Seizing opportunities in times of crisis
In times of crisis, we have a choice: either accept the situation and navigate the uncertainty or resist it by trying to regain control.
When you stop for a moment and think about it, crises are excellent opportunities for personal and professional development. But how can organizations seize these opportunities?
(This article was originally published in French by CERIC in its fall 2020 issue of Careering magazine under the title “Les super pouvoirs de carrière.” The original text has been slightly modified).
Leaving your comfort zone
Whether we’re talking about a financial or a health crisis or any other situation that puts an organization’s survival on the line, most people involved in the situation will need to leave their comfort zone. Creativity and innovation are the keys to successfully overcoming a crisis.
Even when organizations set up crisis management plans to help them recover, the employees who are involved in the process and will have to manage the changes, when the time comes, are generally not aware of the impacts these changes will have.
Without warning, individuals who have always had the same responsibilities, functions or roles in one or more organizations suddenly find themselves involved in a new process set up in response to a crisis that they have generally never been through before.
We may very well consider our responsibilities, roles, interests and goals before we change jobs or employers, but there is no time to think about these things when a crisis hits and turns everything upside down, all at once.
In that moment, our ability to come out on top of the situation depends on our reaction to an initial dilemma: accept the situation and fearlessly navigate the uncertainty or resist it by trying to get our previous lives, roles and responsibilities back.In these especially hard times, we must focus on what we can control: our attitude and our actions.
Adapt to transform
UQAM’s Chair in Public Relations and Marketing Communication suggests a four-step approach to managing crises:
- Prevention is the first step in managing crises and basically consists in monitoring potential risks.
- Preparation is the second step. This is when you form the crisis cell and design the crisis management guide.
- Reaction is the third step and is framed by the beginning and end of the crisis.
- Adaptation is the fourth step and the one that must be given the most attention, because it is a pivotal point, where an organization must seize the opportunities created by the crisis to transform itself.
Accepting a new situation and adapting quickly to it are not innate behaviours in human beings, who prefer to stay in more familiar territory, which they perceive as safer.
In times of crisis, an ability to adapt can make all the difference. Organizations that want to focus on the future must make every effort to foster acceptance of change.
The key success factors of communication and cooperation
Members of an organization may become more resilient when they are allowed to express themselves. Showing openness by listening to the concerns of employees, teams, associates, clients and partners can help organizations survive. However, management must also be sure to answer the main concerns that have been raised. Otherwise, there is a risk of creating one-way dialogue.
To stay the course and successfully get through the crisis, the best strategy is still communication. Communication at all levels is essential for organizations to survive. It helps reduce apprehension and promote engagement. It may involve reassuring employees that they are not at risk of losing their job or informing them about potential changes that may affect their roles and responsibilities. In fact, any factor that may create stress due to the uncertainty of a situation or event is important to consider. When employers grasp these concerns quickly, they have the power to turn them into opportunities. Doing so will help foster employee engagement.
However, employers are not the only ones who are responsible for assimilating all of this information. Once employees have seen that the organization has created a crisis management plan, they must also show that they are ready to help out. They can do so by thinking about their interests, motivations and aspirations. A crisis might be the ideal time to combine everyone’s strengths and thus rally all stakeholders behind the same goal. All human beings need to feel like they are useful.
Furthermore, it is not enough to simply set up these strategies inside the organization. A good number of external opportunities should also be considered. These opportunities will be revealed to crisis managers when they take some time to talk to their partners, associates and even competitors.
Take for example a restaurant that suddenly notices a significant drop in visits by its regular customers. If the restaurant’s managers do not quickly adapt their strategy to the situation, they may go bankrupt.
By talking to suppliers and partners in related industries, such as the hospitality, event or tourism industries, the restaurant may be able to find opportunities for cooperation. It could actually create a new product or a unique service or start serving a new client group by leveraging each partner’s expertise, specialized knowledge and network of contacts.
In times of crisis, combining strengths and using collaborative strategies that benefit all stakeholders are quite often the only ways to survive.
There are many different approaches to successfully overcoming a crisis. The previous examples are all excellent ways to get each and every internal and external stakeholder on board with change. The successful organizations will be the ones who can manage this change by daring to leave their comfort zone.
Towards new horizons
Even though crisis managers cannot control all the internal and external factors that affect their organizations, they must remember that they can control how they act and react to situations. This will in turn have a direct impact on their organizations’ internal and external environments.
Organizations that were producing alcohol before the COVID-19 pandemic are a good example. They quickly understood that the demand for antiseptic products was greater than the available supply. These organizations saw an opportunity to develop a new market. By adapting their processes, they succeeded in producing and selling new products. Textile manufacturers that made adjustments to produce masks are another example. There are many other examples like these.
Although the abovementioned changes of course required a great deal of agility and adaptability from many of these organizations, they all had one thing in common. To change their course and pull off all these changes quickly, they focused on effective communication and cooperation with all of their internal and external stakeholders.
Crises put our habits and our standards to the test. As soon as we accept change and become aware of the opportunities that have been created, new horizons open up. Organizations that know how to focus on these opportunities for learning and developing at the personal, professional and organizational levels usually come out on top.
And you, how do you react in times of crisis?