my door is open to discuss ideas and or personal concerns.”
Successfully weathering the storm can be a make or break moment for any leader. Learn how you can hone your capabilities to prepare for even the worst of times by exploring our Leadership Coaching for Experienced, Emerging, and Newly Hired Leaders services.