Nonprofit Leadership Strategy Through a Time of Crisis, Part 2
If you have not been in the habit of communicating corporate-wide, start. But strong communication should not only happen during times of crisis. Communicating with your employees should happen daily — they are looking to you for information. What is happening at the organization? What are the goals and priorities for the coming months? What organizational changes are being made and why?
Communicating is key to successful leadership. Uncertainty causes employees to disengage. Poor communication results in rumor and misinformation being spread. Be inclusive — recognize the outstanding job your IT Department is doing — corporate-wide! Send out weekly emails to the organization, maybe daily during a time of crisis.
In addition to information, during a crisis, your employees are looking for guidance, comfort and support. Now is the time for communication to kick into overdrive. There is no such thing as too much communication, but make sure it is clear, inclusive and useful. Make sure that it speaks to all employees. Make it personal, empathetic and make sure that accolades and acknowledgements include all levels of the organization.
During this unique time, be creative. Hold a virtual town hall with your employees. Have a virtual happy hour. Send daily video messages. Let employees know what is happening, and create a space to hear from them on what they need. Use humor, if appropriate — just let them know that you are there, you care about their needs and you are in control of the situation. You have a platform to reach each and everyone of your employees. Use it.
Be Decisive — That’s your Job
As a leader of an organization, you get paid for making decisions and acting. Never has there been a time for decisive leadership than during a crisis. Yes, take the time to understand the facts and understand the options, but do it quickly. Get employee input, and let them know that their opinion matters, but don’t be afraid to act.
During this COVID-19 crisis, all leaders were faced with the same set of facts when determining whether or not to shut down their office and send their employees home to work remotely. Did you do it quickly? Did you agonize or resist letting people work from home? What is the impact of that delay?
We are seeing the importance of decisive leadership play out on the news every day. There are a number of decisions that need to be made quickly. You need to make very important decisions right now, but that skillset and leadership trait should have been employed during normal times as well. It is important to hear all voices and opinions when making difficult choices, but ultimately, you as leader are responsible for those decisions. What are the tactical decisions that need to be made now? Do I lay off staff? Do I shut down programming? What financial choices need to be made to remain operational? Can I pivot my workforce? Consult your organization’s board, analyze the data, consult colleagues, but be decisive and make informed decisions quickly.
Remain calm and empathetic. Your employees and your stakeholders are going to look to you to calm their fears and anxiety. Step up to the challenge by assessing the situation and motivating people to come together and get the job done. Nobody is going to find reassurance or motivation in a leader that is handling the situation with irrationality, doomsday scenarios, tone-deaf communications or lack of understanding of employees needs.
Think about what your employees need at this time in order to continue doing their jobs. Think about what will keep them loyal and motivated to ensure the success of the organization. Treat them individually, taking the time to understand their situation. Don’t hide from them. Your employees and the organization need your steadfast leadership.
Difficult times call for strong leadership. You must guide your organization and your employees through this. Strong leaders, successful leaders are not created by reading books. Strong leadership is inherent. It is based on who you are as a human being and at no greater time will your leadership qualities come out as during a crisis such as COVID-19.
Kim Vaccari is president of NFP Advisors LLC, a consultant firm dedicated to advising nonprofit organizations and served as CFO at one of the largest nonprofits in New York City.