How to Lead Your Enterprise in a Crisis
By Meredith Simmons
There are many ways to refer to the COVID-19 pandemic and the business challenges that have followed: Unprecedented. Chaotic. A new normal. But the truth is that we’re all experiencing a crisis. You might feel overwhelmed and exhausted by crisis management, especially if you're a crisis leader for a large fitness, wellness, or beauty brand with stakeholders across the globe, ranging from individual practitioners to franchisees.
If that's you, know that you can build a crisis response strategy focused on clear leadership to help your brand weather crises, regardless of size or timing. Here are four ways to develop and show strong leadership in a crisis, as well as related resources for further exploration.
1. Lead across all dimensions
A crisis disruption can cause unintentional breakdowns in communications due to the fear of sharing bad news. To lead an organisation in a challenging time, communication is key. To excel at communication, a good leader will lead across all dimensions—up, across, and down.
This is typically how we think of leadership: a senior team member issues directives or instructions for other team members to execute. If you’re leading down, you typically are determining strategy and execution, and have the power to delegate resources to tackle a problem. In a crisis, this means you are calling the shots for those that ultimately report into you, whether that’s franchisees or direct reports.
Regardless of your position in an organization, ultimately you report into someone. Leading up means communicating with those above you, whether that's a boss, a board of directors, or investors. Success in leading up means that you are reporting on what’s happening within your business unit or organisation and positively influencing the relationship with whomever you report to.
The last type of dimensional leadership is leading across—a form of leadership that is outside of the traditional hierarchal leadership model. You seek to build relationships with other organisations, offices, or leaders. Neither party in horizontal leadership control the other, but their collaboration defeats breakdowns of communication. The trick of leading across is scaling across an ever-growing organisation. For example, if you are a fitness, wellness, or beauty franchisor, how do you get your franchisees to cooperate when a crisis hits your brand?
(Looking for more insight into this type of leadership? You might be interested in You’re It by Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn.)
2. Meet regularly with all of your franchisees and location owners
A key component of guiding a team during a crisis is being visible and available. One of the simplest ways of being visible is holding regular meetings, whether they be status updates with your direct reports or brand-wide town halls with all of your franchisees or location owners.
Meetings can be intimidating, but clear, calm, honest communication will help you steer your brand during a crisis situation. When holding meetings, have clear agendas and a meeting purpose. Having an agenda and purpose will help your team keep conversation oriented towards the challenge at hand. If you hold a town hall meeting, consider having a moderator to choose the questions to ask you or other leaders to keep the meeting on track and avoid repetitive questions.
Regardless of how or when you meet—send a recap of what was discussed and assigned action items. These records will help you keep everyone on the same page and help you track what steps you took when you do a postmortem (Tip #4).
(Want to get better at facilitating meetings? You might be interested in No Fail Meetings by Michael Hyatt.)
3. Be compassionate across your organisation
Emotions are high during a crisis situation. Your employees and affiliates are scared and are looking to you for guidance on what to do. For example, employees feared furloughs, layoffs, closed locations, or other bad news due to the novel coronavirus. While you need to balance business decisions with employee well-being, know that compassion will go a long way during times of uncertainty. How you act now will colour the outlook on your organisation long-term, according to the Harvard Business Review, and acknowledging the grief that your employees feel can help keep them engaged and supported as you figure out the next steps for your business.
(Thinking about expanding your skills as a compassionate leader? Dive into The Compassionate Achiever by Christopher Kukk.)
4. Remember that the crisis will end
No matter the situation, remember that it will eventually end and what comes next depends on the strategies you build while weathering the storm. While you're in the midst of the crisis, keep steering your organisation based on operational objectives, even if they have changed. For example, Athletic Republic saw an opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate business growth due to an influx of real estate large enough to hold its athletic training franchisees. The business knew that if they pivoted strategy, it could launch strategies it hadn't planned to execute yet.
And when the crisis does end, be sure to recap your brand's experience for the next crisis situation--there will almost certainly be one. Create a postmortem report that records what your team did to respond to the crisis, including what worked and what didn't work. Communicate what changes are temporary, and which are permanent. Be sure to share the learnings across your business and consider presenting them at your next franchise owners summit. The more buy-in your operations team has from your franchisees, the more likely it is that your next crisis will be met with a calm determination, rather than fear.
(Interested in more information about adapting a business to a new reality? Read this article from HBR.)
Building an effective strategy will help guide your enterprise when a crisis strikes, regardless of when it happens.