When our organizations were hit by the pandemic our first reaction to anything we thought or heard was fear, anxiety, and even a sense of doom.
We did not expect it nor have the time to prepare for it – which is what makes it a pandemic; an outbreak that goes beyond our immediate ability to contain.
I was impressed to discover that up to three-quarters of people believe something will go wrong even when that is not the case in reality – or not yet the case at that point in time.
The negativity bias at play when we are met with a crisis and are under either real or perceived pressure means that we end up making flawed decisions often based on anecdotal evidence of what could go wrong.
As we are hard-wired to pay more attention to negative events over equally positive ones happening within the same time frame (we see this in the world’s reaction to the news on social media every day), we have to actively support our teams in rewiring biases and creating an environment that enables them to do so.
In leadership, one has the esteemed role of holding space for those in the team. At times of crisis, you are yourself trying to figure out and process all the sudden changes. In supporting yourself and those in the team, I share a few things that I have seen to shape the spirit of an organization during this pandemic.
In the initial stages of a crisis arising you may require catch-up calls as often as daily and deescalate the frequency as things settle. During these calls:
Check-in with each other. Hearing each other’s voices and seeing each other is in itself comforting.
Share the verified facts available. Bring the focus to what is known and separate that from what is anecdotal.
While brainstorming on best and worst-case scenarios start from what is known.
Accept what is unknown and still uncertain. Acknowledge that unknown does not necessarily or automatically lead to a disaster, but rather looking at the opportunity the situation could present i.e what can we control and innovate.
Now that focusing on what you and your team can control has given room for an atmosphere that is open to innovation and new opportunities, clinging to what is obsolete will only create more anxiety. However, go back to your organizational vision as the backbone in redefining your offer. This will ensure you stay true to the core principles of your value proposition.
When a crisis arises there is a sense of urgency around everything.
While some matters must be attended to quickly, such as a high-level announcement, the work of Nobel Prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, has found that people can overcome biases and make better decisions simply by thinking slowly.
In the Model Thinker, where Scott Page discusses various data models, he says that randomness can be hard to discern without gathering data. “We often think we see patterns in election outcomes, stock prices, and scoring in sports, but instead … we are being fooled by randomness.”
Collecting data via tools such as customer or staff surveys goes a long way. In most cases, this proves why anecdotal evidence is misleading and that indeed the outcome, even if negative, was less negative than our bias expected – or maybe you were focusing on the wrong aspects of that negativity. Similarly, had you underestimated the impact, collecting data will put your team back in charge of the decisions or innovations you should be exploring.
Last but not least:
Share and celebrate the gains made at each step of the journey in managing the situation around the crisis at hand. Do not ignore what you think are just small wins for they are the building blocks to the bigger picture.
Acknowledge everyone’s participation and position the opportunities at hand as a chance for the team to contribute to the greater good and acquire new skills as required by our ‘new normal’.