Managing Crisis

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Sales and revenue are falling short. Your company is facing the prospect of downsizing. Your best employee suddenly quits. No matter the circumstances, your team’s morale is at an all-time low, and it’s your job as their manager to lift their spirits and get them back on track.

This is no easy task. It can be hard to see the positive when everything seems to be falling apart. But every company goes through rough patches and growing pains, and it’s during these times that a team most needs a strong leader to help them weather the storm.

“If employees don’t have confidence in the leadership team, they may question the future of the organization, wonder whether their role is safe and either become disengaged or start to look for a new job,” said Kim Littlefield, senior vice president of Keystone Partners. “Employees need to feel heard, understood, recognized and appreciated by their managers …  especially during rough patches.”

Communicate transparently about the situation

During times of crisis, communication – whether good or bad – plays a huge role in how a group reacts and moves forward. Your instinct might be to shield employees from what’s going on and not keep them informed, said Arnold Kamler, CEO of iBert. On the other end of the spectrum, he said, making strong misleading statements that everything is great is just as harmful. Therefore, it’s critical to be as open, honest and transparent as you can be.

“Communicate what is happening. Employees need to know, and they should hear it from the most senior leader,” Littlefield told Business News Daily. “News is going to get out, so it’s better for leadership to consult with HR, the board, legal and/or PR as early in the process as possible to create a strong public statement.”

Littlefield advised addressing three key areas in your statement:

What happened or is happening

What decisions have been made (including the business rationale)

What the plan is going forward

As you’re communicating, try to exude confidence and a positive outlook on the situation.

“If your staff members see you panicking, they’ll think it’s time to panic,” said Miko Branch, CEO and co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie’s. “If they see you showing strength, then they’ll feel confident in your ability to make the right decisions for both them and the company. You want your employees to trust your leadership.”

“Rather than focus on these changes as negative, we recommend leaders look for ways to … focus on the positive impact to the organization and the employees,” added Littlefield.  When employees see decisions as necessary to protect the future success of the organization, it can help them [move] forward more quickly.”


Find the lessons to be learned

Matthew Katz, CEO and founder of ecommerce fraud prevention company Verifi, warned leaders against thinking the missteps that brought your team or company to this point won’t be repeated. It’s critical learn from your mistakes so you can handle similar situations better in the future.

“Keep moving forward,” Katz told Business News Daily. “[Don’t] get mired down and feel powerless to make the changes based on these insights.”

In the process of analyzing and evaluating mistakes, it’s important not to place blame and create animosity among your team, said Branch. You should also be open to thoughts and solutions from employees.

“Never point fingers at any staff members; working as a team is key to getting through tough times,” Branch said. “Always be open to new ideas and strategies from any staff member [too]. You never know where the next big idea will come from!”

Share your vision for the future

Being clear and communicative about how the team and company plans to move forward will help part the storm clouds for your employees.

“You need to know where you are going before you can get there,” Littlefield said. “Great business leaders know how to paint a vivid picture of the future. Fueled by their passion to achieve their vision, they make it crystal clear what employees can do to get involved and emphasize how crucial each person’s role is.”

For employees to truly hear and remember the message, they need to be exposed to it several times, said Littlefield. She advised encouraging all managers to ask their employees, “How are you doing, and how can I help?”

“By asking how they can help, managers show their investment in that person’s success and their willingness to be a resource in some way to help them get there,” Littlefield added.

Once your team starts to bounce back, don’t lose the momentum you’ve created. Maintain your leadership strength when things are going well to make sure you’ve earned your team’s trust for the next low point, said Kamler.

“It is important for leadership to be strong and solid all of the time,” he said. “If leadership is not consistent with managers and staff during normal times, they will not receive the trust and hard work of their team when needed most.”


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