If you are new to leadership, you may be surprised the first time a crisis impacts your team. You may see the event as unique – unforeseeable, uncontrollable. Even if you’re experienced and have weathered many crises, they can still surprise and challenge you. One thing is certain when you take on the mantle of leadership – you will face the unexpected, and while you cannot know what the next crisis will be, you can be sure that there will be another.
Understand Your Surge Capacity
Though every crisis feels unprecedented, 2020 saw a particularly unique time in which nearly every individual, business, and infrastructure system faced some level of crisis, all at once. During this time the concept of surge capacity – a phrase most familiar to medical systems, which must maintain the capacity to rapidly scale up their services during a disaster – began to be applied to the initial enthusiasm, followed by despair, felt by many doing their best to cope with an extended period of change and uncertainty.
Ari Betof, a senior leader and consultant, says that this concept applies to organizations as well as individuals. We each have reserves that we can access in times of crisis: Financial reserves, additional time and effort, the goodwill and trust of employees and customers, the emotional support of family and friends, each can be drawn upon to get through a hardship. However, these reserves can be depleted over time if they are not renewed. One function of a leader, both during a crisis and in the interim before the next one, must be to cultivate and replenish the reserves you and your community can access in each of these areas.
Build (and Rebuild) Your Reserves
Profits are the way most organizations build the capacity to weather unexpected events. In times of crisis, profitability may suffer for a variety of reasons. If you have lost profitability in a crisis, the best time to pivot was a year ago. The second best time to pivot is today. While there are many possible factors affecting your profitability, what is certain is that the systems you built in the past to serve the needs of your customers today aren’t working. The systems you build today must serve the needs of tomorrow, and do so well enough to create a profit.
Once you’ve built (or rebuilt) profits, it is imperative that you leverage these toward building the capacities that will make you more resilient in a crisis. Not only financial reserves, but other resiliencies are important. This is the time to invest in your employees and empower them to take your organization into the future. Organizations that are able to weather such challenges as supply chain uncertainty, social and economic instability, and changing priorities of both your employees and your customers, do so because they have built a culture that encourages innovating, experimenting, and looking ahead.
As you rebuild, consider those capacities that became depleted during crisis. Did you or your employees neglect self care or strain relationships? How can time for reflection, for connection, and maintenance be preserved during a crisis? By planning for surge capacity, preparing to pivot can become part of your regular operations. Though the next crisis will always be unexpected, you will be ready.