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How to Communicate with Your Team In a Time of Crisis

Building Teams

When your business experiences a crisis, it’s a crucial test of your leadership skills. The way you communicate with your team sets the tone for how you’re going to navigate this situation together, and since tough times are inevitable, I want you to have the skills to do it right. 

Every business, no matter what kind it is, is tested. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, or what processes you’ve put in place, when a crisis hits — be it unexpected fluctuations in the market, losing an important customer, or, you know, a global pandemic — it’s up to you as the team’s leader to keep pushing everyone forward. And the way you push them forward really matters. 

Your communication style and your level of transparency are key, and you certainly can’t pretend that everything is normal, nor can you just go hide in a hole, hoping that the storm will pass and that everything and everyone will be okay once it’s passed. This is when you need to step up. This is a defining moment. Are you a real leader or not? 

Financial transparency is key in a time of crisis

I understand that there are a lot of cases, like those where you’re forced to reduce the size of your staff because the business is struggling, where you’re hesitant to share the numbers. What if I lose my good people if they realize how dire our financial situation is?

In certain situations, however, I’d argue that the opposite is true. You’ve worked hard to hire good people, and you have to be confident — and exemplify that optimism — that these great people you’ve hired and mentored are not going to be afraid of the challenge that lies ahead, but will let you lead them through this. 

It’s up to you to paint that picture. But you gotta be real about it, especially when it comes to the numbers. While it’s always true, this is especially when your people really need to understand the financial impact of their day-to-day decisions. 

Be transparent that you’re evaluating every financial opportunity the business has in order to stay afloat, to pivot, and to change for the better. Your team already knows you’re already doing this. Acknowledge it. Give them a reason — one based on fact and real financial data — to let you lead them through this. 

Create best-case, mid-case, and worst-case scenarios based on your financials — and track progess daily

You need to get your financial statements in a place where you can actually start making decisions. This is an acknowledgement to your team in pretty black and white terms that things need to change. It also shows that you’re being thoughtful in using the data you have in order to create scenarios that you can plan for. 

Your team deserves to know that your revenues are changing and what your anticipation of those changes could mean, given the circumstances. It’s not just you saying “Everything is going to zero, we’re giving up, let’s close our doors.” No, you’re creating “What if?” scenarios, planning for different phases of this situation, getting your financial statements in order, and creating the thresholds that will prepare you for your three scenarios. 

You and your team need to know, when your revenue changes, what in the organization changes? What are your fixed costs? From a payroll perspective, how will this situation affect your team members, who are far and away your most valuable asset.

When it comes to your people, the best-case scenario is that you get to keep every single person, but you’re just running a really tight ship. The mid-case could look like everybody across the board taking a certain percentage of a pay cut for a defined period of time in order to mitigate the financial impact of the crisis. The worst-case scenario involves making the tough but necessary decision of who you would need to part ways with should you sink below a certain threshold. There is a right way to do this. There’s a right way to communicate this. 

Give everyone absolute clarity about what they can do to create the most impact, and how you can, as a team, avoid those worst-case scenarios. Not acknowledging what is happening will create fear. Fear will create distraction. And distraction will take everyone down. But if you tell everyone clearly and confidently what they do have control over, then people will rise to the occasion because they’ll feel empowered. My favorite definition of responsible is: able to respond. You will never know if your team is responsible without testing their ability to respond to pressure. Your team will only grow in responsibility when they are given the option to demonstrate their ability to respond.

Don’t isolate yourself — increase your collaboration

Tough situations can cause some people to withdraw, so remember that you are setting the tone for your team in how you tackle these situations. You put together the team that you did because they each brought special skills to the table. 

Now is the time to really focus on everyone’s best attributes in how they can help the business succeed, whether that be through adapting to a new market landscape, elevating the level of service your clients need, or through some other opportunities for innovation. The amazing thing about times of crisis is that they can often foster innovation. When your back is against the wall, our value as leaders, team members, and organizations are put to the test. If we have solid structures in place, we have made room for ourselves to stay focused on our mission while maintaining a perspective that allows us to see what our clients really need and what we’re able to provide. Seek out those moments with your team. They’ll be inspired. And they’ll rise to the occasion.  If you’re currently experiencing a crisis in your business, download this free e-book. It’s a step by step guide to navigating and communicating during a pivitoal moment in your business.