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  • Herb Cohen

Managing Reactivity and Emotional Decision Making During a Crisis

Updated: May 26, 2020

The COVID-19 virus has inflicted such fear and extreme anxiety on all of us. We have not experienced such a crisis in our lifetime since the HIV/AIDS Crisis.

This is a time for business leaders to lead from the top. They must navigate their companies through this crisis to recovery.

My colleague, Robert Dick, President of Precis Engineering, Inc, exemplifies what happens when a thought leader adheres to his company's purpose and values during a crisis. He shares his thoughts below.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly threw the world an unexpected curveball. The lack of a true early warning system, a frenzied media, multiple levels of government direction with sometimes hourly contradicting directions created a near perfect storm of panic, anxiety and emotional bewilderment. Will I be ok? Will I get sick? Will my family get sick? Will I die? Empathic visions of the great plague filled my thoughts. The reality of a run on the stores leaving many without the necessities of life further fueled fears and anxiety. There is no play book for managing a business through this type of crisis and if there was you surely did not have time to read it.

Leading a business in this turbulent environment is difficult at best. It is of utmost importance to create a sense of calm and well-being. Absorbing the constant, ever changing, input while creating an orderly easily discernable and actionable plan is the challenge. Frequent communication with senior leadership to review the plan, to ingrain the feeling of certainty of success, to review the vison is required.

Creating the vision is what should be reactionary:

  • Realize the opportunity this presents, some will fail, others will thrive.

  • Run the numbers, understand the financial impact, create real data.

  • Understand the worst thing that can happen, figure out at a high level how to dismantle sections of the business to streamline it’s function down to the last employee.

  • Create a vision of what success will look like on the other side of the crisis, even if it is just business as usual.

  • Reality will be somewhere between these two extremes. Plan for the worst, hope of the best.

  • Recall all the other seemingly insurmountable obstacles you passed on your journey.

  • Believe and invest in enterprise value, it took significant effort to get here, saving it is worthwhile.

  • Fold all of this into a plan for success, now and in the future.

Methodically take the steps necessary to ensure survival. Be decisive, but avoid making decisions before you must. Every hour of additional data lead to greater clarity of the situation. If I make this decision, now, tomorrow or in 2-weeks what will be different? What short term losses can I sustain to assure long term growth? How can I thrive in this environment? Design a solution, or solutions, to allow flexibility to read and react to the ever-changing landscape.

Many business leaders immediately cut or reduced staff. Impacting morale, creating additional anxiety and at the cost of future success without understanding the full impact of the situation. For some, that was exactly the right decision, for others it wasn’t, not all businesses are the same. That is management, not leadership. Leadership sees the calmer waters and charts a course through the rough seas to minimize damage, losses and impacts of the storm without wild course correction. Creating a vision of success based on a rational, logical thinking will quiet the emotional discord within you.

Spread that calm throughout the organization.

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