Ideal Outcomes

Five Disciplines to Turn a Crisis Into Opportunity

Adapted from Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership by Jason Richmond with Jeanne Kerr and Malcolm J. Nicholl

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged corporate leaders in new ways. It was a once-in-a-century catastrophe that changed the business world forever—a global seismic shake-up—but also one that inspired renewed agility, innovation, and teamwork.

Most of all, it served as a wake-up call, making us more aware than ever of the need for corporate leaders to prepare for any crisis, to have a management plan in place, and to act quickly, decisively, and with empathy when the next crisis strikes. And there will be a next crisis. There always is.

As a culture change strategist during this crisis, I researched best practices and trends, evaluated new authoritative surveys, studies, and academic analyses, and picked the brains of hands-on thought leaders. Navigating the turbulence of the pandemic was a learning experience that few leaders anticipated, and it will have long-term ramifications for the way companies operate.

How can you and your organization be better prepared to face the next unimagined crisis? How can your corporate culture be maintained? What attributes will help senior leaders work their way through all aspects of the challenge? How will you recruit, hire, onboard, communicate, and train during tumultuous times?

 From my experience with clients and interviewing notable corporate leaders for my book, I have distilled a step-by-step road map into the following five disciplines.

1. Inspire and communicate a shared purpose

The study authors said, “People who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company. Moreover, when employees feel that their sense of purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty, and a great willingness to recommend the company to others. ”Companies with a healthy culture thrive because they create the sense that everyone is in it together. Those companies also care about more than the bottom line. Making a profit is essential, certainly, but the purpose is what drives commitment and passion while differentiating you to your customers, vendors, employees, and potential employees.

The flourishing businesses will be those whose leaders recognize that purpose drives profits and profits sustain commitment. They go hand in hand.

In a McKinsey & Co survey of more than a thousand employees in the US, two-thirds said that Covid-19 had caused them to reflect on their purpose in life and nearly half were rethinking the kind of work they did. Millennials were impacted by the pandemic—they were three times more likely than others to reconsider their choice of career. It is a critical issue for talent management strategy since the same research discovered that a huge number of employees—70 percent—maintained that their work defined their sense of purpose in life.

2. Build trust and authenticity

Trust is the foundation of relationships, and it’s a two-way street. When managers have confidence in their workers, trust is more likely to be reciprocated. In turn, they will perform to a greater extent and exceed expectations. To build trust, go out of your way to deliberately signal it. Don’t assume your employees know that you trust them. They’re not mind readers, so you must tell them.

Additionally, encourage feedback, and be responsive in individual interactions and through company-wide communications. Strive not only to be positive and uplifting, but also to be honest and realistic.

Another way to build trust is through transparency, which is tough for many organizations and leaders. Many of us learned that being a leader meant knowing all the answers and have worked in environments where making a mistake was tantamount to career disaster. The reality is that we cannot reignite our culture without first acknowledging the current state—which is likely to have created issues—when a crisis occurs. If we are not candid about these issues, the rumor mill will run rampant, as will mistrust. Trust is fragile, easily broken, and hard to regain.

3. Hone your performance management skills

Managers need to be clear about the big picture, and employees need to understand it. When we consider the human element in performance, it is not enough to know what to do. It is also important for people to know how to bring their best ideas and contributions.

At the outset, leaders must articulate company direction, strategy, and business goals. Keep the message straightforward, and don’t assume it’s a once-a-year undertaking. In fact, touching on priority goals at least briefly in every team meeting helps employees continue to feel part of a common cause, especially if they are working from home. Remind people of your organization’s purpose and ask them how they contribute to it. Even when they feel isolated, they need to know they make a difference.

4. Develop your talent

One of the first casualties of a financial crisis is often the company’s training budget. While it may be a quick way to effect cost savings, it is not the right solution. The data is clear that cutting a training budget is a short-term fix at best with many long-term downsides.

The qualities that workers and companies need for tomorrow are not what they were yesterday. Jobs have changed, and the way we conduct business has changed. Success for tomorrow also requires innovation and entrepreneurship, adaptability, collaboration, and emotional intelligence.

5. Create belonging through diversity and inclusion

Striving for diversity is not simply a politically correct, feel-good goal for corporations. While it is certainly an ethical imperative, organizations have increasingly recognized it is also good business. There is mounting research to prove the point from McKinsey, Development Dimensions International (DDI), Korn Ferry, and Boston Consulting Group.

For instance, a DDI survey of more than two thousand human resource executives and nearly sixteen thousand global leaders found that organizations with above-average diversity were eight times more likely to be in the top 10 percent for financial performance.

Diversity at the top drives value and is critical at all levels of an organization to drive innovation and a sense of inclusion. It opens doors, facilitates communication, and broadens both perspectives and thought. As Laurence D. Fink, CEO and Founder of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm handling nearly nine trillion dollars of investments has said, “If we are not a mirror of who are clients are, we’re going to fail.”

Fink is right, of course. But the recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion is not enough. You need to be proactive and create belonging through the visible promotion of diversity and inclusion. Similarly, the other four disciplines I have discussed also require conscious and systematic implementation. By doing so, you will be able to turn any crisis into a golden opportunity.