7 tips for executives on the way through difficult times
In 30 years of my career, I have never experienced such a situation: businesses stay closed, supply chains collapse and entrepreneurs look for ways to ensure the survival of their company. Governments are putting billions of dollars into protective umbrellas to prevent economic collapse. And the market for medical protective equipment is being transformed by Wild West methods.
Others worry about what will happen after the crisis. How are we going to get the material flows moving again in a coordinated manner? It won't be easy. What happens when some suppliers or customers will not have survived? What shall I do better so that I spend fewer sleepless nights in the next crisis being entrepreneur or manager?
In the current times of uncertainty, orientation and effective leadership is critical for the success of our companies. It is essential to analyze existing challenges with a cool head and to move forward decisively. To give direction, to set the framework. But it is also important not to ignore the fears and concerns that many of us have. And to focus on what we can influence. Otherwise we run the risk of losing ourselves in thought spirals of unsolvable problems. During the financial crisis of 2008, I was able to learn things that are important to me in extraordinary situations. At this point I would like to share a few of my thoughts with you.
1. Share the bad news timely
Try not to withhold difficult information. Employees have the expectation that information about the seriousness of the situation will be shared openly and honestly. Otherwise, the feeling that there is a "hidden" agenda quickly arises. This breeds mistrust. Is that easy? No, it's not easy. In crisis situations it is a fine balancing act between openly communicating and creating panic.
2. Sort your priorities and refocus
In a crisis, many things are different and new bottlenecks arise. So clarify what is really important and urgent? When it comes to the survival of an organization, liquidity is often at the forefront. Is your cash flow planning transparent? In which areas could you actively improve, e.g. through negotiations with business partners? Reduce your key performance indicators to a bare minimum that are really relevant, in order to gain speed and open up room for solutions. How to retain key associates? Focus your energy on things and small steps that you can influence yourself.
3. Bring your "Samurai" forward
Established processes no longer work, people are insecure and in shock. In critical situations, different leadership qualities are therefore required than in normal times. Even if the term "Samurai" (= servant) seems to be a bit unusual in this context, it is still appropriate for me. Excellent training, a feeling for the situation (not everything can be grasped with key figures or data now) and strength of implementation are required. Bring your best employees with such qualities to the fore. Perhaps you have crisis-tested, competent colleagues in your organization who did not make it to the top floor because they were not "system-compliant". Now these employees may be your foundation to get through the crisis. Perhaps it is precisely these employees who, with a steady hand, knowledge and life experience, can steer or make a contribution in a calm manner.
4. Switch visibly to "crisis control mode"
Change your leadership routines. The urgency and uncertainty of the situation requires close communication, coordinated action and discipline. Uncontrolled activism will not help your team. Therefore change your meeting routines. Meet more often, shorter, and at defined times (if necessary via video conferencing). Maybe every morning and just before closing time. Set up a special room ("war room") where activity plans and to-do lists are visible, provided you can meet in person.
5. Blend a rational-structured approach with an emotional "we" feeling
Often managers have the reputation of being "top-heavy" or "number-data-facts" fetishists. In a crisis, this remarkable ability alone is not enough. It is much more important to cultivate a social component in addition to systematic work and a cool head: the group feeling. People are social beings and draw strength from a sense of community. Tapping into this source of strength becomes critical to success, especially when times of tension last for a long period of time. Therefore, especially in difficult times, be approachable, make the team visible, and show yourself as a team member (yes, bosses are also part of the team) also from your personal side as a human being.
6. Take your stand on the bridge as a captain
Become more visible to your employees as a boss than usual. Talk live or via video conferencing regularly with the entire staff. In crises people want to see or hear "their" captain. Talk openly about shifts in priorities, changed expectations on your part, and changes in procedure and behavior. And ... even if you don't know yet how exactly you will sail through the storm, spread the confidence that you have or will bring in all the necessary talent and expertise in the team and thus master the crisis. Share your vision of how it will feel when you have mastered the crisis together and communicate intermediate successes along the way.
7. Take care of your health
Despite all the tension, uncertainty and stress: Critical for successfully mastering a difficult situation is that the high performers are and remain high performers. If you or your key people spend too many sleepless nights and eventually collapse, this would be an additional problem for your team. So even in times of crisis, take care of yourself and listen to your body. Get exercise, sleep regularly, and also take some time for nice things (e.g. family, music) to recharge your energy storage again and again. Your team will be grateful you for it.
You all take good care of you and stay healthy!! All the best to you and your loved ones!
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