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Managing Employees During a Crisis - 21 July 2009

Israel and its neighbours have been in an almost constant war since Israel’s creation in 1948. This story isn’t about politics, but it is about the way in which two Israeli towns, Haifa and Kiryat Shmona, were impacted during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. Both Haifa and Kiryat Shmona were bombed, yet the people in each town had vastly different experiences of this war.

Located throughout Haifa are air-raid sirens. When the security forces are alerted to an incoming missile, they set off these loud wailing noises which warn the residents of an attack. The residents then have one minute to run to an underground bunker where they stay until it’s safe to re-emerge.

Kiryat Shmona, however, didn’t have air-raid sirens for much of this war. This meant that the residents had no idea when a military strike was imminent. They were always anxious and extra vigilant, so much so that many of them would remain in their cramped shelters for 24 hours a day because they had no warning system.

The psychological effects between the two towns were stark. Those in Haifa pursued normal lives whenever the sirens were off because the predictability the security forces gave them was the reassurance they needed to relax and continue living as per usual. But in Kiryat Shmona, the residents had no such predictability. Instead, the non-stop pressure of always feeling threatened for every second of the day was enough to drive many of them to insanity.

When you manage a team during a crisis, whether it’s financial like the one we’re seeing now or any other type, you need to offer a similar level of predictability to keep your staff engaged. When times are tough it’s natural for you to have your own concerns and stresses which might make you more withdrawn, but your employees’ attitudes will be shaped by the way that you personally react to the crisis. The more you’re able to maintain predictability in the workplace, the less likely they are to worry. Here are five ways you can do this:

- Give warning: Make enough time for people to prepare for what’s to come.

- Be visible: Stay present. Just being around is often enough of a support.

- Minimise randomness: Watch that your behaviour doesn't suddenly change.

- Provide information: Communicate more and answer questions honestly.

- Seek understanding: Don’t just announce decisions; explain them.

When it’s just an ordinary period without a crisis, sometimes predictability is precisely what you need to avoid. But when there’s already a ramped up level of uncertainty at work, people prefer the sound of a siren over a nasty surprise.

 

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