4 Ways to Better Your Team During a Time of Crisis
Here are some practical guidelines for business leaders to guide their teams to success through trying times.
Sadly, we're approaching the two-month mark of the war in Ukraine, and we have all seen the effects of it across many different aspects of life. It's painful to see people being forced to leave their homes and lives behind to stay safe.
As the CEO of a multinational company, I have seen the impact of the war in more ways than one. First and foremost, our staff members are our priority: We have 500 colleagues and service providers, as well as 2,000 teachers in over 40 countries. We immediately spoke to all of our Ukrainian team members, made sure they were safe and had financial support to make decisions about relocation. Our Russian team members have been supported in relocation as well. Although at this time the immediate need for assistance has been apparent in Europe, we offered the same support to anyone who needed it, regardless of where they are based.
This has led me to think about what I can learn from this situation. As Winston Churchill reportedly said after World War II, "Never let a good crisis go to waste" – but what does this mean on a practical level? How can we as business leaders find the positive in these trying times?
Here are some guidelines to be able to maintain productivity, resist chaos and keep moving forward:
1. Review your business
We are all guilty of falling into the trap of doing things the way they have always been done. But a crisis gives everyone a chance to be courageous and question the norm, as things are not "business as usual," and it's a good opportunity to air concerns or share ideas. Strategically reviewing the business from every angle shouldn't be something that's done once a year or during difficult times. In my view, it's a good idea to critically analyze every aspect of the business on a quarterly basis, potentially even a monthly basis, depending on the industry you operate in. Nothing is sacred – question everything.
As entrepreneurs, we are already programmed to think differently. Our risk appetite is different than others, and we can assess a challenge and consider the solutions we could implement to solve it. An example of this is Intch: The founder realised there was a need to put professionals who had relocated as a result of the war in contact with industry colleagues in neighboring countries to find work opportunities. They quickly implemented a one-stop shop website for those needing help, and those who wanted to provide help. This is an excellent illustration of how entrepreneurs can develop a product or service that aids in times of crisis, instead of taking advantage of the situation.
2. Maintain transparency in communication
Transparency of communication in a company is always important, but during a crisis, its importance is heightened. The fear of losing one's job in conditions of general instability causes panic. The unknown only exacerbates this fear. Keeping silent and avoiding questions from employees is a losing tactic.
Be open and honest with employees. If the company already has a crisis plan in place, let everyone know about it. Warn the team in advance about changes in work patterns, such as expecting an increase or decrease in workload or hours. Tell your team what awaits them in the near future and what support measures they can count on. Open communication will help people regain their footing.
We quickly implemented a bi-monthly All Hands meeting where the management team directly addressed staff concerns. We were completely open about how our business has been impacted by the war, and eased concerns around staff livelihoods by being honest about the company's financial position – we literally told staff the amount of money we had in the bank. The feedback we received was encouraging, as people felt that their worries had been addressed. We will continue to run these meetings going forward, as I gained a lot of insight into how our staff feel about their roles and our business.
Don't shy away from the scary questions. Show your vulnerable side and be as honest as possible. This results in a team that supports you — and challenges you — on a continual basis.
3. Ban politics talk and concentrate on making a difference
Politics are often divisive — even in the time of peace — and can devastate relationships. My rule is to keep politics out of work communication. I always remind my teams that we are here to build and create.
This becomes especially important during a time of conflict when tensions are running high. If this isn't kept in check, especially in an international and multicultural company like ours, politics can lead to whole teams unravelling.
4. Provide personalized care and additional support measures for employees
During a crisis, support should be as targeted as possible. Consider each person individually based on their current situation, their personal characteristics and the capabilities of the business.
An example is offering unlimited time off, allowing an employee to choose when they need to have a break. We recognize the accomplishments of our staff and understand their need to take a break from demanding assignments and challenging tasks. Time away from work can help a person to reboot.
I believe that a crisis can bring about positive change if it is managed and implemented in a considered manner. As Helen Keller said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved."
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