I am the Managing Partner of EB5 Affiliate Network – a national EB-5 visa firm with 2,000+ foreign investors from 60+ countries.
The business changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic are a real-time example of business uncertainty—an event a business can’t predict that causes risks that can’t be planned for or measured. While the pandemic affected businesses on fronts like workforce numbers and the ability to be on site, on a smaller scale, business uncertainty can stem from changes in technology, government policy, the availability of materials or demand. While we can lessen the impact of uncertainty through effective planning, in the scramble to get back on track, it’s easy to overlook a pivotal asset: the people who make the business.
Business uncertainty typically leads to major upheaval for employees and managers alike. People worry about the stability of the business, while some feel helpless and overwhelmed. These feelings intensify if people face changes to routines and new policies necessitated by the circumstances. This can create a loss of motivation and engagement, which then affects their ability to support the business’ success.
As a business leader, you must draw on your emotional intelligence to lead your team through the rough patch. These five tips can help you focus your energy on what your team needs in a leader during uncertain times.
1. Build trust.
Understand that during periods of business uncertainty, employees feel insecure and unsettled. Thus, communication is crucial, especially if the situation involves rapid, unpredictable change.
Building trust—whether between peers or employees and managers—involves honesty, compassion and a commitment to doing what you say you will. If you don’t have all the answers, admit it and explain the strategic decisions you’re making based on the available information. For example, if you’re not sure whether all jobs are safe, don’t reassure people that you’ll be able to navigate through the crisis without losses. If the situation shifts and you have to make people redundant, the remaining employees will lose trust in you. Instead, explain that the situation may change and that you’ll keep them updated—then actually keep them in the loop.
2. Be transparent.
Transparency is a key component of trust. Few things demotivate people as quickly as water-cooler speculation. Someone misunderstanding a situation can quickly turn into a faulty analysis made more dramatic with each retelling. This can lead to what ifs about things like pay cuts or layoffs. The simple antidote is transparency. Being honest about the business situation and how it might affect employees can make them feel more secure about their future.
Acknowledge that the business is facing uncertainty, and make sure people understand how you intend to face the challenges. For example, if you must introduce cost-cutting measures, explain what you’re introducing and why. Be specific about how much you need to cut and what effect the change will have on the business. People are more likely to accept changes if they understand the reasoning behind them.
Additionally, address rumors as soon as they arise. Answer questions clearly and honestly to make sure any misunderstandings are cleared up before they sour the work environment.
3. Listen to your team.
Listen to your team’s feedback about new routines, policies and strategies to learn about and solve problems that arise during implementation. Encourage people to make suggestions that can help you achieve the goals you’ve set to succeed in the new business environment. You can solicit feedback through one-on-one meetings, team meetings and even employee surveys, which are particularly useful for remote workers.
It’s also important to listen to people’s concerns that extend beyond or overlap with the workplace. They might be worried about being able to pay their bills or finding it difficult to adjust to a new schedule because they have childcare or family responsibilities that they’re struggling to meet. All these worries affect not only their focus and engagement but also their general well-being. You can’t control everything, but sometimes a minor adjustment—or simply listening to and talking about a concern—can solve a problem that seemed insurmountable.
Uncertainty causes emotional upheaval, and while most people experience some level of fear, everyone reacts differently and experiences emotions that may not be obvious to you. Be conscious of this when communicating with your team, and show them that they matter and that you want what’s best for them. In other words, treat your team with compassion and respect, and help them maintain a healthy work-life balance.
4. Be flexible.
The problem with uncertainty is that it’s not business as usual. Therefore, there’s no need to blindly enforce traditional workplace policies and procedures. As a business leader, you should have a clear understanding of the needs of the business. This will help you identify areas in which flexibility can improve morale and engagement. For example, a shorter workday or workweek, flexible working hours or even working from home several days a week could help an employee address a problem without significantly affecting their productivity.
5. Set short-term goals and celebrate victories.
Setting achievable short-term goals and celebrating individual and team goals are simple ways to motivate your team and create a sense of achievement when enthusiasm and optimism start to wane. Breaking up larger goals into smaller short-term goals is an effective strategy for helping people track long-term goals and visualize how you’re moving forward as a team and a business. Reminders like these are particularly useful when people lose sight of the path to success. Then, be sure to thank people for their contribution and congratulate them on achieving goals.
As the effects of the pandemic continue, it’s important to keep your employees’ well-being in mind. When you actively work to support your team during times of uncertainty, you can help them stay motivated and focused on shared success.