how to manage during a crisis

If your team is going through a reorg, losing key staff, having its budget or a popular program slashed, or battling negative PR, it can be tough to rally your team to stay productive. When it’s not business as usual, how can you effectively manage your (probably distracted and anxious) team?

1. For starters, be transparent but don’t speculate too much. Managers tend to fall in one of two camps in times of crisis: They either play things too close to the chest, or they do too much speculating on things they don’t actually know yet. Both approaches are likely to increase your team’s anxiety! The problem with the first – trying to keep too tight a hold on information – is that employees can usually tell that there’s important information you’re not sharing with them, and that makes people alarmed. Plus, in an absence of information, people will start guessing about what’s happening – and often their guesses are more damaging than straightforward honesty would have been. The problem with the second – over-speculating about what might happen – is that you could be wrong, and you can often make things feel more chaotic for your team.

Instead, you can build good will by talking openly with people (to the extent that you’re allowed to) about what’s going on, what it means for them, and – if you don’t actually have much information yourself – when you think you’re likely to.

2. Stay accessible. When your team is dealing with tough times, it’s important that you’re particularly accessible. People may need to talk to you and ask questions, or they may just appreciate seeing you providing a reliable, authentic daily presence during the turmoil. In fact, people will be taking a lot of cues from you during this time, so it’s important that they see you focused on moving work forward (without seeming to be an unrealistic Pollyanna about the situation).

3. Make sure you don’t lose your best people. If things are feeling unstable – and especially if the crisis is financial in nature – your team members are likely to be wondering if they should be looking for more secure pastures. You’re particularly vulnerable to losing your strongest people during this time; they’re the ones most likely to have a ready pipeline of other prospects and be able to find new work quickly if they decide they want to. You can lower that possibility by talking with them directly about their futures in your organization; address head-on any worries they might have about their job security or what things are likely to look like for your team in the coming months.


I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. LiteralGirl*

    In #2, I think it’s particularly important that managers be seen to keep the work moving as well as holding staff accountable for their own work. My manager (who has since transfered to a new department) checked out after a major reorganization and budget cut announcements, and as a result, his direct reports slacked off alot. It’s made for a rough year.

  2. LK*

    Perfect timing on this one as it’s something that’s looming on the horizon for my institution. Any recommendations for addressing it if you both have little information (or little you’re allowed to discuss) and there is the possibility of layoffs?

    1. Workfromhome*

      Be as honest as you can. If you have little information say I don’t havew any information and I’m as stumped as you. I will do X Y and Z to try to get more information and then do X Y and Z.

      If you do get information and you know its BS don’t try to feed your people BS just becuase its the company line.

      We recently went through some major top level turnover,lost clients and lost key people. Some of the stuff that was spewed by management was very transparently BS. Its insulting to intelligent people to be fed something you know is untrue and your manager knows is BS but he’s saying it because he’s been instucted to. Better off to say nothing.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Yes, please be honest!

        Last year all the contractors (4 different companies) supporting our Big Government Agency project were furloughed for weeks. There were issues getting the yearly task orders under the umbrella contract completed and implemented.

        Our company left us completely in the dark about the contract status. We were told about the impending furlough in a teleconference with Corporate (different state) a day prior to the stop work email. So we all go home.

        Week 1 goes by. Crickets.
        Week 2. Crickets. On Friday I text my Supervisor and ask what the hell is going on. (I was a little more polite than that, of course.) Supervisor replies: no news from Corporate, hang in there.
        Week 3. Crickets. Text to Supervisor goes unanswered.

        Meanwhile, I have friends at the other companies. Company 1: “Guess what, our task order is being finalized.” Company 2: “Hey, we’re back at work. Where are you?” Company 3: “We’re good here.” My Company: Zip.

        Finally I fire off an email to the CEO. (We are a very small company and we have always been encouraged to contract him directly…so I did.) I asked specifically what the task order status was and the date we could expect it to be implemented. I mentioned the status of the other companies’ task orders. If they are back to work, why aren’t we?

        Lo and behold, Supervisor sends out an mass email telling us to report back to work on X date.

        I can only presume that they were waiting to finalize the contract details before they told us. But 3 weeks without any of us hearing a single word? Not from CEO, not from Supervisor except when I contacted her first. The Unemployment Office was astounded that they didn’t keep us informed. (I called for information on when/whether I could apply for benefits. By Week 3, we assumed our jobs had disappeared.)

  3. TCO*

    My team is facing bad news this very week, and so far my managers have handled it well. The most important part has been hearing them say, “We didn’t know this was coming, either. It sucks, and we completely understand why you’re upset. We’re committed to doing what we can to mitigate the impacts. Our doors are all open, so come tell us what you need from us.” It’s helped us feel like we’re all on the same team, rather than up against our managers.

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