What does it take to lead through a crisis? As Australia faces another wave of COVID-19 cases with several states tightening lockdown restrictions, leaders must once again make and communicate decisions quickly in the face of extreme uncertainty.
UNSW Business School has brought together its top articles on business leadership that explore decision-making in a crisis, the importance of clear communication, and mental health strategies to provide practical tips for leaders and organisations. For more information, please visit the BusinessThink website.
Research into psychological immunity and resilience during times of stress has shown that people will generally recover after experiencing a significant drop in wellbeing — but they will recover at different speeds, says Professor Frederik Anseel, Associate Dean of Research at UNSW Business School.
“We have some sort of adaptive mode, that we're able to recover from whatever happens to us,” explains Professor Anseel, whose research focuses on the psychological micro-foundations of organisational learning, innovation and entrepreneurship, and how leadership can support these processes.
So how can business leaders ensure they’re doing all they can to support employees’ psychological resilience and wellbeing during the current crisis, especially as organisations potentially transition towards the post-coronavirus recovery?
Professor Anseel suggests business leaders adopt these approaches to help navigate the crisis and ensure employees are best prepared for whatever comes next.
1. Overcoming uncertainty
One of the major problems throughout the current crisis has been navigating an unprecedented level of uncertainty.
“Normally, when a company is in a crisis, we have a period of uncertainty and typically managers will be able to explain: ‘Look, this is where we are, this is what is likely going to happen and this is where we will end up’,” says Professor Anseel.
“But this is something that we've never seen before. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-100-year crisis and event, and so uncertainty is everywhere.”
So one of the key challenges that organisations and business leaders must face is to find ways of offering some guidance to employees throughout this period of uncertainty.
2. Be open about what is happening
The coronavirus pandemic has, in many ways, presented business leaders with the ultimate test: can they communicate effectively and reassure employees, despite so much uncertainty?
Managers should be open about how the business is impacted and be transparent about the information that is being used to make strategic decisions.
With the situation changing rapidly — often from week-to-week — some managers may find it difficult to communicate plans they may need to change because they fear the very act of doing so will undermine their leadership.
“They're afraid that people will say: ‘Do you really know what you're talking about if you need to revise your plans every week?’,” says Professor Anseel.
Instead, managers should say: "We have as much information as you have, we do not know exactly what will be happening, but here is our timeline of key decisions and deadlines and here is the kind of information that is being used to inform those decisions."
"That creates a bit of more certainty and gives people a sense of control about the situation and how things are going," adds Professor Anseel.
3. Adopt a learning mindset
Another important thing for business leaders to adopt is a learning mindset – and in doing so, revise plans confidently without fear that this will undermine their leadership.
“What we should be able to do is explain to people: ‘This is new for all of us, we've never been here before ... we'll have to adapt’,” says Professor Anseel. Indeed, the mantra of "this is how we normally do things" simply won’t work in the post-coronavirus world.
But if managers remain open about stepping out of their normal habits and patterns, they can be much more adaptive and innovative, which encourages employees to do the same.
4. Accept the situation
Finally, it is important to accept the situation at an individual level.
“A lot of people are in fight mode," says Professor Anseel, who observes that some leaders and employees feel they need to be in control. “Nobody knows what is going to happen and what we're doing, but what I do know is that normal ways of working will probably not apply here, so we need to find a new way of working.”
In uncertain situations where there's a lot of change, creating structure and routine has been shown to promote effective learning and working. Professor Anseel suggests finding a new daily rhythm and routine, where you can look forward to certain things every day.
"You'll see that after a couple of days or a couple of weeks, you will have a new routine and a bit of structure in your life," he says. “Once you have that routine and structure, that gives you [once again] a bit of control."
For the full article and podcast on 4 ways to improve employee wellbeing post-coronavirus, visit BusinessThink which shares the latest UNSW Business School research stories, analysis, evidence-based opinion and insights.