Why strong leadership is crucial to manage a crisis

Employees typically place high expectations on the C-suite to inspire confidence in turbulent times

Why strong leadership is crucial to manage a crisis

Only 15% of executives have confidence in their top leadership to successfully manage disruption – including unexpected events like pandemics, technological advances, shifting demographics and climate change, revealed a global analysis.

This lack of confidence is striking since 95% of executives believe that managing disruption well is now critical for companies to succeed in turbulent times.

The ‘crisis of confidence’ appears most stark when it comes to individual roles and leaders — many look to their CEOs for comfort, but few trust in their capabilities.

While 85% of executives believe the CEO has the most critical role to play, 40% expressed doubts that the person in the top role will manage disruption well over the next five years, according to a study by Odgers Berndtson.

The report noted “the uncomfortable truth” that for some CEOs, having a strong track record does not equate to having the capabilities to deal with disruption.

What’s more, findings showed that staff lack confidence in other C-suite roles including key top jobs such as finance, human resources and technology.

Overall the study found that employees clearly placed higher expectations on C-suite leaders to inspire confidence than the rest of the organisation.

Despite that, only 16% of senior managers believe their company’s top leadership has managed disruption well to date, and only 15% are confident they will do well in future. The majority (61%) are tentative but a quarter (24%) are actively worried – with similar results across all global regions.

READ MORE: How can HR help employees through stressful times

Values-driven leadership
However, the report also revealed what successful leadership looks like: ’confident companies’ are those with employees who are most positive about their leadership’s courage, vision, and curiosity, plus their ability to drive a sense of purpose.

The findings align with those from a recent World Economic Forum study that found what employees value most — purposeful leaders with more emotion and intuition.

Besides a focus on driving strong organisational performance, employees desired ‘responsible leaders’ with:

  • Stakeholder inclusion - Leaders need to “safeguard” trust, showcase accountability, and create positive impact for all. This requires involving diverse views when making decisions, and fostering an inclusive environment where diverse individuals have a voice and feel they belong.
  • Emotion & intuition - Unlock commitment by being truly human, showing compassion, humility and openness.
  • Mission & purpose - Advance common goals by inspiring a shared vision of sustainable prosperity for the organisation.

READ MORE: How to earn your employees' trust

Communicate to build trust
As employees look towards leaders to manage through difficult times, one study found that crisis can be a key moment for leaders to build trust.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that 71% of employees wanted their employers and CEOs to respond during challenging times. The most effective way to build trust and show that you care? By banking on a strong and speedy communication strategy.

“Speed and accuracy are of the essence in any crisis situation,” said Malini Nathan, Client Director, Reputation at Edelman Singapore. “To protect your organisation's reputation, you need to demonstrate agility in adapting and deploying accurate communications to all of your stakeholders at a moment's notice.”

Senior HR leader, Julianne May, shared with HRD how HR or the executive team can effectively communicate and manage a crisis.

“[Leaders] should follow up with employees along the way, to let them know the latest updates, and to confirm when the crisis is over,” she said. “It’s a natural human need to want to know when we are back in safe waters.”

Leaders will need a clear plan to guide the response with pre-determined actions, resource allocations and a strategy to measure results. May suggested an internal crisis communication approach that borrows from emergency strategy planning:

  1. Determine priorities. HR is “always dealing with crisis situations” such as sudden resignations or stalled salary reviews, so your first order of business is to work out the extent of the crisis and who needs to be communicated with.
  2. Craft the key message. Ascertain the information you need to share and the information you can withhold for the time being. “What is 'need to know' versus 'nice to know' for the folks identified in step one?”
  3. Allocate resources. What resources are available or need to be acquired to get the communications out?

“You might schedule face-to-face briefing sessions, issue written communications via email, or call a phone conference,” May said.

“The HR team can also put together information packs for executives and identify resources available to support staff in a disaster situation, while business continuity plans may need to be put into action.”

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