Adjust. That could be the single most important word and action to keep employees engaged through uncertain times.
While we’ve never seen anything as uncertain as the pandemic, one thing is certain: HR leaders and front-line managers will have to lead teams through many crises of different forms – from downsizing and layoffs to natural disasters and personal or departmental tragedies.
Here are four keys to lead employees through any kind of crisis.
Staying in touch with employees – whether you’re at work together or communicating virtually – will help everyone regain focus and do their jobs as effectively as possible.
You’ll want to share updates on how your organization and team are affected by the crisis and what everyone needs to do. More importantly, you want to give employees an opportunity to share how they feel about the situation, plus best practices and hacks they’ve found to work through it.
Imagine and act
Leaders and employees will need to continue doing some things the same way throughout a crisis. At the same time, everyone will likely need to adopt new roles and/or work strategies because of the situation. To determine the best route, create a vision so everyone can get a grip on what needs to be done to manage the crisis.
Steve Newhall, managing partner at consulting firm Korn Ferry, suggests narrowing down a more complicated vision so it stays in people’s heads throughout the crisis and easily directs them on the tasks that are highest priority. For example:
Complicated (yet essential) vision: Keep employees, customers and community safe while moving forward so we can thrive in the new normal as quickly as possible.
Simple vision: Keep people safe and keep the lights on.
Clarify, adjust and adapt
Crisis management is a fluid activity. Rules, roles and priorities change throughout a crisis.
Leaders need to prepare employees to take quick pivots. Three key factors:
- Explain early in the crisis that roles, duties and tasks can change day-to-day based on the current needs.
- Set up a communication protocol. Define the quickest way to send and receive messages (likely phone calls) descending to the slowest (perhaps, IM to social apps to email). Also create priority guidelines on actions and subjects (for instance, emergencies on the phone and task reports in email).
- Communicate at least daily. Set a time and format for daily check-ins to relay the newest information, make changes to priorities and/or tasks, and get feedback on how employees are faring in the crisis.
Many leaders maintain a sharp focus on business and overcoming the uncertainty. That’s important. But the leaders who get through crisis most effectively also show calmness, courage and empathy, says Madeline Dessing, managing director at Korn Ferry.
When leaders share details, explain the vision, clarify and adjust, they want to maintain a calm and confident tone. Empathy comes a little harder.
One way to prove it: Dessing suggests sharing an empathy story. Talk briefly about a personal struggle and the fears you had throughout it – and even some you have now. Then talk again about your confidence in everyone’s ability to adjust, adapt and overcome.