While practicing crisis management, when does the referee blow the whistle for piling on? In the real world, that apparently never happens. Saying “in this together” and “challenging times” borders on copyright infringement. 

Yet, people and businesses on short notice have tried to regroup in the quest for the “new normal”—another vastly overused term not of endearment.

This is where Doug Butler of Reward Gateway and others have found themselves, looking for the best way for leaders to bring teams together, through and past unprecedented events. Reward Gateway is an employee engagement platform that “brings everything together in one unified hub.”

Butler talked about finding opportunities in the worst of times with Megan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture’s chief executive officer.

“Keep listening and be receptive both to ideas and mistakes,” Biro said. “More than ever, a culture of understanding is powerful right now.

“For any leader, these times are testing our organizations’ ability to pivot, and pushing our employees to be agile—and willing to embrace and not resist change,” she said. “It’s a time of growth for all of us. Leaders are no exception.”

No organization has experience when an entire economy is shut down with their business frozen not entirely of their own fault. Everyone is not only playing by a new set of rules but also finding what those ever-changing rules are.

“Our research has shown that maintaining company morale and productivity has been a big challenge for organizations,” Butler said.

Frozen innovations

Entrepreneurship issues are magnified when entire industries are surprised.

“We were caught off guard by the pandemic, to be sure,” Biro said. “Some companies had planned for bringing on new innovations but weren’t there yet. So, we’re behind the curve on digital capabilities.

“How flexible can we be?” she said. “How quickly can we pivot or retool or relocate our employees? Some businesses can’t, and they pay the price.”

As is often the case, one crucial leadership factor emerges.

“So much of productivity and performance is related to communication,” Biro said. “For many, the sudden lockdown left us out of touch, too used to depending on in-person, not good enough at digital channels.”

Before a crisis hits, organizations should draw up—and preferably practice—worst-case scenarios. That applies to no matter how far fetched a possibility seems because today’s conditions are beyond most people’s imaginations.

“We need open and honest communication from leaders,” Butler said. “That connects employees to the company and each other, and gives workers a voice.”

Biro sees huge challenges centered on uncertainty, managing people’s emotions and morale.

“Much falls to managers,” she said. “They won’t have all the answers and shouldn’t pretend to, but sharing what they can makes a big difference.

“Nobody wins if your business fails,” Biro said. “Involve your partners and employees in the solution. Get everyone invested in the outcome. Connect the challenges of each day to the overall picture. Invite everyone to bring their A game.”

Space to breathe and regroup

That brings back how people communicate among themselves.

“Keep the organization engaged with each other by providing plenty of open channels,” Biro said. “Make sure there’s room for life to enter the picture for a moment. Keep it real.”

Leaders must thoroughly prepare for ordeals through crisis-management training. That includes not only leading their people but also media training to keep from being tone deaf and inadvertently landing on a worldwide stage—and what to do if that happens. 

“Leaders need to have the courage, brains and heart to truly lead,” Biro said. “It’s not easy to lead through chaos given the velocity of changes today. It’s important for leaders to check in with themselves and take care of themselves—and each other.

“Meaningful interactions with employees are not usually a mainstay of high-level leadership, but during a crisis it’s key,” she said. “It builds trust and alignment, especially if a leader is honest.”

If anything, those in charge should have learned that anticipating bad times is core to their jobs.

“If you’re a leader and you think crisis management should be relegated to outside experts, think again,” Biro said. “Creating organizations that are strong in the face of uncertainty requires strength from within. It’s a different mindset.

“Just because you have the opportunity to make a change, is that a change you should make?” she said. “Stay humble. Learn to evolve, to resolve to be better. Don’t undo practices that are working now just because things are tough. Good decisions take time.”

Whatever the outcome, the solutions revolve around those most important to a company’s success.

“Focus on the well-being of your people,” Butler said. “Be visible. Provide the tools and resources for other leaders and managers in the organization to be visible, too.”

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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.


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