How to pull you and your team together
It is the noise. That is what Christine Abbate says you hear the most in times of crisis. Just how deafening or serene it is depends on the company and culture you have created. In a time when up is down, and down is up, your first reaction is not always the one that guides you. It is what comes next.
Businesses that stay true to their core values while remaining engaged with their customers, clients and broader community are the ones in a better position to bounce back after the noise fades. Being thoughtful, meaningful and communicative are qualities that Abbate, founder and president of Novità Communications, says are critical to pulling you and your team together in uncertain times.
“My advice is to lean into the moment,” Abbate says. “We can dwell on the uncertainty of times or we can embrace disruption as an opportunity to really re-evaluate our services and value as a business. I think companies that continue to take risks or meaningful creative pivots will come out stronger on the other side of this.”
One of the most important factors you can embrace during a crisis is taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. When the chips fall in a way nobody expects, what can your clients expect from you? “We have been proactive and creative,” Abbate says. “Each day, we strategize with our clients about new initiatives and brainstorm opportunities to connect in personal and compelling ways. We’re developing new and expanded business opportunities, and initiatives that can serve our clients. It has been a tremendous team effort.”
Fostering a close knit, collaborative environment helps keep everyone and everything in your organization synced. Butler/Till was built on a collaborative ownership culture designed to reduce turnover, increase productivity and deliver real business outcomes. CEO Kimberly Jones says the company also was built for change—something she believes every company must incorporate into their playbooks moving forward.
“It has never been more important to have a strategic plan and to give yourself permission to deviate from that strategic plan based on changing market and business conditions,” Jones says. “You have to allow yourself the opportunity to reimagine previous expectations.”
Jones believes that Butler/Till’s strong employee-owner culture—one crafted through open and honest communication—has been the bedrock of its success during the recent crisis. First and foremost, listening is the first priority to identify the biggest concerns of your employees and customers. “People want to feel heard and understood. And then they want a leader who takes action. Make decisions, share progress, solicit feedback, repeat.”
“People want to feel heard and understood. And then they want a leader who takes action. Make decisions, share progress, solicit feedback, repeat.”
— Kimberly Jones, CEO, Butler/Till
Perhaps the biggest attribute to surviving—and thriving—in a crisis is the ability to keep your eyes focused on what may lie ahead. “Do not miss the opportunities that a crisis reveals,” Jones says. “Companies that take time to reassess expectations, service offerings, business processes, organizational structure, and policies will be stronger for it.”
On your mark, get set, go(?)
Did you hear the one about the maid cleaning service that pivoted to buying groceries for its clients? How about the craft brewery that transformed its operations into making hand sanitizer? Or what about that popular dine-in restaurant that now is mastering the art of food delivery?
Matt Ferguson believes the key to rising above the challenges placed in front of you—and, yes, that includes global defining catastrophes—is to keep an open mind on what is happening around you. Ferguson, executive VP and managing director of brand development firm Mower, says that as a leader, it is your call to find and capitalize on opportunities that may emerge around you.
“Keep your ears to the ground,” Ferguson says. “Get out of your echo chamber and consume a variety of messages. Your team is relying on you to provide balanced information—to find the business trends that are working and pounce on them.”
While leaders are not expected to have all the answers, they should be able to empathize with the situation and circumstances at hand. That includes having conversations with your team, asking how they are doing and truly listening to what they have to say.
“Regular and frank communication on how a crisis is impacting your business and what your organization is doing to navigate through it is important,” Ferguson says. “Do what you can to foster connections. Continue to celebrate together, whether it’s birthdays, anniversaries, victories and accomplishments. Leaders are the glue that can hold teams together during fractured times.”
Jennifer Jacobson says that by leading from the front, you can carve the path necessary to offset troubled waters. Being a leader—in good times and bad—requires leading by example. Be well-informed, open and honest, and walk the walk.
“Do what you can to foster connections. Leaders are the glue that can hold teams together during fractured times.”
— Matt Ferguson, Executive VP/Managing Director, Mower
“Don’t just do what you ask others to do—do more,” says Jacobson, founder of Jacobson Communication. “Being in charge requires solid communication skills, empathy and the ability to listen. Listen to your employees. Your customers. Your community. Yourself. What are the needs that need to be met? How can you help?”
One of the phrases she likes to embrace is an oldie, but goodie: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Jacobson says that for so many aspects of creating a sustainable business, surviving a crisis is the best way to achieve sustainability. “Coming out the other side is good for you, your employees, your customers and your community. You need to pace yourself, and give yourself the space and time you need when you can.”
9 ways to restart your company’s fortunes
- Communicate clearly and set the appropriate expectations with employees and other stakeholders.
- Take time to listen to the concerns of your employees.
- Create a detailed restart plan and leverage best practices from similar companies (think peer-to-peer conversations).
- Create contingency plans. Despite your best efforts to plan, there still will be uncertainties.
- Keep your eyes wide open. Crises reveal windows of opportunities that may be critical to moving forward.
- Reassess, reaffirm, repeat. Take time to reassess everything and anything about your offerings, processes, organizational structure and policies.
- Force yourself to criticize your own plan. The biggest thing you can do to avoid distress is periodically review your business plans. Remember to build in trigger points.
- Find and retain talented people. Look for people who are willing to point out the uncomfortable truths.
- Treat every turnaround like a crisis. Without a crisis mindset, you get a stable company’s response to change: risk is to be avoided, and incrementalism takes over.