The first thing to acknowledge as a leader is that during a crisis, the normal way of doing things has to change. Standard methods of operation have to be pushed aside, decisions have to be made faster, often when all the necessary information is not available, and perhaps most importantly, your staff are going to need extra care.
Acquire as Much Information as You Can
Any leader understands that you have to have some information about what is going on, even if this offers an incomplete picture of the situation, this being the case even when the situation could change quickly. The best leaders have been trained (or do so naturally) to make decisions quickly, processing the available information and coming up with the best plan they can think of. That is not to say that these decisions will turn out to be the best, but history shows that doing nothing is far more damaging to an organization than doing something.
Speed is More Important Than Precision
During a crisis, things can happen very quickly, sometimes every hour, hence the need to continually assess the situation and be prepared to adapt. Leaders have to make decisions they are sure of, but paradoxically, also be able to change their minds and admit that the previous decision is no longer valid.
Plus, in times of crisis, interests, and priorities may clash, and emotions and personalities can get in the way of any decisions. Paralysis can, therefore, easily occur, especially when the usual operational methodology of the organization is to gain consensus.
But in a crisis, there is no time for this. Instead, a leader must establish their priorities, be they employee safety, cash flow, customer care, the ability to maintain operations, or a myriad of others. A true leader understands which is the most important and focuses on these alone. This can mean that trade-offs have to be made, but even these can only be constructed once the difference between ‘urgent and important’ or ‘survival today versus success tomorrow’ has been decided.
That does not mean to say that measurements can be thrown out of the window. Metrics will still need to be kept, this being a necessary part of the ‘adapting to new circumstances approach’ that is needed during any crisis.
Ensure Everyone Knows Who the Decision-Makers Are
Every business is divided into departments and teams, and in every case, the leader, the person who ‘owns’ that area needs to be empowered, they have to be able to make decisions then and there, without the normal recourse to a higher authority. In a major crisis, there is simply not the time or the senior leadership bandwidth to allow for this.
However, this entails another change in the standard leadership norms since, in a crisis, you have to embrace action and not punish mistakes. These are bound to happen at every level, but if every leader has been correctly selected and trained, this should not happen too often.
Communication is Key
With the leadership teams set and empowered, and the decisions made, the next step is to ensure continual communication is maintained throughout the organization. The phrase ‘Review, Repeat and Reinforce’ has been coined by some as the mantra to be followed in any crisis.
The reason behind this is simple to explain. The need to go over the data, to review it with your staff is obvious, but once is never enough as not everybody will have received that communication, so a repeat will be needed. And because not everyone will understand it, reinforcing it and answering any questions is a must.
Make Sure You are Available
During a crisis, staff will need more assurance. They will need to hear more frequently from their leaders and for them to appear calm and in control. To show concern is not a problem, everyone will expect that, but they do need to look knowledgeable and in full command of the situation. However, they also need to be available in some way, since in a crisis employees will want to be able to update them and ask questions.
Connect and Respect
The one thing that no organization can afford to do is to ignore the needs of its employees. More than ever, in a crisis, leaders have to connect with and respect their staff. They have to treat people with consideration and genuine concern. Paying attention to and listening to ‘your people is essential, as is considering what they have said and responded appropriately. It is also necessary to understand what is not being said.
Be Aware of Your Own Needs
Being a leader in times of crisis is not easy. Your emotions will often be in a state of flux, and the physical and mental drain can be immense. It is, therefore, vital that all leaders also take steps to look after themselves, taking breaks and using techniques like deep breathing or meditation. After all, you cannot lead your staff unless you are fit and able.
There is no doubt that a leader’s attitude has an immense effect on their staff, as well as the other leaders in the company.
This is doubly important in times of crisis, an ‘upbeat, can-do attitude’ combined with an air of ‘defeat is impossible’ inspires all to keep on going.
Plan for the Next Crisis
Following all of the above will give your organization a better chance of surviving any crisis. But remember, this will not be the last one you will face, so start planning for the next one. The first step here is to check on how everyone handled the situation. Ask yourself who struggled, who rose to the occasion, and more importantly, ask yourself why.
Training is Key
No matter how well you managed the last crisis, there will be things that you will need to change. And one of them could well be that you need to give your leaders and staff a bigger personal tool kit to call upon, something that is best supplied by training.
But not any old training will do here. The best way to give anyone a greater chance of surviving a crisis is to put them into a crisis situation and let them see how they should act and react, all the while learning from their mistakes in a totally safe environment. And the best way this can be achieved is by the use of a crisis simulation.
And here, the very best choice is Prendo. Over the last 20 years, they have trained tens of thousands of clients in companies across the globe, using simulations to improve performance and reduce the risk of failure in a wide range of vital business functions. For more information on crisis business simulations, see https://www.prendo.com/leadership-challenges/managing-crisis-scenarios/