Learning & Development

4 Tips For C-Level Leaders to Manage Teams in Crisis

In 2007, Nokia was the leading manufacturer of mobile phone devices; its annual revenue was $75.83 billion, and its market share was 49.4%. But in 2008, when Steve Jobs walked onto a stage and pulled an iPhone out of his pocket, Nokia’s market share plummeted.

The era of smartphones requires managers to lead processes and employees differently. Was Nokia’s management ready to accept the new game rules?

The first decision was made when Jorma Ollila stepped down as CEO in 2006, handing the company’s reins to Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. Strategically, nothing was changed. New management focused on traditional phone development instead of experimenting with the latest technologies, and many workers left the company. Second, middle management knew it would take years to catch up with Android but was not transparent about their problems—they were afraid no one would listen. Third, way before the release of the iPhone, Nokia’s research department had already come up with the same idea, but the prevailing bureaucratic culture slowed down all decision-making.

As a result of Nokia’s poor management during turbulent times, its market share plummeted to 3%, and in 2022, its revenue is $25.63 billion.

Therefore, leaders should look to Nokia’s experience and consider transparency, quick decision-making, and giving employees time to adapt during times of turbulence and uncertainty.

Let’s get back to 2022, when fears of growing inflation are giving U.S. employees anxiety about their jobs. A report from McKinsey Co says 40% of employees globally say they might leave their jobs in the next 3 to 6 months. Meanwhile, a recent study from Lemon.io says the number of times people Googled “what to do when you get laid off” increased by 336% in the past 12 months.

Bearing in mind the statistics, it seems any new year provides ample reminders that you must be able to lead through a crisis and change the workplace culture in order to retain talent. Here are four tips to help you shift your mindset and lead effectively during difficult times.

Show You Care

For Google, “caring” is a well-planned strategy with key principles and instruments. Google leaders show they care by making time for one-on-one financial coaching and Google-to-Google peer learning on a coaching platform, and they provide employees with on-site wellness centers and offer part-time work and job-sharing options. Also, management places high importance on devoting themselves to taking care of workers’ families by offering fertility support, growing family support, and caregiver leave. Google’s leaders ask questions about employees’ passions, families, and worries, helping them solve problems, and they trust employees to have control over what they should do and how much time they spend at work.

Your Go-To Tools:

  1. Give employees time to adapt to new conditions.
  2. Provide employee assistance programs focused on mental health.
  3. Offer regular bonuses and equity-refresh opportunities.
  4. Suggest family support and care.
  5. Provide employees with space and opportunities to develop—on their own and with their teammates.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Decisions

It’s equally important to involve your teams in joint decision-making. If leaders don’t listen to their teams, they may ultimately find themselves among people who have nothing to say.

As an example, here’s Dave’s story. Dave manages 20 employees and assumes he understands them. One day, Dave decides to conduct an experiment to strengthen workers’ relationships. He invites employees for a drink, but only half of them show up. Dave wants to engage the whole team, so he decides to try again by inviting everyone to go water rafting. The same employees who attended the first off-site attend this one. Then, Dave decides to allow the team to choose what they want to do; his employees vote for wrestling, and everyone attends the event.

Your Go-To Tools:

  1. Master the power of taking responsibility for bad decisions and failed innovation.
  2. Do the necessary research before you decide for your team.
  3. Involve your team in the decision-making process.
  4. Don’t be afraid of making innovative decisions.

The one who makes decisions faster wins over competitors. If you do it quickly, after a few failures, you will soon find something that works and scale it.

Learn How to Lead in a Hybrid Work Model

Forrester’s recent study shows 70% of U.S. and E.U. companies have announced they are shifting to a hybrid work model. To create a great hybrid workplace experience, companies must invest in three things: culture, hardware, and software.  

Let’s look at Microsoft’s experience as an example. Before executing new ideas, Microsoft tests different theories by seeing what works and what doesn’t, studying data, and talking to employees.

First, Microsoft developed hybrid meeting etiquette. Second, it created team agreements, defining when different teams will come into the office. Third, it gave employees a clear, flexible work policy: Anyone can work remotely up to 50% of the time. Also, Microsoft’s leaders decentralized their processes by empowering local managers to make decisions for their employees.

Finally, Microsoft’s leaders prioritize time for relationship-building. Leaders connect remote and newly onboarded employees and help them broaden their networks.

Your Go-To Tools:

  1. Look at your rituals and routines, such as weekly team check-ins, praising your employees, and celebrations.
  2. Consider implementing a Corporate Academy.
  3. Create a culture that embraces flexibility and prioritizes employee well-being.
  4. Prioritize time for relationship-building.

Be Transparent About the Business’s Actual Situation

A Harvard Business Review survey reveals that 58% of employees trust strangers more than their boss.

Here’s the story of Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, as an example of the importance of transparency. In 2016, Christina’s business was preparing for holiday time, but it ran out of flowers because big farmers didn’t want to sell to middle businesswomen. Instead of hiding the fact that the company ran out of flowers, she wrote a letter to her clients and her team, saying they cannot fulfill the orders their customers placed. The CEO was transparent about the company’s actual situation and explained that it only received 26% of the confirmed orders from farmers and could not sell flowers to all its clients. The letter received tremendous support and positive feedback, giving Christina more chances to fix the situation. Ultimately, the story ended happily, and Christina’s business is still operating.  

Your Go-To Tools:

  1. Be transparent with employees about business incomes and expenses.
  2. Give employees confidence that the business has plans for their future in the company.
  3. Don’t hide from clients if you are unable to fulfill their needs.

We can’t turn back the clock and prevent people from worrying, but we can reduce their stress by taking steps toward effective leadership that empowers companies and helps individuals thrive, even in turbulent times.

Vladimir Polo is CEO and founder of AcademyOcean, a platform for corporate education for 300,000 users in 30 countries. A YCombinator alumni and speaker at WebSummit,Polo shares his expertise on training, onboarding, employee upskilling, and reskilling in publications like TechCrunch and HackerNoon. Vladimir Polo Twitter handles: @vodpolo, @AcademyOcean

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