How leaders can manage effectively and thrive through times of crisis: A guide

Phil Ahad is chief digital officer at Toluna.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw many businesses a curve ball, with some emerging stronger and some not. What are the key lessons business leaders should learn from these challenging times to help them better prepare for a future crisis?

Be open

A good business leader is open – open to learning, listening, changing, asking for help and perhaps most importantly, open to taking risks. During times of crisis, this translates into being open and willing to admit when a strategy is not working or that the business was not prepared for the given situation. It also means creating an open environment where your employees feel free to share ideas. Challenging times often lead to great creativity and ingenuity from employees who can bring different perspectives to the problem-solving table, help enrich your strategy and create solutions as you navigate the business through an uncertain market. Never think you are too experienced to seek help and advice. Be comfortable relying on your employees, fellow business leaders and partners. If you can harness advice from people with different backgrounds and in different stages of their careers you will be better posed to weather the storm as an open, flexible, and strong leader.

Be transparent and lead with authenticity

Transparency and authenticity instil trust in those around you, which in turn empowers your team and company. It is often easy for us to be our authentic selves at home or in our personal life, but we leaders may be hesitant to replicate this in the workplace. While it can be tempting to put on a brave face during times of crisis to avoid adding undue pressure on your employees, you must not avoid honest conversations with the workforce about the state of the business. Acknowledge issues, discuss them with your team and employees, and find solutions together. If you offer this kind of platform for transparency and authenticity, it will give your employees permission to voice their fears and concerns and bring the team closer together at the time when it matters most.

Pivot quickly

When business leaders planned for 2020, no one had ‘Pandemic’ on their bingo card. Most leaders had to rip up their carefully researched and meticulously planned 2020 playbooks and produce new ones in a matter of weeks. This was a stark reminder that business leaders need to be able to pivot quickly, effectively and decisively if they hope to survive and thrive in uncertain times. You cannot be afraid to make fast and decisive adjustments to your business strategy when faced with dramatic market shifts – but you also need a strong and agile workforce to accomplish this and an all-hands-on-deck mentality that includes everyone from the marketing team to operations, R&D, sales and more.

Commit to a strong company culture

The pandemic tested many companies and proved that those committed to supporting a strong company culture and values prior to the crisis were in a better position to respond to disruption. Why? A resilient workforce depends on shared company values, work ethic, and cultural fit. Well-blended teams with a diverse set of skills, experiences, and backgrounds are more likely to work together and support the business through any turbulence.

Focus on a strong culture and a shared sense of purpose and your team will be well positioned to work cohesively, protect the business and even thrive during uncertainty. At Toluna, unwavering commitment to our values and culture allowed our innovation team to successfully launch our real-time insights platform Toluna Start during pandemic disruption.

Remember that knowledge is power

Knowledge is power – and the most important asset in times of uncertainty. As a leader managing a business during any challenging time, you must stay informed of customer sentiment, market changes, and critically, how your workforce is functioning or feeling during the crisis. In the digital era, where endless amounts of information are available through consumer research tools, employee engagement platforms and open communication with the workforce and your business partners – there is no excuse for making blind, uninformed decisions. Change is constant during times of crisis, and if you can’t effectively draw on information and knowledge to drive your business decisions, you are wasting valuable time and money at the most vulnerable time for your business.

There are always lessons to be learned in any crisis, and COVID-19 has been no different. It cast a spotlight on leaders and reminded us all that we must be better prepared to manage what hides around the corner, no matter how unlikely it may seem. We can’t predict when the pandemic will end or what any future crisis may hold but if we learn from this experience and apply that knowledge to future planning, we will be better prepared as leaders to shepherd our companies through market changes and challenging times.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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