How to Lead Your Team During a Crisis

TSP • @myTSPnet


Given that there are over 9.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, most, if not all organizations are dealing with a crisis. It’s imperative that companies understand how to lead their teams during the current situation and crises in general.

Being prepared for a crisis will look different for every organization. However, the goal for navigating crisis is always the same — to return to business as usual as efficiently and safely as possible. This goal is only achieved by having a strong leadership team in place which can operate under pressure.

Whether it's a global pandemic, a product recall, employee misconduct or any other issue that an organization may face, the processes of leading through a crisis are the same.

The first step toward surviving a crisis is to understand it. Beyond the immediate issues that the company faces, managers should determine what future issues the crisis may cause. This could be anything from layoffs, to decrease in profits, to a loss of customers.

Leaders need to quickly process information and determine what matters most to make firm decisions. Acting immediately may mean sacrificing precision; however, the Havard Business Review states that making these decisions can lead to resuming business as usual sooner. By prioritizing action, a company also must be willing to accept that mistakes will occur. Missteps are inevitable during a crisis, but inaction is worse.

As the crisis unfolds, the needs of the company can change by the hour or even the minute. Start by making a plan for how to tackle the crisis. A war room is often helpful for the leadership team. This can be a physical meeting place or just a figurative name for those within it, a war room serves as a place for your crisis strategy development.

During the initial war room meeting, a team should start by defining roles. This will speed up the decision-making process and allow the team to disseminate the burden of conquering the crisis. Unlike actual war, what is discussed in the war room does not, and should not stay there. Once your company has a plan regarding the crisis, the next step is to circulate it through your company.

This pandemic has not only affected the way businesses operate, but also the way that they communicate. Often, the initial reaction to a crisis is to withdraw. However, silence can lead to the spread of misinformation. When Facebook’s data scandal broke, their leadership team seemingly went into hiding. This tactic backfired and led to a number of “Where’s Zuckerberg” headlines.

The best way to fight misinformation and stay out of the headlines is to provide clear and consistent communication. Communicating information is imperative to handling the crisis because it diminishes fear, provides guidance and demonstrates that the leadership team is concerned and staying on top of the situation.

Frequent communication is always important, but it’s crucial during difficult times as it helps to maintain and increase employee engagement. Checking in with employees every few days or sharing daily updates can help manage employee concerns. Leaders should strive to bridge the gap between what is happening at the top and how it will impact employees at every level.

One way to bridge the gap is to define priorities and share those with employees. During the COVID-19 crisis, this might include employee safety and client care. Sharing tips on how to effectively work from home or how to stay safe at the grocery store might seem out of your company's wheelhouse. However, sharing these messages shows that your organization cares that employees, clients and customers are staying healthy and that is a point worth making.

Communication must be shared externally when warranted. Companies have to be careful with what is shared with the public but remember that transparency will be rewarded. Researchers found that 89% of individuals say that a business could regain their trust if they admit mistakes and are transparent while resolving the issue.

After communicating, a manager should be prepared to listen. In times of crisis, employees can become uneasy, nervous or upset and want to be reassured. This is where active listening is crucial. Active listening promotes trust within a team and improves the manager-employee relationship. One tactic that lends itself to active listening is an open-door policy. Allotting additional time for employees to see and hear from their leader can be invaluable.

During a crisis, company leaders should be more available. Though the crisis may require much of the leadership team’s time, making time to be there for employees can make a difference in their outlook on the situation.

In times of crisis, we often focus on the issue and the immediate repercussions. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder for companies to dig deeper into potential repercussions of a crisis, such as the psychological toll COVID-19 has had on employees. This is pertinent, as mental distress among Americans has risen 700% since 2018.

Each team member has their own hopes, dreams and future plans, and a crisis is sure to disrupt those. Checking in on employees individually can ensure that every team member feels that his or her concerns have been heard. One-on-one meetings are a key tool to prioritize each employee's needs, allow for coaching opportunities and help to develop a two-way communication loop.

Value-based messaging helps companies connect more effectively with potential customers, clients and employees. Value-based messaging has a 59% higher engagement rate than small incentives. These company values must be unique and work in tandem with the overall vision for the company. During a crisis, leaders must push the company forward, and by living out the company values, they can do just that.

An organization’s leaders should know their company's values by heart and bring those values into the workplace each day. Reestablishing company values amid a crisis can ensure that the crisis does not overshadow the company’s goals and vision. Crises lead to many companies taking a step backward. However, finding ways to incorporate your company's values into your crisis management plan can ensure that your company is always taking a step forward.

Leadership is never easy and requires extensive effort, especially during a crisis. As a leader, it's important to know that although your responsibilities during a crisis might increase, the burden is not yours alone. One mark of a responsible leader is asking for help when needed. You aren't expected to take on the crisis alone — you're expected to lead.