Blog Post

Managing Through A Crisis

My approach to this topic would be 3 stages:   firstly as the crisis looms,  working through: exploring strategy  post crisis: grow and develop 

 

Crisis looming: Our people, the priority 

Experienced leaders and management consultants strongly recommend during a crisis (and even when there is no crisis!) that a good organisations recognizes that its people are its greatest assets and need to be handled with care. I would therefore suggest 2 priorities: communication and compassion. 

 

  1. How effective communication and a touch of compassion can help enhance staff performance during a crisis?

 

Communication 

So often the main complaint that staff (in fact people generally) have is that they don’t know what is going on. They of course have access to national and international news, what they are not clear about is “what does this mean for my organization and for me?” leaders sometimes say, we don’t want to say too much so we don’t cause confusion or panic” My questions would be: is there not a more serious danger that saying nothing leads to a very active grapevine spreading messages of impending doom? These days it is called social media! The HR specialists will tell you that communicating is a must; even if it is to pass on official updates about the pandemic; to give a staff briefing on how we as an organization have been impacted, the fact that our Board is about to meet, what the board and Senior Management Team will be discussing and how we plan to get input from our staff. 

This communication of course does not have to be one way; hearing from staff about concerns, fears, and then more positively ideas, and short and more long term solutions helps team work, encourages innovation, and perhaps most important motivates staff to stay with an organization that they see as caring. 

Compassion 

Compassion makes communication more effective.  Good leaders show compassion or empathy, are “socially and self-aware enabling them to manage themselves and others”; these are the basics of emotional intelligence’ a concept that is now widely considered to be key in effective leadership, more so than IQ even. At a time of crisis, it is even more important to show compassion when communicating with staff who have to deal with illness, death, loneliness and associated fears rather than sending out sterile signals about job cuts due to lost revenue is a lost opportunity. Staff trust managers and organisations that look after them and are honest with them.  I have spoken to at least 2 business owners who were humbled by their staff who told them that” we are in this together; we will take pay cuts if necessary; but we are all responsible for this business’ survival!” 

  

 

  1. As a leader what strategies will you introduce in improving staff output during a crisis?

Courage and Challenge 

Courage to try something new, something different and take a risk.   Courage to challenge ourselves and our current strategy and way of working. Effective communication with staff is key to clarifying:  what can we still do in the same way?  What can we still do, but in a different way?  What does the world and our customers/clients need now?  Can we provide these goods and services somehow?  If so, how?  What are our competitors doing?  How are our suppliers managing?  Who should we be talking to? 

The research shows that family owned and run businesses are most likely to survive a crisis. Why? Because such businesses often have as a core reason for being, the desire to leave a legacy for the family and wider community.  There is a growing awareness globally of the part played by 4th sector organisations- social enterprises in a country’s economic growth. These businesses are defined as “organizations that apply commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for co-owners”. So not charities, but businesses that use profit for a social purpose.  I would be interested in research about the survival rate of such organisations; from what I can see there are many businesses in Sierra Leone that would fit into either one or both of these categories. So that means the survival instinct is high, and short term pain may be easier to endure for longer term gains.  

Challenging ourselves to really look at the way we have worked in the past and see whether the current and emerging norm is actually creating an opportunity to achieve our core vision and mission, but in a different way.  Let’s not forget what a number of great leaders have said “don’t let a good crisis go to waste!”. Virtual meetings have become the new norm worldwide, training sessions are now online: zoom, skype, WebEx, Microsoft teams etc., have indeed come into their own! Let’s not of course forget that communication with staff needs to be on-going.  They are the implementers, they have great ideas and they might be desperate to use lockdown as opportunities to learn new skills in readiness for the new business as usual. There are quite a few free courses online and we all remember those books we bought and have not read; not to mention the opportunity to learn from others as they discuss their Covid-19 lockdown learning! 

As someone who works with boards I would suggest that there is a serious opportunity to make your board and senior management team more diverse both with people and locations, be they cities or even countries. Yes, this raises challenges (connectivity in SL is a major one I know), but there are also opportunities; more skills and experience in the decision-making team, maybe better client or customer reach which helps our business to grow, access products and reduce costs of distribution. I have had many conversations with business owners in Sierra Leone about the lack of trade with our neighbors, but in the past few weeks I have been struck by the amount of webinars featuring panelists and key note speakers from different countries across the continent. What is to stop us having those discussions now (surely this is what LinkedIn is all about?), planning for post lockdown and state of emergency.  We don’t know how long we will be in this stage but there is plenty we can do while we bond with families and the rest of our household!   

 

  1. As a leader what tool will you use to revamp your organization post-crisis?

So as an organization that values its staff, has taken time to have the strategy conversations and planned accordingly we wake up one morning and the state of emergency is lifted, dawn of the new norm; what do we do first? 

My suggestions would be to Collect and Collaborate. 

Let’s collect:  The information we got during the strategy exploration stage (above)  Those lessons we learnt the hard way in not being better prepared for this pandemic; if we are honest with ourselves some of those lessons should have been learnt and acted on post Ebola, so the lesson here is to take lessons learnt more seriously perhaps?  I won’t go into detail on policies and procedures that we should be developing just to mention business continuity plans, more robust risk management mechanisms. There is plenty of learning available on organizational resilience and agility as well. 

And finally we are all finding that we have to collaborate more, be it with suppliers and client different stages of both the supply and value chain; but also maybe with organisations that are our competitors. Market players who come together in sector alliances (tourism, agriculture etc.) have better reach, are better placed to influence policy and ultimately survive this and future crisis and grow.   

These are my thoughts; I hope someone somewhere finds them helpful!  

 

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