How business leaders should respond in times of crisis

03 April 2020 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read

Organisations globally are facing crisis due to the covid-19 pandemic across all facets of their operations, from finance and supply chain to strategy and human capital. More than ever the world is looking at leaders to successfully guide their businesses and people through this period of unprecedented change.

Based on years of experience working with leaders, experts at Valcon – a Nordic operations consulting firm part of Cordence Worldwide – have developed a seven-step response plan for leaders. According to the authors, ‘great leaders’ typically use these seven techniques to stay ‘in control’ and successfully navigate change during crisis times as these. 

Take responsibility

As the leader, you have a responsibility to your business – and consequently to all stakeholders. All of them. You cannot optimise with respect to one stakeholder group at the cost of others – you need a 360-degree perspective and consider how your plans could affect all stakeholders.

How business leaders should respond in times of crisis

This however does not mean that you should try to please everybody – the scenario being faced will hurt in many ways – but you can enter into dialogue with your stakeholders and openly explain your choices, including those that may hurt. Take responsibility for your decisions. 

Communication

There is no over-communication in times like these. To everybody and, of course, in particular to your employees. This creates a feeling of security and calmness. 

Given the uncertain environment, it is fully plausible that leaders do not have the answers to all questions. But offer the answers you do have. Communicate what you know and what you are not sure of. First and foremost: Communicate your decisions and the launched initiatives – and celebrate when positives start unfolding. 

Take the lead

In times of crisis, the executive team must be visible and set an example. So if your message to the organisation is that the customers come first now, then you need to spend 80% of your own time with your customers. And if your message is that now is the time for reducing costs, then the CEO and executive team should lead in similar fashion, by for instance taking a pay cut first. Walk the talk! 

Anticipate

Being a leader is very much about being one step ahead of the rest – in other words, being able to anticipate what is coming. So, take the time to think ahead. What is likely to happen in two weeks across the entire business? How are customers likely to react, and how will your competitors respond? What will happen with the supply chain? And so on and so forth. 

Key is to repeat this process systematically, to keep an eye on the short and medium term, but also the long term. Explain the key pillars to the management level and employees to ensure that the business has a shared perception of reality. 

Strategic planning

Once you have prepared the strategic approach, develop a plan and the necessary actions. The purpose of the plan is to offer security. And the plan should help ensure that your business gets through this phase in the best way possible.

Some may argue that you cannot really plan for anything in the current uncertain environment. Indeed, and planning therefore needs to be dynamic. As General Eisenhower put it, “Plans are nothing – but planning is everything.” It is the process of sitting down and thinking ahead in a structured manner that adds value. 

Execute

Now the plan needs to be executed. This will likely require that you organise yourself and your business to be able to do so. Act swiftly and with focus.

Begin small, and again make sure that you lead by demonstration – show yourself that something is actually happening. Do not wait for perfection. Now is the time to act, and try to align the short term actions with a long-term perspective (so that measures also make sense for the future). 

Be responsible to others

Of course, safety, disease prevention, etc. should be a leader’s first priority. That goes without saying. But as a leader, you need to think even further. How do you handle those employees who are concerned? What can you do for those employees you may need to let go?

What do you say to your trusted sub-supplier who may be going bankrupt in three months because you have stopped buying from him? Your actions should be responsible and clear, and as the leader, you also have a major responsibility to consider how your actions may affect your fellow human beings.