Unfortunately, difficult times come for all small businesses, such as the COVID-19 crisis. Here's how to lead your team through tough times, coronavirus or otherwise.
Every business has to weather a rough patch at some point, and while business leaders must make tough decisions on how to improve their situation, they also have to pay close attention to team morale. The most damage to a business often comes from low spirits.
In recent months, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has negatively impacted businesses all over the world. Sales and revenue are falling short. Your company may be facing the prospect of downsizing. Your best employee might be struggling to work remotely full time. 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."
Based on the advice of company leaders and entrepreneurs, here are three smart ways you can keep your staff motivated to persevere through tough times. [Read related article: What Kind of Leader Are You?]
1. Communicate transparently about the situation.
During times of crisis, communication – 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 with the business and not keep them informed, said Arnold Kamler, CEO of Kent International. On the other end of the spectrum, he said, misleading statements that everything is great are just as harmful. 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 recommends 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
In your communications, 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."
2. Find the lessons to be learned.
Matthew Katz, CEO and founder of e-commerce fraud prevention company Verifi, warns against thinking the missteps that brought your team or company to this point won't be repeated. It's critical to 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," Branch said. "Working as a team is key to getting through tough times. Always be open to new ideas and strategies from any staff member [too]. You never know where the next big idea will come from!"
3. 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 advises 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."
4. Celebrate large and small wins.
When your company is going through difficult times, it can be easy to dwell on everything that is going wrong, which will eventually result in low morale across the business. Remember to celebrate large and small wins to keep morale high and to remind your team that their work is valuable.
Whenever possible, break large company goals into smaller, more attainable goals and start tracking team progress. Whenever your team achieves a small goal, such as meeting a project deadline, getting a higher click-through rate or launching a new campaign successfully, celebrate the win.
Reinvigorating your team with positivity will help boost morale during tough times. As a result, you will see more confidence and productivity in your team.
5. Ask for honest feedback.
It can be tempting for business owners to want to fix everything and bear the burden when things aren't going as expected. However, trying to solve problems on your own can do two damaging things to your business: You could inadvertently create a negative company culture in which employees don't feel they can collaborate or solve problems together, and the rough patch may become bigger than you are capable of solving alone.
When you're in a rough patch, ask for honest feedback from your employees. Prepare for tough feedback that you may not want to hear. Listening to the different perspectives of your employees allows you to look at the problem holistically and can result in a stronger team dynamic.
Finally, avoid asking vague questions. Get to the root of the issue by asking engaging questions, such as these:
- "How is this affecting you and your team?"
- "What changes do you think would most benefit the company?"
- "What can I do to better support you and your team?"
Nicole Fallon contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.