How to lead through a crisis

This blog doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s been a mad week for businesses across the globe, and it’s looking like we’re going to have at least another few months of uncertainty facing us.

Here at Refresh, we’ve spent the last few days advising a number of our clients on how (and if) they react to the Coronavirus situation – both internally and externally. Off the back of this, I thought it would be useful to share a few of my top tips on leading effectively throughout a crisis:

1. Communicate internally first. Your team is your most important asset, so give them a full picture of what’s going on before you start communicating it externally. Now is the time for people to come together, so ensure your internal team is fully briefed and reassured on the situation where you can. Create a core team internally that’s responsible for this communication - helpful for this to be at least a member of the leadership team, someone from HR and a comms / marketing representative - and ensure it is regular and timely. Routine tends to instil confidence so if you can, for example, send a brief update round by 9am (or a time convenient for you) each day. Also, offer one-on-one time with key team, members to talk about anything they might be concerned about regarding the situation. With some people reluctant to speak up in a group, doing this ensures everyone feels fully comfortable and heard.

2. Be open, honest and transparent. People more than ever will be looking for organisations and leaders they can trust and believe in. This isn’t a new thing - the rise of misinformation and fake news over the past few years means companies should be being transparent as standard, but it’s more important than ever in a crisis situation. Be open and clear with team members, clients and stakeholders on how you’re handling the situation and ensure you’re updating them regularly. Regularity of communication is more important than ever in an increasingly fast-evolving situation.

3. Be agile. No-one has any idea how long we’re going to be in this period of uncertainty so the businesses that are agile will be the ones that come out better. I’ve had multiple very honest chats with clients over the past 72 hours on how we can adapt and change plans in line with what’s going on, and I know there’s a lot more of this around the corner! So, think about how you can evolve and adapt your business offering in line with current circumstances, move quickly and don’t be scared to try something new. Also, if you do have team members that have downtime due to clients pausing work etc. consider how they can use it productively. Whether that’s to work on new ideas that they’ve not had the time to prioritise, working on their self-development, or pre-loading tasks for the next few months.

4. Be sensitive. Leaders have a large part to play in reducing employee anxiety. So, know the role you have to play in this and appreciate and understand that everyone deals with crises in their own ways. Be empathetic and human, and understand that both employees and clients could naturally feel a little unnerved for a while and this could impact how they go about things. Ultimately, it’s about appreciating the sensitivities that come with a global crisis and reacting and communicating with audiences accordingly.

5. Make the most of your community. Once you’ve put in place a plan for your internal team and clients / customer base, think about how you best lean on close communities in times like these. It’s looking like social distancing and remote working is going to become a very real thing – possibly for a number of months – so how can you still create and make the most of community spirit from a distance. Working in the creative sector, myself and the team are used to getting out and about to events, ideas sharing sessions and workshops regularly, so for us it’s about figuring out how we go about this, but from a distance! We’re currently looking at ways we can move interactive sessions that we’d usually run face to face virtually – I’ll be sharing more on how this goes over the next few weeks.

Above all of the above, I believe we need to find ways to find the good in every situation, particularly in times like these. For me personally, I know I’ve strengthened my relationships with a lot of our clients significantly over the past few days through increased communication and above all, complete transparency. Times like this bring out the human rather than solely the ‘business’ in us, which I think everyone could do with doing a bit more of sometimes!

Ultimately business leaders have the responsibility to lead their teams through uncertain times and I’m hoping this blog gives you a starter for 10 on how to start doing this. Happy to hear your experiences / tips on leading in uncertain times. Find me on Twitter @ljmoore.

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