Making the Most of an Unforeseen Situation
Throughout this section, we have talked about the need for leaders to develop their organization’s culture to weather the effects of a crisis. This practice not only prepares you to handle the stress of troubled times, but it reduces the potential for a crisis in the first place.
Leaders should recognize the difference between a crisis and an urgent matter. Crises are unforeseen developments that radically affect your ability to do business. Something that’s simply urgent falls within the realm of uncertainty that you have prepared for.
When you’ve worked to empower and engage team members, build positive relationships, and establish systems that serve, you can mitigate the possibility of a crisis ever developing.
But, no matter how prepared you are, a true crisis is inevitable. What you make of it as a leader is the real test.
Recognize the Opportunity to Improve
When people find themselves in a period of crisis, they instinctively return to the things that matter most to them. They reach out to family, they turn to acts of self-care, they take time for themselves. In short, they return to their most solid base of understanding, support, and care. An organization should act the same way.
Crisis is a time to return to your organization’s core values and long-term plans.
As a leader, once you recognize you are in a crisis, ask yourself these questions…
- Are we honest with people about it?
- Have we done everything we can to research it and understand what the dynamics are?
- Have we thought about how the current crisis juxtaposes with the planning we’ve already done?
- How would we modify our 30-, 60-, 90-day plans to suit?
- How would we modify our three-, six- and nine-month plans?
- How would we modify our plans for the next year, three years, five years?
Start from a place of empathy and understanding of your team members. From there, branch out and consider the opportunities that the crisis presents.
A few examples of crisis-specific opportunities include…
- Improve Internal Capacity — When the horizon for your business is obscured by factors that feel out of your control, looking inward for improvement and efficiency can be a rewarding direction to focus your energy on as a leader.
- Make It a Team Effort — Enlisting the help of team members to improve internal capacity builds inclusion, improves a sense of ownership, and focuses the efforts of teams so they’re more engaged and efficient.
Framing these opportunities as chances to build the capacity of teams turns stressful, critical moments into positive learning experiences at a time when people might otherwise feel paralyzed.
Using Empathy to Tackle Underperformance
Uncertainty is a breeding ground for speculation, rumor, and gossip. Leaders who do not make an early commitment to clearly communicate in the face of crisis risk alienating their organization and losing trust.
Consider these communication strategies whenever you face a crisis…
- Make your message heard by utilizing all communication channels (email, print, in-person meetings, etc.) to their full potential.
- Prevent gossip by communicating early and often.
- Get the details right, avoid speculation, and be honest about what you may not know.
- Focus on the future and how you see opportunities to improve in the midst of difficulty.
Many of these conversations will not be easy, but they’re necessary. And, there is a way to have them that will soften the edge. Always begin and end a difficult conversation on a positive note.
For example, if you’re having trouble with a team member, start by telling them how you appreciate their contributions. Lead into the difficult conversation with respect and clarity, and then end the meeting with a positive plan for the future.
Turn Difficult Conversations into Positive Practices: Lessons from COVID-19
When the coronavirus first turned most office spaces into ghost towns, it was hard to think about the benefits. But remember, a crisis can create as many opportunities as it takes away.
Here are a few COVID-inspired practices that actually improved the way many organizations function.
- Committing to Positive Relationships — When the health and well-being of teams was threatened, coworkers became confidants, collaborators, and friends sticking together through the bond of difficult shared experiences.
- Fostering Flexible Work — We’ve known for a long time that flexible work schedules are valued by employees. COVID proved it was possible, paving the way for a better work-life balance and lower overhead costs in the future.
- Offering Abundant Grace — Organizations that couldn’t be together found new ways to connect, extended each other empathy, and moved forward united in new and inspiring ways.
Going back to work after COVID isn’t going to be easy, but with these practices in place, a new normal may be just what’s needed for a major boost to team member morale.