Coping in a crisis when the buck stops with you – 12 essential tips for business owners and senior leaders

I’ve had a couple of calls this week from business owners looking for a pep talk on how best to cope personally with the current situation when all around them appears to be crumbling. One asked how we survived when, on day two of setting up this business, 9/11 happened and all of the work we’d spent months so carefully lining up, vanished within a day or twoOur ‘helpful’ landlord at the time commented that he hadn’t thought we’d last longer than six months anyway – why would anyone want help with engaging and retaining their people? Almost 19 years later Purple Cubed is very much alive and kicking…

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Feelings of panic and despair are natural when faced with a sudden and significantnegative worldevent such as Covid-19However, as the cliché goes, it’s tough at the top and the only option you really have is to grit your teeth and focus on acceptance, resilience, determination, adaptation and action. You ‘are where you are’ and, in my experience, the only way to get through this is to stay grounded, summon all of your inner strength, apply some creative thinking and be prepared to do whatever it takes to get through. A few thoughts:

  1. Remember that, as the leader of your organisation, people are looking to you to make them feel safe and secure. Going into free-fall isn’t helping anyone, especially you. So, even if you’re screaming inside, put personal feelings aside and summon every last bit of inner strength to keep calm, confident and in control. Resilience takes practicenow’s an excellent time to do just that
  2. Self-belief and trusting resolutely in what you’re doing is vital in troubled times; igniting the feeling inside that you can do anything, overcome anything is massively powerful. As the saying goes “If you believe you can, you can…”. Remind yourself and your people why you do what you do, how it’s contributing and what your legacy will be. Here are some good tips.
  3. Take each day as it comes rather than expending energy on what’s happened before (and can’t be changed) and what might (or might not) happen tomorrow. Plan as far and you can, and be prepared to flex these plans depending on ‘what happens next’. 
  4. Consider that most people dislike and fear change and we’ve all recently been thrust into a major change situation. Look upon this as a genuine opportunity to review the status quo and think about what can be done better/faster/cheaper/differently. Think about this as an opportunity to try stuff (what do you have to lose?), get your collective heads down and take action. 
  5. Accept the things over which you have no control and think deeply and creatively about how you can adapt the things you doFor example, French luxury goods group LVMH (Louis Vuitton etc.) have suspended production of their perfume/cosmetic gels in favour of manufacturing free hand sanitiser for hospitals. Doing their bit towards helping with the crisis, boosting employee purpose and engagement– and PR genius.
  6. Lead from the front with transparent and credible communication. Even though situations, and therefore your plans, might change dailybe up front about that. Inspire trust by ‘saying it the way it is’. A key message is “We’re all in this together and we’re going to get through it together”. 
  7. Make sure you support your people in practical ways (e.g. hand sanitiser, flexible working, awareness sessions, stepping up webinar learning) though also emotionally and, as far as possible, financially. If you just can’t manage to pay people as normal, work out together what the fairest solution is. 
  8. Support mental wellbeing: A year ago Forbes were already asking whether home working is fuelling a mental health crisis. With enforced homeworking it’s likely that it now is. Looking after people empathetically and responsibly in times of crisis is every leader’s moral obligation and also makes business sense in terms of loyalty, engagement, retention and morale. See our blog on enforced homeworking.
  9. Consult your people; those at the sharp end often have the best solutions so involve them in working together to mitigate the effects, and take ownership, of the situation rather than making panic decisions ‘at the top’. Ask the questions “What could we do differently to improve things?”.Invite questions and, if you don’t know the answer, (chances are you won’t), say so and then do what you can to find out/work it out together
  10. Keep people informed throughoutusing information from credible sources, such as theBBC orWHO, avoiding any fake news that’s flying around. Here’s a calm, informative and useful piece on the situation from an infectious disease specialist, for example. Think simple, frequent, unambiguous communication. Make sure people self-isolating or home working have great comms tools to keep in the loop – this is a great time to exploit the coffee chat feature on Talent Toolbox for example. Maybe set up a ‘daily-check in at a certain time so people can connect if they want to.
  11. Reframe – everyday things will change, so constantly review and refine your approach.Remember unless there’s an all-out apocalypse, the world will go on after this crisis, so avoid taking drastic (panic), short-term action at the detriment of the bigger picture. People will remember your robust approach, that you looked after them and that you thought about their future as well as your own.Learn from being forced into doing things differently.
  12. Use downtime to clear your inbox/start your book/plan your project/ do something new. It’s time to stretch your ‘creative muscle’ – personally and collectively; you can’t change the world if you stay the same. For example, I used the luxury of the extra time I had today as a result of a short notice cancellation to learn how to also record this blog as a podcast.

However bad it feels, never lose hope! Celebrate the wins, however small and keep going. Come on, you’ve got this…

By business author and founder, Jane Sunley