How to navigate a business crisis, no matter what
“Crisis! Crisis! Crisis!” Think of this while channeling your best Jan Brady of the classic Brady Bunch’s line, “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!”―this is what has been playing in my head for the last year.
We are not in a crisis, rather facing a continual series of crises. We are in the midst of a world health crisis, economic crisis, climate crises, equality crisis, oil crisis, and the list goes on… we live in an environment of continual upheaval.
Throughout each crisis we see incredible stories of resilience and reinvention as individuals and companies innovate and shift swiftly. What sets a surviving and thriving company apart is not the actions taken during a crisis as much as the preparation that occurred before the disaster.
On February 19, 2019 I received a call from my doctor informing me my recent biopsy confirmed I had breast cancer. I received the call while on my way to take my team to lunch and was in a frozen smile-fog as we discussed operations over massaman curry.
Every thought was interrupted by the doctor’s words ruminating through my mind, chasing and leapfrogging over each point I had intended to make. It was another few weeks before I shared the news with my team, and after dealing with the initial shock and absorbing the gravity of the situation my team rallied. I was awestruck by their quick actions and ability to pull together, ensuring we were covered while I took my leave.
Prior to my initial surgery, my husband came to me with the idea to throw a cancer party. At first this sounded insane as my mind was filled with fear and the stress of managing insurance barriers and numerous medical appointments. I was emotionally lethargic and far from being in a party mindset.
As I turned it over in my head the fear melted away, replaced with renewed excitement and optimism rather than the drowning thoughts of my own mortality. We rallied what I called my “Cancer Crushing Army” and I assigned a friend as my General and my sister as my Lieutenant. The three of us organized a massive gathering of over 300 people, bringing together positive reinforcements in less than two weeks.
I took strength from every single thought, card, and kind word as I moved through each phase of treatment onto a successful recovery. The lesson learned is that we should never underestimate the power of pulling people together in a positive and uplifting way in order to battle a crisis. Whether it is through an in-person party or virtual support groups―constructive connection with others over a common purpose is an incredible tool for change.
Now, as a cancer-crushing survivor, I realize many of the positive outcomes were due to the work that was done prior to my diagnosis. Each of my two surgeons noted that the speed of my recovery and reduced treatment were a result of my daily exercise and healthy eating habits. Similarly, you cannot build organizational resilience overnight; it requires consistent work daily. Investment of time now in developing strong teams will assist in a more rapid crisis recovery and reduce the likelihood of a life-ending outcome.
According to Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So what are the daily habits we need as leaders to become excellent? A balanced investment of time in the fundamentals determines our ability to move through all aspects of a crisis quickly and reduce level of impact. Daily routines should include a focus on employee engagement, customer relationships, driving efficient operations, financial health, and creating mitigation plans for those things that “keep us up at night.”
As far as I know, crystal ball technology is not yet on the market, but that doesn’t mean we can’t act now by putting health monitoring in place for early detection and creating agility in our organizations to be able to react quickly.
The most powerful response method for addressing a new crisis is the ability to rally the troops, just as I did when dealing with my cancer diagnosis.
How quickly can you raise your own “Crisis-Crushing Army”? Engaged leaders have invested time in building trusting employees and as a result an increased likelihood of surviving and thriving. When rallying employees, don’t sugar coat― be real and state the facts. This open sharing of information with a focus on expected outcomes sets a framework that allows teams to come together around a common purpose.
The plan of attack should be clear, not complex, and continually communicated. Mind-reading is another technology I am still waiting to invest in, but as it is not yet here, you will need to hold consistent meetings, set clear goals, and communicate frequently.
Author L. David Marquet of Turn the Ship Around shared that as a leader you “lead minds, not hands.” Rallying in a crisis requires strong teams where all diverse minds are engaged for the highest opportunity of success to be reached. The individual’s closest to the problem are the ones that typically know how to solve them―they will have the answers. The time you invest now, creating open and inclusive environments will allow you to quickly rally all minds and bring the best solutions to the table.
We cannot identify or prevent the crisis that will come, however we can evaluate where our weaknesses are and put habits in place that build resilience. We can make the daily investment in engaging with our employees so that when adversity arrives they are ready to rally. Additionally, providing a clear understanding of your mission and goals allows teams to quickly shift and identify innovative solutions. Doing this work now will create a united workforce that can and will crush any crisis!