Organizational crisis: how to overcome it

Let’s say it: facing uncertainty is likely the only real certainty in 2021. Some organizations have come out on top, others are going through significant moments of crisis. In some cases, this can mean a change for good.

The success of change depends on the ability to engage people in the transformation process. We commonly say “the company faces a crisis”, yet it is important to remember that every single person in the company faces the same crisis in his/her own way and comes out of it with more or less strong psychological and emotional impacts.

The same happens to Leaders, equally facing these challenges on an individual level, whilst being also responsible for supporting a broad cross-section of people, who all have their range of experiences, emotions, and resources to respond to it and who in many cases are paying in terms of psychological well-being.

Emotional and psychological impact: how do we react during a crisis? 

Let’s start with a general reflection: a corporate crisis involves exposure to significant stress for individual employees as well as a possible overload of information.

All this has an understandable impact both on an individual and group level, generating astonishment, confusion, and a sense of precariousness but the list goes on.

The way in which people react during a corporate crisis is extremely complex and varied. 

In any case, some of the most widespread psychological and emotional reactions are:

  1. Anger. In a crisis situation, people feel that the organization is responsible for the harmful choices that led to the crisis, putting their well-being and all employees “under attack”.
  2. Fear. There is a sense of uncertainty about the future and what will happen. This is frightening. Nobody knows the extent of change, so any kind of forecasting and planning is impossible.
  3. Anxiety. It is associated with a condition of sometimes excessive alertness compared to the actual situation. 
  4. Sadness. It is a condition that allows in time, through slowness and reflection, to understand and process what is happening. However, it could lead to excessive isolation.
  5. Positive emotions. These upbeat emotions are extremely important. They are associated with greater creativity, spontaneity, and reactivity to stimuli, and are typically connected to the area of trust, optimism, and desire.

Already a few years ago in “Crisis management: the psychological dimension” (Doepel, 1991) e in “Trauma, crisis intervention and psychological debriefing(Hodgkinson e Stewart, 1993), it was suggested that corporate crisis management would be more effective if strategies were developed to deal with the stress of both Management and Employees. 

In 2021 it is more important than ever to understand just how impactful and essential it is to understand how to manage these widespread reactions in order to obtain a more positive impact not only on individuals but also on the company’s performance.

Managing a crisis means managing emotions

Optimal Crisis Management is known as managing the people who face the crisis together with the emotions they feel. It is, therefore, necessary that Leaders have an openness towards the team, whilst also reserving constant profound attention to the emotional and psychological aspects. 

It becomes essential that the Leader engages with team members by actively listening with the intention to know and recognize what others feel.This deep understanding helps to make decisions, implement more effective behaviors, and to provide colleagues with concrete tools to work on and change their mindset.

As a company Leader, which behaviors should I have? 

Leaders of an organization in crisis face important challenges: how to manage their sense of helplessness, how to motivate others, how to plan any number of likely scenarios, how to think strategically while managing everyday life.

In my experience as an Executive Coach in these situations, Management typically tends to focus – understandably – on business challenges, overshadowing the dialogue with its employees.

The spontaneous and widespread tendency to protect the members of one’s team, by limiting communication, is counterproductive. In times of crisis, what is needed is to make all the members as aware as possible about the current condition.

The best strategy is to concretely support the team by helping them directly analyze situation and context, identify critical issues and focus on possible solutions, objectives, and viable paths. These behaviors contribute substantially to dissolving fear because they allow recovery of a perception of control and ability to affect the environment and this renewed energy has a positive impact on employee motivation.

Remembering the importance of holding space for emotions whilst at the same time moving away from the temptation of denying them, helps avoid creating further complexity to manage, especially in times of crisis.

In our Business Coaching courses, we often work on the skills of Self-Management, Resilience, and Emotional Intelligence. For this exact purpose, we have created a tool called flowknow which gives concrete support to people along with the ability to recognize and label their own and the feelings of others. I believe that the constant training of behaviors connected to these skills can make a big difference in crises situations. 

Crises place at the center the reciprocity relationship of Leader-Employee, high-lighting, both, the importance of empathic and inclusive leadership and the indispensability of the involvement of people so that the corporate vision and strategy become successful models and operational plans.



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