Decision-Making for Difficult Times – Leading in a Time Of Crisis

Mar 17, 2020 | Leadership

How can we ask staff to work from home when our technology is unable to meet the demands?

How do we retain employees as our revenue declines? 

If we need to make cuts to OPEX, where do we start?

How do we reassure employees in time of crisis?

These are just some of the questions that were shared with me this past weekend by friends and colleagues in leadership positions, at everything from multi-billion-dollar organizations to small businesses. 

In usual circumstances – without COVID-19 and looming talk of recession – these questions could be answered according to typical decision-making processes. However, today, it feels like we are making these decisions while riding a unicycle up a steep hill, juggling sandwiches and hand grenades…one wrong move and someone loses their lunch, or you take everyone down around you. Here are some decision-making tips  and leadership tactics to gracefully make it to the top of the hill during these challenging times and be a good leader in a time of crisis. 

Make better decisions with diverse perspectives.

Resist the temptation to ‘just make the decision’ yourself. I heard a story about a CEO that eagerly sent an all-staff (on Day 1 of the crisis) telling everyone to be good social citizens and work-from-home. Kudos to that proactivity, but the IT group and technology to support the initiative at the scale required weren’t ready. The obvious outcome was frustration on top of an already uneasy situation. Had the CEO consulted with his team to gain perspective and information, better outcomes would have been felt by all. We know diverse teams make better decisions, and Cloverpop says that is true 87% of the time. So, expand your circle of trust to include diverse roles, genders, ages, and geographies to make better decisions. A team of 3-7 individuals is ideal to reduce biases and improve outcomes. 

Separate the decision-making outcome from how it will be implemented or communicated

Isolating what you are trying to achieve from how you will execute brings clarity and focus. We add unnecessary time when we go down rabbit holes discussing how decisions will be implemented or communicated. Two weeks ago, decisions around dropping product lines or SG&A adjustments were business-as-usual; this week those decisions feel exponentially more difficult because we don’t want to seem insensitive in how those decisions are communicated. While stellar implementation and communication are critical, thinking about them before the decision is made will only slow you down. 

Move swiftly without sacrificing information gathering. 

On Day 5 of crisis mode, a friend shared that despite the Crisis Team* meeting every morning at 7:30 am, they still hadn’t made some critical decisions (including how to deal with front-line staff when you want back-office staff to work-from-home). To move quickly with decision-making, have that diverse team you’ve gathered first discuss: 

  • What business goals this decision will impact,
  • What data or information is available, and
  • What questions are currently unanswered. 

Have the team assess at least three or four legitimate scenarios covering:  

  • The consequences of an action – or lack of an action;
  • What must be true for this scenario to be successful; and
  • The risks, extent of the impacts, and ability to mitigate risks.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. 

Once a decision is made, get the best implementation plan and reinforcements in place; then, communicate. During a (virtual) meeting last Thursday, a senior team shared frustration that many people managers fail to communicate once a decision has been made. In today’s VUCA state, there is one thing you can’t do enough: communicating, vertically and horizontally. Tell people why the decision was made, how it impacts them, and what to expect. Be authentic and as inspiring as you can be in your communication 

Two final thoughts: 

  1. If you have an IT department, tell them ‘thank you’. Now. They rarely get the credit they deserve. That team will be one of the reasons your company comes out the other side of this ordeal. 
  2. Remember, we’re all in this together. Practice kindness, empathy and vulnerability every day. 

*If you don’t yet have a crisis team in place, check this article out for guidance.

By: Christi Mertens

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