As I write this blog, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Each day brings changes to how and where we can conduct business; we have little visibility into what the next month, three months, or six months will bring; and many of our employees are fearful.
To help those leaders during this and other crises, I offer some suggestions to how we can lead our businesses in uncertain times.
First of all, we need to keep calm and project an image of calm and confidence. Our employees look to us for guidance. The calm and confidence comes from the certainty that we will survive this. We do not know what will happen tomorrow and we do not know when this uncertainty will end. But, we do know that (with the collective efforts of our great team), we will do everything to make it through.
Regular communication, daily if needed, is important to reassure the team that we are thinking of them and laser-focused on doing whatever is necessary to keep the business going and, thus, the employees employed. The tone of these communications is essential; we need to be factual, yet positive and reassuring and focused on the certainty that we will get through this.
Focus on the Facts
We need to remain forever focused on the facts and not the rumors or hyped up news stories. This means taking a moment (remaining calm) after the situation changes. First, we need to confirm that the situation has indeed changed (getting the facts), then we need to plan a thoughtful response to the changed situation. At the same time, we need to face reality and have the strength to make the tough decisions that reflect this reality.
Don’t Forget the Day to Day Blocking and Tackling
Despite all that is going on in the outside world, we still need to be focused on the business. Are we being safe? Are we producing efficiently and with quality? Are we reaching out to our customers? Are our teams still being accountable and doing what they need to do each and every day? No matter what, we need to be doing the basic fundamentals of management and leadership every day.
Know When to Be Proactive and When to Be Reactive
In general, we should be proactive in planning for changes. This could be planning for tighter regulations or restrictions that we may see coming or it could be planning for when the restrictions are loosened. We need to plan for the changes; but we do not need to implement our plan until the changes have taken place.
Think Like a Negotiator (Think It Through)
In our decision making, it is essential that we do not make decisions that have unintended consequences that could harm the business in the short or long term. Even when making decisions rapidly, we have to think through the possible results and follow-ons from our decision. Will this create a precedent that could harm our business? Will this be perceived as uncaring or unfair by our team or other stakeholders? Will this make our competitive position weaker vis a vis our competitors, customers or suppliers?
Use Scenario Analysis
The situation is uncertain. To best understand our strengths and vulnerabilities, we need to look at and plan for multiple scenarios. Usually, three scenarios is sufficient: a base case (reasonably optimistic), a moderate downside, and an extreme downside. In each scenario, we should consider the cash and profitability position. This will lead us to consider different cost and cash saving measures that we may need to employ if this particular scenario becomes reality. Understanding the downside scenarios ensures that we know the actions that we may need to take to ensure the survival of the business. This prevents us from making commitments that we may later not be able to honor if the situation worsens.
In the uncertain world that accompanies a crisis, the word of every day is flexible. As leaders, we need to be flexible and adaptive to change our focus and to change direction as the fast moving changes in the outside world affect our business.
Leading in an uncertain world is exhausting both physically and (especially) mentally. As such, we need to take care of ourselves through diet, exercise, and sleep. Further, we need to reduce our stress, primarily by realizing that we cannot control everything. In uncertain times, the words from the “Serenity Prayer” are apt:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.
Every crisis hands us and our business a lemon: our cash position weakens considerably; our profits shrink significantly; a key employee or leader is incapacitated or dead. These facts may be unavoidable. But, they cannot define us or our companies. Instead, we need to come out of this or any crisis in a stronger competitive position. We need to position ourselves as a better place to work, a better vendor to our key customers, and a better place for our bankers and investors.
We are all familiar with the psychological term of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But, psychologists have noticed that after a crisis or trauma, up to 20% of individuals experience Post-Traumatic growth. In these people, their “development, at least in some areas, has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred.”
With effective crisis leadership, we will enable our companies to experience such Post Traumatic Growth.