Effective decision-making can make or break your business in a crisis. Develop these three skills to face a crisis with confidence.
Anyone can successfully run a business when everything is going right.
It’s when things start to go wrong that true leaders reveal themselves—and when they become most valuable to their organizations.
It’s safe to say that things haven’t exactly gone smoothly so far in 2020, and we’re not out of the woods yet. Navigating the next few months will be a challenge for any business but will also present an opportunity for the best leaders to patch up vulnerabilities and ensure survival through current and future crises.
Here are the three most important skills for decision-making in the midst of an emergency.
Skill #1: Standardizing clear and consistent communication
Poor communication can tank an organization during prosperous times, so if your team stops communicating when a crisis hits, you might as well just close up shop. The best decisions are made when all voices have been heard.
But it isn’t enough to set up a collaboration tool and expect regular conversations to carry themselves. You need to set the standard for clear and consistent communication by making yourself visible on your team collaboration tool, making it easy for your employees to get in touch with you through multiple channels, and starting the conversations that need to be started rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
Good communication is perhaps the most important leadership skill you need to guide your organization through a crisis, because every good decision starts with good communication.
Skill #2: Allowing empathy to guide you
It’s easy to say that your business cares about people when things are going well, but you’ll likely have to make some difficult decisions—such as layoffs or increasing your prices to make up for lost income—during times of crisis.
No one would suggest that you should recklessly expand your business in the middle of a crisis, but the leaders who learn to place the highest value on the employees and customers that they’ve already earned will best position their business for survival.
This isn’t just the ethical thing to do: it makes good business sense.
After all, acquiring new customers is an inherently uncertain venture. Gartner research suggests that businesses—especially those that rely on subscriptions—“must rely on customer retention and the expansion of existing relationships to grow their business” (full report available to clients).
It’s perhaps even more daunting to hire a new employee over retaining one who has already been trained. It can cost thousands of dollars and months of time to get a new employee up to speed. In other words, the customers and employees that you already have are among your most valuable assets.
Still, if your organization is struggling to stay afloat during a crisis, you’ll have to make tough decisions. This could mean instituting a hiring freeze or cutting bonuses and other perks before turning to layoffs, or shifting spend from new customer marketing campaigns to customer retention efforts.
But if you’ve already shown your organization that you always make every effort to put people first and you are guided by empathy, they will be much more understanding when you have to make a painful decision.
Skill #3: Showing restraint and patience
Some leaders will be tempted to try to solve all the problems that come with a crisis overnight. But that is a recipe for burnout and hasty mistakes. A much better approach is to weather the storm for as long as possible and gain the benefit of perspective that comes with time: A short-term fix can result in bigger problems in the long run.
For example, if your organization is struggling through this period of remote work, your first thought shouldn’t be to take remote work permanently off the table after things settle. It’s not that your teams couldn’t handle it, or that your business isn’t set up for it—it may just mean that you need to better equip your team to work remotely after the crisis has passed.
For a patient leader, this can be a stress test that helps you identify gaps that your organization needs to fill to stay competitive in a post COVID-19 market. In fact, according to Gartner research, 74% of organizations plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19:
The awareness that you’re in the middle of a crisis should inform and temper your decision-making. If you lay off 90% of your sales staff now because sales are down, you may be setting up a new crisis when things pick back up and you need salespeople.
Taking a wait-and-see approach on decisions when you can afford the extra time could set your business apart from those that overreact in the moment.
Preparedness prevents panic
We can all make better decisions by thinking calmly, and it’s easier to be calm when you’re prepared. Here are some more resources from our Coronavirus Resource Center to help you get there: