If there’s a business theme I’m gathering from my conversations with C-suite leaders lately, it’s “Uncertain”. While there is so much to be grateful for, like in-person gatherings and Covid-19 vaccines, the business climate lately feels a lot like clutching at the handlebars of a rollercoaster as it slowly makes its way toward the top – coupled with a heaping dose of déjà vu. Didn’t we just do this?
After navigating the unpredictability of 2020 and on, companies have been full speed ahead on hiring and recruiting initiatives – all the while navigating a global hiring market. Yet now, there’s talk of cost-cutting, and potential delayed hiring – or worse, lay-offs. As a CEO who has been through the biggest of the “boom and the busts” in the early 2000s, I know that weathering out the storm starts with your team first. Just after I watched a team grow to more than 750 at a high in the dotcom boom, I had to swiftly cut staff back down to just over 70 in the bust that followed. That was my first experience of a big downturn, and the lessons I learned were vital as I navigated the next (the “Great Recession of 2008) with minimal impact. Making swift changes, while ensuring everyone is marching in the same direction, requires tenacity and focus. As we enter (yet another) wave of uncertainty, here are some strategies to lean on.
Double down on culture
There’s a lot of hard choices that need to be made in times of uncertainty. Uncomfortable choices. Focusing on what lies within your control, like supporting a healthy culture, is more critical than ever. Culture shows up in the unspoken rules of how you operate. It’s how your team interacts with each other, the decisions they make when you’re not around, and how they treat your customers. Stabilizing your culture is one of the best things you can do to have a sense of normalcy, even when the business world feels unpredictable.
While you cannot make every team member happy, reinforce a positive work environment by trusting your employees. Empower them to show up, whether remote or in-person, as their whole selves, to ask questions, to make decisions independently. Lean into human, people-centered leadership.
Part of a healthy sense of culture is instilling psychological safety in your team. When things feel uncertain, leave nothing to question. There is no such thing as communicating too much – your team needs to hear from their leaders. Weekly or even daily all-hands meetings is one approach I’ve taken in the past. These are casual and optional, and they may or may not have an agenda. The goal is to have your team show up authentically and share what’s on their mind, to ask any questions. They may prefer to send questions to you or to a facilitator anonymously. And as a leader, your role is to share honest updates about the business.
Slack or chat groups offer another great option for casual communication. I use Slack to share sales wins and business updates, but I also layer in the lighter stuff like weekend photos and family news. Over-communicate across channels, knowing that what works for one team member may not work for another.
Maintain a focus on human capital strategies
In the midst of the “Great Resignation”, it seemed as though corporations couldn’t invest enough in their employees. Yet, ironically, in tougher times, these investments tend to be the first to freeze. Despite the current business climate, remember that it’s still very much an employee market – companies continue to struggle to hire across a range of key roles. There have been great gains made in the last two years – more equitable compensation, remote work, and countless perks. Despite these unpredictable times, it’s not the time to pull back entirely.
Chief Human Resource Officers deemed human capital to be the top priority – we can’t, in the same breath, pull back from that. The trust between you and your people are what matters most and what will deliver what the market can’t: an unshakeable sense of identity and brand. Your people are your most important asset. Don’t let the momentum we’ve all worked so hard for fall away so quickly.
Stay connected to your top talent
And finally, hold your top talent close to you – always, but especially in uncertain times. Your leaders serve as your tether to the pulse of your broader employee community. Count on them to alert you to concerns, changes in the business, and keep you apprised of employee sentiment. In some of my most uncertain and challenging times, leaning into my leaders has always served me well. You may choose to have a daily huddle with your top leaders to do fast and efficient check-ins.
While we don’t know what the rest of 2022 will bring, leaning into your team and your fellow leaders is an investment you will never regret. It’s the smartest investment you can make in your future growth and stability.
Written by Coco Brown.
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