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Managing Managers In A Crisis

By Tara Landes

When the crisis hits, it’s human nature for leadership to turn inward and start scrambling. How can we pivot? How can we make payroll? What’s going to happen to my business? My family? Will we even survive? The weight of not just being the support for your family but for all the families under your employ can weigh heavily. The stress is real. Be gentle with yourself.

As we hit the six-week mark, however, it’s not that things are necessarily easier but they start to feel less uncertain. You have some sort of plan you’re working through. It may still be day-to-day but there is a bit of space to think. To breathe.

Your teams are starting to feel that release as well. They’re no longer wondering about whether they’ll have a job (that answer has likely been given) but they are wondering about what job they will have. Clichés like “the new normal” get thrown around all over the media. So, it’s natural that your team will start to have more questions like:

  • Will I get repaid for the lost wages the subsidy isn’t covering when the crisis ends?
  • I’m happy to pitch in and do my part, but did I just get permanently demoted?
  • If I ask my boss the questions that are really on my mind, am I putting my job at risk?

At Bellrock, we take the position that most people are good people trying hard. Yes, a few may be trying to take advantage of the new reality but, for the most part, they just want to feel that they’re valued and can trust the company they work for. That, and they want information. Nature abhors a vacuum and in the absence of you providing answers (even if the answer is “I don’t know yet”), it’s human nature to assume the worst. Leaders have an unprecedented opportunity right now to build trust with their teams. As with any great opportunity, there is also great risk. If you don’t pull them closer, you will push them further away. Things are moving fast so there isn’t a lot of time to waste.

Now is not the time to treat the managers like mushrooms. Build or rebuild the trust that may have been damaged over the past few weeks. Ask them how they’re handling homeschooling, aging parents, change in sleep patterns, loss of milestones, etc. Among your team, there’s at least one birth, wedding, or graduation that’s being impacted right now. Let them talk about it. Ask them what they’re grateful for during these challenging times. What unexpected blessings have they found? Ask them what has been challenging. And, if you have it, remind them of your benefits program, particularly if you have mental health coverage.

Consider their perspectives. They’re dealing with their teams, trying to support them and share information. Make sure they have that information. They’re closer to the front lines than you – solicit and listen to their ideas about strategic pivots and shifts. It’s not just about making them feel valued…it’s about actually valuing their contribution.

If you used to have a weekly meeting, consider switching to twice a week to increase contact and communication. This is particularly necessary if you were used to working in the same physical space and are now distributed. Working from home requires more frequent but shorter bursts of communication. Take that 90-minute weekly tactical meeting and break it into two 45-minute meetings. Be crisp and productive in those meetings.

For those leaders that are thinking, “We’re in a crisis. They should just be happy they’re still employed,” consider this: Your top performers will always have employment opportunities beyond your firm – there are big losers in this crisis, but there are also big winners. Some companies are desperate to hire at all levels of their organizations as they experience record-breaking growth. Your weakest links though? You’re right. They’re happy to have a job and will likely stay with you forever.