In today’s increasingly complex world, businesses may face crises from a number of different fronts. Sometimes, difficulties arise from internal circumstances. Other times, sudden changes in the market can create them. At any rate, when challenges present themselves, people look to their leaders for guidance about how to respond.
Many companies have crisis plans in place, but often those plans are untested. In difficult circumstances, business leaders may face a number of decision-making challenges. Often, the future of the organizations they lead rests on their shoulders.
For that reason, leaders should spend some time thinking about how they can and should respond to a crisis situation. Some important tips to consider include:
Manage the expectations of employees.
When crisis strikes, people generally want to find a resolution as quickly as possible. However, the push for a speedy solution can actually end up hurting organizations in the long run. When difficulties arise, leaders are responsible for assessing the scope of the situation and setting employees’ expectations.
While avoiding alarming language is critical, leaders should be open and honest about how serious a given situation really is. That way, employees are not biding their time waiting for the resolution, but are actively working through the challenges the organization faces.
Adapt to new situations quickly.
Leaders need to think on their feet in a crisis and respond to changes quickly, yet deliberately. Generally, a leader’s first response in a time of crisis will not be the final action taken. Instead, leaders must adapt their strategies as circumstances change and new information becomes available. Importantly, leaders need to listen carefully to all the information they obtain and evaluate the credibility of that information.
When actionable intel becomes available, leaders should alter their strategies according to that new information. Adhering to a single strategy is rarely effective. As circumstances evolve, leaders are responsible for informing key stakeholders and explaining the rationale behind any shifts so that everyone stays on the same page.
Divide responsibilities among employees.
No man is an island, and this is especially true in times of crisis. Leaders who try to shoulder too much responsibility may not be as effective as a team working together. Instead, leaders need to think critically about who they trust to do what before a crisis arises and delegate responsibility accordingly.
If possible, leaders should speak to relevant individuals and share their expectations in advance. Then, when a crisis does occur, everyone understands that role that they need to play. This frees the leader to think critically and steer the ship without worrying about the details.
Communicate with all affected parties.
Communication is one of the most important skills for business leaders to develop. In crisis situations, leaders must remember to practice those hard-won skills. Active communication is what keeps everyone working toward the same goal. In addition, consistent communication helps manage expectations from both employees and customers.
In times of crisis, leaders may fail to speak to key clients and customers because they become so focused on company operations. This can damage key relationships and cause people to seek out other options – even if the company survives the crisis. Keeping clients and customers in the loop makes them feel valued and respected.
Prepare for continued decline.
One mistake that leaders sometimes make in times of crisis is believing that they can identify the “low point” or feeling challenges will resolve themselves on their own. In reality, things can almost always get worse. However, while this may seem like a pessimistic point of view, it actually empowers leaders.
When leaders actively consider how situations could get worse, they start to formulate ways to deal with those possibilities. Then, if and when those situations come to pass, leaders are not caught unawares. Instead, they already have some ideas to implement. Anticipation of the worst is a key strategy for getting out of crisis intact.
Admit to mistakes, if any were made.
In crisis situations, sacrifice often becomes necessary. Leaders who step forward and accept responsibility for the outcome of their actions will earn the respect of their employees. On the other hand, leaders who place the blame elsewhere may preserve their reputations in the short term. However, they could ultimately lose the respect of their employees, which jeopardizes retention and morale in the long term. In these situations, the company comes out of the original crisis successfully, but may face another crisis soon after.
Understand the opportunity in crisis.
Every crisis is also an opportunity. While any particular crisis may have come about because of a weakness in the company, by confronting and addressing it, leaders may ultimately make their organizations more resilient. Great leaders understand that a crisis can be an opportune time to enact change, pushing companies toward necessary transformation.
Typically, change in the business world occurs very slowly. However, a crisis makes it possible to implement significant modifications in a short period of time in the hopes of making the company stronger.