Leading through a crisis

06 April 2020 5 min read
Written by

Robin Bryant

Being a business leader can be difficult at the best of times. But when a crisis comes knocking, leaders of all levels are stretched to the limit. There is so much to think about, numerous calls on our time and a constant fear that we will overlook something important. While the pressures are many, Mobas’ Joint MD and Founder Robin Bryant reminds business leaders not to neglect company culture and clear communication at a time of crisis. 

Everywhere we look, the platitudes of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be voiced and appear to be snowballing. These are unprecedented, extraordinary, unparalleled times. For those in leadership roles, our focus is naturally drawn towards retaining work and projects, delivering effective and profitable work, and managing cashflow. These are all vital for keeping your business on course, but overlooking your company culture could cost you even more when the storm has passed.  

When crisis strikes, leaders are typically found in the trenches, fighting for survival, but this isn’t always the best place for them to be. As soon as leaders discard their director’s hat and start fire-fighting, it can dangerously impact their team and the future longevity of the business itself. Leaders are best placed leading. That’s not to say they shouldn’t muck in, but they need to elevate themselves to give their teams clear communication and focus on managing the business, allowing their teams below them to focus on the delivery of day-to-day work.

Ebbs and flows of commercial life are inevitable. It’s the tough times that reveal the true strength and resiliency of your team. This is where a tight-knit culture of openness and inclusion can make the difference between advancement and regression.

Not all businesses face the same challenge when it comes to managing culture during a lockdown. In my experience, those likely to struggle the most are SMEs with a team of between say 50 and 100. Below 50, it’s easy to keep track of individuals – you’ll know them all intimately, you can ask with genuine integrity about their family, kids, pets because you know them. Larger firms, with 100 plus employees are likely to have clearly established management team structures, HR functions and hierarchy which will naturally be utilised in a time of crisis. It’s those caught in the middle, too big to be small but not big enough to be big that will feel the pain.

The secret to managing here is clearly defining roles and responsibilities for looking after your people. Most businesses will have little to no experience of working remotely. Whether we like it or not, home working is, for now, the new normal. So now that we are getting into a groove, it’s so important to focus on business culture and team morale to ensure that not only your business but your team get through this as smoothly as possible.

Here are three things you as a business leader should be doing now:

1. Communicate clearly with everyone

Communicating regularly in an open manner is key. With so much uncertainty, it falls to leaders to be the calm voice of reason and reassure their teams, remembering that the channel you use is just as important as what you communicate. Your teams will be looking for honesty and transparency at this time. Leaders have an essential role in ensuring communications are concise, unambiguous and timely to answer these questions for different stakeholder groups: What’s changing? Why? What does it mean for me?

2. Relax the rules

Savvy leaders will know that this certainly isn’t business as usual. Therefore, treat your team as individuals. Being in lockdown and quarantined at home may have a significant psychological impact on your team. So give serious thought to the business day. If staff are juggling childcare, home schooling or caring for family, we need to be open to shifting our mindset of what we can expect from our teams and when.

I’m a massive advocate of open-door leadership. And an ‘open door’ policy has never made more sense. Leaders need to ensure they’re accessible – probably more so than usual. They are going to be in demand, especially in a crisis, but that’s why they’re the leaders so they should aim to respond to people as quickly as possible.

3. Know when to step aside and delegate  

Sometimes the boldest step a leader can make is knowing when they are not the best person for particular tasks. Unprecedented times demand that leaders take a bold step forward and engage wholeheartedly. It’s not for the faint-hearted and, if someone near you is equally qualified for particular tasks, summon your courage and step aside to give you the time and headspace to focus on other things. Spreading the load isn’t failing, it’s smart delegation.

What is Mobas doing?

At Mobas we've been working hard on this to ensure our unique culture lives on throughout the lockdown. We have introduced lots of new programmes to help everyone stay upbeat.

  • We all use Microsoft Teams, and therefore use video conferencing at every opportunity. If you want a good gauge of how your staff are holding up, a 1-2-1 video call can be key.
  • We have an optional virtual tea break using MS Teams every afternoon where the C-word and work chat are banned.
  • We’ve launched a buddy scheme so that every Mobee is partnered with at least one other person from another part of the agency to check in with.
  • We hold a daily wind-down call at the end of the day to celebrate successes and ensure everyone switches off for the evening. Something I find really useful when it’s so hard to differentiate between work life and home life during the lockdown. On a Friday these change to a Friday drink session where everyone shares a ‘peak of the week’.
  • We are sending our team letters and cards in the post. At a time where everything is digital, a physical card can mean a lot to someone.
  • As a leader of the business, I’ve committed to video calling and checking in with every member of the team each week for a 1-2-1 chat

Look after yourself

If you’re going to be in a position to steer your business through this period, you have a duty of care to look after yourself! As a leader, you too may be struggling, and it’s imperative that you both look after yourself and be open about the reality of the situation for you. Use your network. Reach out to your peers. Be honest with yourself and feel free to contact me if you’d like a sounding board on how to help your business at this time.

Final thought

It’s very likely that we’ll never get back to how things were. We’ll certainly go back to some of the aspects of physical working and the collaborative approach will definitely take place once again, however will the culture of your business simply slip back to how it was? I doubt it very much, actually, and very positively, I think we will all as leaders have taken big strides in being much more open, much more personal, much more focused and overall better leaders. Why? Because we have learnt a lot about ourselves as individuals. Remember to listen to your own emotions and look at yourself and your behaviours. In doing so it teaches you to listen to others – properly!