By Pete Taft and Aaron Brown
The team is called together. They’re nervous.
Things haven’t gone as planned.
You can feel the tension.
This is clearly when a great leader — like Golden State Warriors basketball coach Steve Kerr, or perhaps Rutgers’ own Vivian Stringer, head women’s basketball coach and one of the winningest coaches of all time — would rise up, stab a finger in the air and fire up the team, so they can charge back out there ready to do the impossible.
Except those coaches aren’t there. You are. And you’re not dealing with a losing game. Instead it could be mass layoffs, legal issues (e.g. class-action suit, fraud, SEC violations), C-suite turnover, a hostile merger or an acquisition.
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And, to make matters more complicated, right now your “locker room” is very likely a Zoom online meeting.
So, what do you do?
As a leader, you may find yourself dealing with a business issue or crisis right in the midst of one of the most challenging times our world has ever faced.
You need to deliver the tough news, and be supporter and counselor. You need to stop morale from falling through the floor, get people re-engaged and re-motivated.
Sound like a tall order?
It’s actually not as difficult as it might appear. If you break it down into a few parts, you can do it and do it well:
- Transparency — Acknowledge the situation. Truthfully. If things are bad, say they’re bad. If things aren’t as bad as people think, you can say that, too. The key is to operate as transparently as possible. If people believe you’re being honest about the problem, then, later on, they will believe that you’re being honest about the solution.
- Empathy — Sense how people are feeling and voice it. You may find yourself saying things like, “I know a lot of people are anxious right now, and that’s understandable.” What your team wants most during this moment is to know that they will be heard. That you recognize what they are feeling. People understand that there is usually no magic bullet solution, and they’re not expecting you to have one. They just want to know you hear them and see what they’re going through.
- Self-awareness — Be human. Take the time to understand your own emotions. Think about how your reaction will impact others. Then share your emotions in a way that will connect with your team. You might say things like, “It’s a tough situation, and it’s tough for me too; and right now, I don’t have all the answers,” or “It troubles me to see how this is affecting our team/business, but together we will turn the corner on this and come out better, stronger.” Basic humanity and honesty are incredibly powerful, especially in difficult times.
- Feedback — Give the team the time and a safe space for them to be open and honest. To share how they are feeling and what this means to them. Solicit feedback throughout the handling of the issue/crisis, and when it is done, hear how they feel about the process, what they did and the outcome.
- Empowerment — Remind the team of its strengths. In any large group of committed people, there is incredible power. List the experience in the room. Tick off previous challenges that have been faced and overcome.
- Unity — Spread out the energy. No one person (even you, as the leader) has to shoulder this burden alone. Remind the group that you’re all in it together. “On this team, we’ve got each other’s backs. We all have a role to play, and we pick each other up.”
- Motivation — Tie back to the team’s or the organization’s “why.” Before your locker room speech, re-read your organization’s mission and vision statements. You don’t need to quote them (though you could, if it feels right), but remind the team of why you individually and collectively do what you do for the team and the organization. Remind them of the impact their efforts have on your audience (customers, clients, patients, etc.).
- Guidance — Outline for your team what’s needed of them to get through the issue/crisis. Make the next step simple and manageable. Set a goal that is attainable, to build confidence. Assign/delegate and give your team the time and space needed to get it done. And don’t forget to share with them what you’ll be tackling. Remember, you’re all in this together.
- Follow up, often — Communicate. Over-communicate. Agree on checkpoints throughout the handling of the issue/crisis so everyone stays informed. Your presence, input, and touch points mean a lot to your team, especially during the tough times.
You’ll soon see that your collective efforts will leave your team feeling more informed, confident and ready to address the challenge before them.
Hopefully, you’ll see that most, or all, of the tension is gone.
And you’ll see that you don’t have to be someone you’re not. In fact, it’s far better to just be you.