How The Best Executives Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty
Here are a few ways that executives can provide supportive leadership in challenging times.
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From the coronavirus pandemic to inflation and supply chain disruptions, the past several years have presented significant challenges for businesses. Executives steer the ship through these challenges, yet much of leadership's work occurs behind the scenes.
While executives typically value outcomes over appearances, business leaders should not neglect the importance of actively demonstrating leadership to employees. Showing leadership in uncertain times will model strength, promote productivity, improve worker retention, reduce fear of the unknown and reassure investors. To exhibit leadership and control of these situations, it is best to communicate often through internal channels. In uncertain periods, internal communication strategy becomes paramount to reassuring employees and preventing undue stress. And this is a strategy that should center around transparency.
When the C-suite is busy developing strategies to navigate the road ahead, it can be tempting to assume employees either do not know about the current state of business or, alternatively, know more than they do. However, workers are far more sensitive to executives' language, behavior and attitude than many realize. Yet, workers can only act on the information provided by management. Without transparency, workers who sense challenges may struggle to focus on their work and feel more inclined to leave for a new role.
When workers ask questions about the future, executives should answer as transparently as possible. If the answer to a question is, "we don't know yet," be honest. If layoffs could lie ahead, be forthcoming about preventing such measures, which can unite employees, evoke creative solutions from teams and boost business.
At times, leadership will rightfully not be able to share every discussion or detail with employees. When that is the case, offer a genuine yet appropriate reason, so workers understand why. Give a timeline for when workers can expect an answer or direct employees to other information sources to address their concerns. Knowledge will empower employees to stay engaged and contribute value, no matter the challenge.
Create opportunities for engagement
Some executives may feel the instinct to put their heads down and focus on what lies ahead. To employees, that could feel like leadership withdrawing from the business when they are needed the most. A successful internal communications strategy will recognize and respond to employees' needs for reassurance. To reduce anxieties, executives should identify touch points in the coming months of uncertainty.
Cultivate an environment where employees understand the challenges ahead and feel trust in leadership to stay transparent. That means internal communications strategies should include regular proactive updates and ways for workers to share their concerns, such as one-on-ones with managers or HR and online question forms.
In times of economic concerns, set the expectation for employees to become more engaged. Ask employees to seek out new business, consider ways to streamline processes and identify inefficiencies to help cut costs. This form of engagement helps with employee morale, shows employees their input is valued and directly impacts business success. Designate an email or weekly team meeting where employees can share their ideas. The results could lead to wins for the whole team.
Organize town halls
A town hall, with a question-and-answer session included, is a great way to make employees feel heard. Among the most important advantages of town halls is they allow executives to communicate more personally, building trust and improving their credibility.
Unlike a presentation or speech, a town hall is a dialogue between employees and management. Employees' questions may be challenging to answer or even confrontational, so prepare ahead of time. To help with preparations, consider soliciting anonymous questions from employees before the town hall. This allows executives and the communications team to prepare thoughtful answers to the most weighing questions.
Expect some employee skepticism in the face of the first town hall. To gain their trust, executives should show sincerity, concern and authenticity toward employees. Answer honestly and follow up afterward with a recap of the discussion, thank them for their attendance and give a timeline for any action steps that came from the discussion. Questions not addressed during the town hall can also be answered within the email. In the long run, town halls will create a more open dialogue between employees and executives.
There is no doubt most leaders feel an obligation to their workers. They may feel they are letting their workforce down with unwelcome news and want to delay any announcements until the last moment. However, overcommunicating and being as transparent as possible will help maintain employee morale in challenging times. When communication channels are open, and employees feel they can offer solutions that matter, loyalty and trust are built, which will only help leadership navigate more clearly.
Overcoming challenges is a core element of a leader's role in a business. While navigating uncertainty, internal communications may not be top of mind, but pursuing a winning strategy can preserve culture and improve profits.