As a small business owner, it’s likely that you wear many hats, but the most important one of all is your position as the leader of your company. Your leadership style sets the tone for your employees as well as your organization’s public-facing image, and everything you do or say makes an impact on your company culture. Since your employees and customers learn about your business by looking at your actions (and reactions), showing effective leadership in times of uncertainty is incredibly important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has likely created a lot of unease and uncertainty for your team. Whether their concerns are for their health, their job security, their finances, or even who will take care of their children during school closures, the mystery of what the next few weeks or months might hold has many employees feeling unfocused and out of control. According to inc.com, a study sent out in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack reported that the most important factor in alleviating the negative effects of uncertainty for people is trust in their leadership. As the head of your company, you are in a unique position to provide this for your staff.
Inc recommends utilizing scenario-based planning (or SBP for short) to forecast and conceptually respond to different scenarios that you foresee becoming issues within your business due to the crisis. This will help train your business’s organizational muscle and help employees to know that your leadership team will be ready and able to respond to crises as they arise. SME Strategy breaks down the basics of how to use SBP and asserts that you can begin by identifying driving forces that may cause hardships, then recognizing critical uncertainties and developing plausible scenarios which you can then respond to by discussing the implications and potential outcomes of each.
The key to SBP success, according to the Inc article, is to create a matrix with at least 6 columns and 8 rows where you can plot out different disaster scenarios. A column represents a dimension of challenge, while a row is a category within a dimension. By using this kind of matrix, you can create randomized scenarios involving multiple disasters and formulate responses to each. The aim is not to predict the future or have a solution for every possible scenario, but rather to practice problem solving skills and show your team that you are actively working to alleviate the potential stresses they may face.
Using the SBP method allows your employees the understand that you are being realistic about the challenges your company might run into in the near future. It avoids sugarcoating or overpromising while still reassuring your team that they will be cared for and protected from the uncertainties of the future to the best of your abilities. While you cannot predict the future, being prepared and showing strong leadership in the face of unknown challenges is an incredibly important skill to practice, and its effects are more poignant now than ever before.