A crisis - defined as a time of intense difficulty or danger - is a rare thing but the past few months in Australia have seen many people facing genuine crisis situations.
From devastating bushfires to the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, businesses have been forced to enact emergency plans and manage the fears of staff and customers.
Science has proven that emotions are contagious. In times of crisis, how can you effectively reassure people who are feeling vulnerable, while also ensuring that they don’t pass their anxieties onto the rest of the group?
The trouble with the fear response is that it activates the amygdala - the ‘lizard’ brain - the part of the brain that is responsible for survival. Once the amygdala is calling the shots, people enter a state of fight or flight that can result in irrational decision making.
Freaked out people are invariably unproductive, mistake-prone and easily distracted so
how you can, as a business leader, calm the farm?
If your business doesn’t have an emergency plan, now is the time to create one. This article outlines the requisite components of an emergency management plan.
In the face of the current crisis - COVID-19 - it is worth creating a specialised plan. The World Health Organisation has published a guide to getting your workplace ready for COVID-19. You can download this advice here.
You may also need to look at adjusting your financial systems. If you are facing cancelled orders or delayed payments, you may need to arrange a solution in partnership with your bank and speak.
You may also need to review your insurance to make sure it’s current and includes everything you need. It’s worth noting that the bushfires are going to seriously alter insurance premiums in affected areas so stay abreast of these changes and know how they affect your business.
The easiest way to alleviate fears is through regular, honest communication. A good question to ask yourself now is how will you communicate with people? Now is the time to set up your notification channels.
If you’re planning to communicate with staff and customers through email, set up some templates. If you’re planning to send SMS notifications, make sure you have everyone’s number in your phone and you have created a message group. If Zoom is your preferred remote video conferencing platform, now is the time to make sure all your staff have it downloaded and tested.
Don’t wait until you urgently need to talk to everyone. Get your comms channels sorted now.
And if you are going to have to cancel or delay orders due to unforeseen circumstances, now is the time to draft those messages. This is called a ‘holding statement’ and it’s good to have one ready to go if you need to advise people quickly that your business operations have been affected.
No two staff or customers are the same. Different family situations, home and business locations and general levels of anxiety need to be taken into account when dealing with a crisis.
For example, during the recent bushfires, an aged care home in Broulee on the NSW South Coast let all of their staff whose homes were at risk go home immediately. This meant the remaining staff worked three days straight, with short breaks, after the generators failed and emergency services failed to appear.
The staff who stayed on-site were asked if they were happy to do it, and they all - without question - volunteered to work until the problems were resolved.
As much as possible, make sure you talk to your staff and customers about what they want before you make any blanket decisions that affect them.
It can be easy to slide into self-pity and a ‘doom’ mentality when things are going pear-shaped. Running around thinking ‘We’re all going to die’ isn’t going to help anyone, but the person it’s hurting most is you.
Crises happen. Think about other difficult times you have survived. What did you learn from them?
When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s good to break it down into this minute, this hour, this day, this week. Focus on getting through each chunk of time as best as you can.
Research has found that by thinking about a positive outcome, you are considerably more likely to experience a positive outcome. More on that here.
You can’t avoid trouble but you can choose how you respond to it so make sure you keep your thoughts and words positive.