CEO Insights

How Business Leaders Can Effectively Guide Employees Through Uncertainty

Ray Hein

The highest level of inflation in decades. A potential recession. Polarizing decisions coming down from the Supreme Court. Continuous mass shootings. An ongoing war in Ukraine. Covid numbers that continue to surge amid new, aggressive variants. Adjusting to a return to the office or hybrid work. Possible pending layoffs. All of these are major stressors that are making it harder on employees who already have so much on their plates.

Difficult news is difficult to process. Employees are looking for stability in an unstable world—so it’s up to us as executive leaders to be proactive, transparent, and have the tough conversations in the workplace that may not have been taking place previously. 

The best leaders have an employee-first mindset. They’re thinking about how to engage with their employees directly, and provide them with the right wellness programs, health benefits, and support. 

At the same time, we need to focus on the stock market and investors and making sure operational heads can get their jobs done. It’s a lot to juggle, but we cannot leave employees out of the equation. 

Building a great employee base feeds directly into building a great customer base, and ultimately, a great community. Employees who see evidence that their company is not only supporting their wellness, but also committing to making an impact, are more empowered to grow and thrive.

Bring It Back To Basics 

Leaders at the C-level who are doing well right now are going back to the basics in terms of their focus: they’re managing their employees first.

In his autobiography, legendary CEO and co-founder of Sony Corporation, Akio Morita, wrote about why he believes Sony rose to such enormous success in the 1980s. He realized that American business at the time had been focusing on shareholder value first, then growth revenue, then customers, and lastly, employees. Morita flipped it around and theorized that if he prioritized cultivating a great employee base who were talented, and loved their jobs, they would build great products, they would be highly innovative, and they would therefore attract great customers, drive revenue, and delight shareholders.

The rest is history. Sony began as an employee-first company, and it grew and thrived and became one of most successful companies in the world because it kept that priority. 

So for me, as a CEO with multiple constituents and external sources vying for my attention, I always come back to that foundational priority—to focus on the employees first, who will then foster delighted customers, and ultimately, build a great company.

Be Proactive and Adaptive

In the tumultuous time  we’re living in, employees are also looking to leadership to have a sense of assurance and certainty. They want leadership to be proactive and execute early on, and have transparent conversations with them, as well as with investors and customers.

If, as a leader, you are in denial about the macro trends going on and their global and economic implications—you’re probably going to end up trying to stay the course (and risk drowning). Or, you could take your cues from so many other shrewd business leaders right now,  and try to adapt and be flexible. 

What proactive leaders are undoubtedly recognizing is that the alarming connection between all these changes, whether environmental, political, or economic, is that they are all happening faster and more frequently than ever before. 

Leaders who are excelling today are not only focused on providing an adaptable, flexible environment for employees to get their jobs done.  They’re  keeping a close eye on market conditions and reacting quickly and appropriately. After all, investors and shareholders are still expecting you to navigate these challenges, and continue to grow.

The Takeaway: Combine Action with Transparency

Though it’s understandable to feel concern when you look at the news right now, those of us who’ve been in the business for 20, 30, 40 years, have seen moments like these before. 

No matter what the future truly holds, the fear, uncertainty, and doubt is going to create tangible consequences on employee morale. History has shown that success is about acting swiftly, but not overreacting. It’s about being transparent with employees, but not worrying them.

In these scenarios, it can be easier to fall back into that panic mindset, “We need to focus on the revenue. We need to focus on the market.” But if that’s what you’re focusing on, you’ll overlook the employee. 

Having great employees means you’ll build great products, deliver great value, and keep customers happy. And ultimately, you’ll continue to thrive even in downturns.

Written by Ray Hein.
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Ray Hein
Ray Hein, CEO and co-Founder, Propel Software, a product value management platform that connects commercial and product teams to optimize decision making, drive process efficiencies, and engage customers with compelling products and experiences. Recognized as a Deloitte Technology Fast 500 winner, Propel is built on Salesforce and drives product success for hyper-growth startups, corporate pioneers, and Fortune 500 leaders in the high tech, MedTech, and consumer goods industries.

Ray Hein is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.