Unfortunately, all of us deal with crises in our lives at some point. You might experience small issues on the daily that demand your attention or you might just be prepared to encounter a big crisis eventually so you anticipate it nervously during the smooth times.
These traumas can widely vary in what they look like and how they feel. When trouble emerges in your personal life you probably have a support group of people like your friends and family who can help you go through it, but sometimes personal troubles feel like events you have to manage on your own and decide what steps to take in order to make it through. What about when you experience trouble in your professional life? No person or organization is exempt from going through crises. When issues arise in the workplace, it can feel like a very different approach from those that affect your personal life, since a business or corporation will need to decide what each employee’s role is in managing the conflict.
For example, a recent crisis that all workplaces had to deal with and work through was the Covid-19 pandemic that hugely altered work as we knew it. Due to the dangers of the virus that required increased sanitation measures and social distancing, working as normal in an office or workplace environment was no longer possible. This shift rapidly changed the reality of what it looks like to work today, since many companies have opted to continue their businesses under a remote or semi-remote hybrid work model.
This crisis was one no one could have seen coming, and business owners and CEOs had to adapt and lead their teams through the struggle. Even now that parts of life are starting to return to normal, the slow exit out of a crisis can be handled with the same tact and search for stability as the crisis itself. Now, since things have changed, businesses are still not entirely on familiar steady ground, so crisis management skills still come into play.
CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, commented on the way how even after the lockdowns from Covid-19, work models and environments have changed and continue to evolve.
“A lot of things have changed for our customers in this new world, whether it’s Europe or the United States, and one of them is really return to work. The phenomenon that I see happening globally is not as many employees are coming back into their offices locally as any CEO expected…You’re really starting to see some very low attendance numbers in offices because employees are so productive at home. They can do their job at home. They can be successful from anywhere. The companies and our customers are successful. It’s incredible, but the way they’re being successful has completely changed,” said Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.
So how should professionals manage when they are experiencing crises at work? We asked top industry professionals their take on the best ways they handle crisis in the workplace, and their answers provide a well rounded list of advice on how to work your way through trouble.
CEO of Korn Ferry, Gary Burnison, points out the importance of leaders stepping up during crises at work, since they are the ones everyone looks to for direction. While this is certainly a lot of pressure, leaders need to understand that part of their role is to be the face of organization and direction during uncertain and changing times.
“While it’s natural in uncertain times for people to turn to the leader for definitive answers, sometimes the authentic answer is “I don’t know right now”—quickly followed by, “And here’s what we are going to do.” In a crisis such as today, leaders need a Plan B—and a Plan C and Plan D as well…Leaders always deal with ambiguity—it’s timeless and comes with the job. During crises, ambiguity becomes exponential. As fear becomes contagious across organizations, leaders must manage their own responses to ambiguity,” said Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry.
The role of a leader in a crisis is a paramount one indeed, as it is necessary for those in charge to truly step up to the plate during times of hardship in order to pull the company through to the other side.
“In times of crisis when confusion runs rampant, you as a leader need to ensure your business stays together. Crisis at work is often accompanied by crisis at home, as has been the case with the global pandemic for instance, so it is a safe assumption to make that your team members are dealing with the anxieties and fear that surround a crisis from all sides. Make their workspace a place of order and strategy they can retreat into. Reassuring your workers that they are the top priority along with the continuation of the company, and outlining the plan of action, is impactful. It reassures employees they have a safe space where they are cared for and seen. And every person appreciates ordered steps laid out for them during chaos,” says Corey Ashton Walters, Founder & CEO Here.
Although your company’s leadership team will be the ones making executive decisions during a time of conflict, they do not need to lead the company and employees through it alone. One CEO recommends that leaders draw together with their executive team for deeper discussion on forward momentum.
“In a crisis I see immense value in businesses involving a wider team of leaders in their decisions. Include the broader range of key executives in decision making when it is difficult to know how to move forwards. Trying times require everyone to step in and work on solutions together, so don’t go it alone if you have others to draw on,” says Ryan Rockefeller, Co-Founder and CEO of Cleared.
Another important aspect of getting through crises at work is being realistic about the current situation and how it is going to impact the state of the company. Stepping into the trial and working through it rather than avoiding it is the method that will really benefit your employees.
“I would say to adapt with the times during catastrophes,” says Jason Boehle, CEO of QuaGrowth. “Don’t push for work life to continue exactly as usual because the major changes caused by the crisis clearly prevents this normalcy. There are multiple ways you can be called to adapt during chaotic and changing times. A big part is adapting technologically in order to keep your business running smoothly. For example, during Covid-19 businesses were sent home and in order to create a system where they could still run the company and communicate with each other it was an absolute necessity to incorporate technological advances. Really try to make adjustments for the good of the workers and the company.”
During all the changing and redesigning that you will need to do as a company during predicaments, it is essential to keep work morale high, since the employees still make the company. If you lose your team to negativity and fear, this will always reflect in your business and it will also make your workplace a much worse place to inhabit.
“I recommend that all business leaders act as positive, optimistic presences during upheaval. A lot of us don’t truly understand the impact that encouragement has on people when they are stressed, confused, and dealing with extra issues. Therefore, encourage and praise your employees for their hard work, knowing that they are probably extra stressed, extra confused, and needing that boost. Let them know that they matter and they can turn to you or others in the company if they are struggling,” says Brandon Amoroso, Founder and CEO of ElectriQ Marketing.
Along with the importance of positivity to keep morale and the work culture thriving, it is important not to let your team members disband or distance themselves from each other and their workplace during crises. Sometimes because of the changing atmosphere that reflects the hardships occurring in the world, workers will have a strong desire to pull away from their team, but being isolated during trauma is the worst place to be.
“The best advice I can give for handling crises at work is to foster a team mentality to pull everyone together. You of course want your company to be team centric and supportive at all times but because it is easier to disband during conflict and to lose the “all in it together mentality,” now more than ever is the time to hold your company’s workers close,” says Michael Hennessy, Founder and CEO of Diathrive.
Hand in hand with teamwork and staying connected with other team members is keeping in contact. There are always questions and concerns that arise in times of conflict, which makes it the perfect time to open lines of communication.
“Businesses should keep open communication during crises,” says Justin Chan, Growth Manager of JuneShine “Both for customers to reach out and have their questions answered so they know your business is still responsive and operating, but even more so for employees. When everyone goes through the same trying situations at work there are many questions to be answered by those in leadership so employees know they are valued and heard. Keep your workers well informed and updated but also let them know which communication channels they can use to ask additional questions that may not have been answered.”
Another great method for pulling together during widespread conflict is to focus on the positive to promote high work morale. It is surprising how much of an impact positivity has on people when they are concerned or troubled, because it reminds everyone that there are still a lot of good things to focus on. Sometimes a shift in mindset is exactly the thing to make a bad situation stop feeling catastrophic.
“I handle crises in the workplace by focusing on positivity and steering the company mindset in that direction as well. I make it my mission to point out how new working situations formed out of conflict are actually beneficial and can be viewed in a positive light. For example, when workers were sent home during the pandemic, I asked my employees to think of one thing they loved about remote work and keep that at the forefront of their minds when they began to feel overwhelmed with their new working situation,” says Kashish Gupta, Founder and CEO Hightouch.
A leader’s job is to be the head of a company, making strong decisions that will steer the business into a bright future, but that is not all a CEO does, and it is also arguably not the most important. One crucial aspect of leadership is checking in and supporting your team. CEOs who let their team members know they were not abandoned during the craziness of Covid-19 inspired positivity and productivity in the workplace.
“As a leader in charge during a crisis, you should become a very familiar presence to your team. It is imperative not to let your team feel abandoned by or distanced from you. You can work at being even more personable of a figure, as well as learning more about your employees during this time of upheaval. You’ll find you can all connect in deeper ways during times when people really need to be shown humanity in others to find comfort,” says Jason Sherman, Founder of TapRm.
Lastly, it is important to stay focused on the future when times are tough and you are in the middle of the worst of a conflict. It’s easy to feel as though the crisis will never end, but just as every problem has a solution, you will escape out the other side of the storm eventually.
“During the thick of the trauma in a crisis, it can all begin to look very bleak and inescapable. Leaders need to remind their team of the end goal and that the crisis is temporary. It may not feel like it at the moment, but a conflict is just another battle to conquer to leave stronger and wiser than before. You as a person in leadership should also remember that trials can make your business much stronger, as it teaches your team to band together and forces you to face your action plan for getting through the mess,” says Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder & CEO of OSDB.
Sometimes honesty truly is the best policy. Even though leaders want to present themselves as a beam of positivity in hardship that their team members can anticipate and receive comfort from, it also is important for CEOs to be open and honest as they walk everyone through the situation.
“In times of crisis stress is elevated but often more because of confusion and uncertainty surrounding the situation rather than the uncomfortable reality. I have found that workers who don’t know where they or their position at the company stands in the midst of a crisis are the most concerned. A basic but essential request during times of trial is for honest clarity on what is happening in the company. Leaders should be honest about how the company is dealing with the issues and what the next steps are,” says Dylan Trussell, Co-Founder of Culprit Underwear.
In summary, crises both in your personal life and at work are going to occur at some point. Whereas you can handle personal conflict independently, crises at work can be trickier to navigate since all employees are expected to hold a specific role in the conflict as directed by team members in leadership. Even as you wander through fragile, uncertain, or shifting scenarios and relationships at work, the advice outlined above can help you to manage moments of conflict in your workplace.
Of course no one hopes to undergo another widespread world wide crisis like the global pandemic, but after working through it, you know you can handle any scenario at work. These tips will help you to manage crises with ease.