Optimize Costs, with Retention in Mind
The most common mistake leaders make during any kind of turbulence is implementing cost optimization, which often includes layoffs, without considering the retention of staff. Cost optimization should be discussed and implemented concurrently with a retention plan. If you must optimize costs, then simultaneously work to retain your best people. Your organization will emerge stronger. During and after turbulent times, retention should be one of the highest priorities. You should make cost optimization decisions, keeping in mind their impact on retention. This information allows you to assess risk and make more informed decisions.
Be a Brand Ambassador
The temptation during crisis is to tell everyone everything—the good, the bad, the ugly. Though transparency and adherence to core values is necessary, especially when leading through turbulence, the organization and its people need leaders who are brand ambassadors. As brand ambassadors, you are responsible for representing the organization both internally and externally in a positive manner. This does not mean stretching the truth. It simply means that you should refrain from making negative statements that might cause further turbulence. It also means seeking advice from your marketing and communications group on when and how to interface with the media and providing consistent messages to everyone.
Assess and Rebuild Trust
Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after truth.” There are many advantages to being a part of an environment that is built on truth. People are more open, and there is greater productivity, less internal competitiveness, stronger relationships, and overall a more positive atmosphere. All stakeholders—from employees to customers, investors, and society—know when they are working with an organization built on trust. That said, damage control and rebuilding a seriously injured organization require difficult decisions that not everyone will understand. For this reason, you and the other leaders in your organization must continuously assess and rebuild trust. Seneca, the Roman philosopher and writer (4 bce–65 ce), taught that “no one can be happy who has been thrust outside the pale of truth. And there are two ways that one can be removed from this realm: by lying, or by being lied to.” Can trust be rebuilt? It depends. People trust the trusted. In her article “Trust Fall,” Pat Galagan (2009, 26–28) notes that “there are some who believe that organizations must do more than apologize and be truthful about past sins. The leadership experts James O’Toole and Warren Bennis caution that trust requires more than honest behavior from leaders. Rather, it takes cultures that reward honesty and punish dishonesty.” Galagan continues with a quotation from O’Toole and Bennis: “A new metric of corporate leadership will be the extent to which executives create organizations that are economically, ethically, and socially sustainable.”
Remember, Leaders Are Human, Too
Crisis and turbulence bring out both the best and worst in each of us. When your organization is facing difficult times, you go through a lot. You may feel hurt, damaged, worried—and that’s just the tip of the emotional iceberg. Sometimes you won’t be at your best, although it is important for you, as the leader, to hold it together as much as possible.
Think Like a Child
The guideline to think like a child may seem out of place—how could that help, particularly during turbulent times? But when you think about it, children do not carry the same burdens as adults; they live in the moment and, especially when very young, are constantly playing (figure 3-1). They may sense your sadness or turmoil. They may even ask you about it. Children allow you to take the opportunity to see the big picture; they provide a goal for you to get through things. They simplify everything, and this allows you to stop overanalyzing and complicating matters. Soon they will be running around, playing their games. Join them, the time will pass, and you will have a much-needed break. Try it. Live “in the moment” as children tend to do, and surrender to your playful inner child for a short period. This will remind you of the significance of taking time to tune out and not allow business to consume every moment. Work/life balance can still exist, even in a crisis.
Take Care of Your Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Well-Being
Your health—your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being—is important all the time, and it is critical during turbulent times. Don’t put any aspect of your well-being on hold. You will feel like ignoring your needs— but don’t! Calm your mind at night. Get a good night’s sleep. If you need to talk with someone, seek a counselor, a coach, or your best friend. Start or continue an exercise routine. Be more mindful of your diet. And look for the comfort that comes from following your own spiritual path. This is not an easy task for most leaders, who become so consumed by their professional responsibilities that they sacrifice everything else. Change and uncertainty at work are draining, but you cannot allow them to take over your life.
Want to Learn More?
This guest post was written by Pricilla Nelson and Ed Cohen, and was excerpted from Riding The Tiger: Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times From Chapter 3, The Role of Leadership. It comes from the two-part webinar series titled “Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times like Covid”.