Are You Equipped to Lead Your AV Business Through the Next Crisis?

Published: April 23, 2021
A person jumps over the word Trauma on an arrow, symbolizing the positive effects of theraphy and rehabilitation as well as a good attitude

The last year has done plenty to test the resiliency of business leaders and their ability to navigate through a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.

And, while the increasing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine means we’re at least nearing an end to the outbreak, that hardly means there will never be another traumatic event that slaps our business with a dose of cold, hard reality. How leaders handle that trauma depends on how well they prepare for it.

“We’re all caught up in a perfect storm of ongoing upheaval,” said Dr. Diana Hendel, co-author along with Dr. Mark Goulston of “Trauma to Triumph: A Roadmap for Leading Through Disruption and Thriving on the Other Side.”

Related: Follow These Dos and Don’ts to Improve Your Crisis Leadership Skills

“‘Positive’ developments like AI have vastly accelerated the changes businesses face every day, to say nothing of natural disasters, politically and culturally driven changes, and so forth. This is just how we live now, moving from one massive change to the next,” she said.

“Frequency, intensity,and duration have all been ramped up,” said Hendel. “COVID-19 was one crisis and many companies managed to weather it. Now the question is ‘How will we survive the next one?’”

Here are some of the actions that will help AV integrators, manufacturers and distributors be ready for the next big change or crisis:

Get your Rapid Response Process in place and ready to go. A Rapid Response Process is a standardized, pre-planned approach for dealing with disruptive events.  Hendel says you should appoint a team ahead of time, consisting of senior leaders along with leaders of key functions such as operations/logistics, security, finance, etc.

Select a leader to delegate and manage all response activities. Establish a code word (such as “Code Blue”) to activate members. Then, when a crisis does occur, you will gather your team and collect all relevant information quickly to ensure the most pressing needs are met.

Name, claim and frame trauma from the onset. This is important because traumatic stress goes beyond routine stress, said Hendel and Goulston. While stress upsets our balance in the moment, we still maintain a feeling of control over our lives.

Most of us deal with routine stress daily and are able to manage it (up to a point, anyway). Trauma, on the other hand, overwhelms our self-protective structure and sends us scrambling for survival. It can shatter our sense of safety and security and changes how we look at the world.

Recognizing trauma for what it is allows leaders to understand what’s happening to individuals and to the group and take appropriate actions. It gives us the language to talk about it so that everyone is on the same page. It helps people understand “This is why I am feeling so bad!” And it gives everyone permission to seek real help if they need it.

Learn the “red flag” behaviors that traumatized employees often display. When major disruptive events occur, leaders and employees may go into the “fight, flight, freeze” survival response. Know what to look for.

Some people might become hostile, belligerent, aggressive, or “difficult”—seemingly without adequate cause. Others might cling to their “competence zone” or dig in and resist change. Leaders might hide out in their office or start making uncharacteristic rash decisions. Eventually, people may split into opposing factions.

“Difficult behaviors in the aftermath of traumatic stress are not intentional,” says Dr. Goulston. “They are manifestations of fear and call for understanding rather than punishment.”

Be prepared to break the chain reaction of events that can occur after a crisis. A disruptive event can throw an organization into chaos. A predictable chain reaction occurs.

Here are just a few things that often happen:

  • People become fearful, and that fear is exacerbated when an organization is unprepared and lacks a plan.
  • Confusion surges when there is no clarity around who is in charge.
  • With no common language to convey that a trauma has occurred, it’s difficult to activate people and teams.
  • There’s no clarity around how decisions will be made.
  • Communication falters, and negative narratives rise to fill the communication void.
  • People place blame. Guilt and shame creep in.
  • And so on…

“The sooner you are able to address the disruptive event head-on, the sooner you can stop these negative consequences from causing more damage to your organization,” says Dr. Hendel.

Fine-tune your crisis communication skills. Good communication quells anxiety, reduces ambiguity and confusion, and keeps people focused on the right things. It promotes a sense of unity, which helps you prevent polarization (which often happens in the wake of trauma).

A framework for remembering the tenets of communicating in a crisis is the acronym VITAL, which stands for Visible, In it together, Transparent, Accessible, and Listening. A few high spots:

  • Share information clearly and quickly.
  • Be transparent about what’s going on and do not mislead employees in any way.
  • Acknowledge people’s fears and anxieties and let them know what to expect.
  • Use all modalities (like video, email, intranet, town halls, etc.) to convey messages.
  • Most importantly, listen! Ask questions that leave room for inquiry. You might hear things you don’t want to hear, but your job is to deal with the hard stuff too.

Prepare for polarization and the problems it can create. In the best of times, businesses often struggle with questions that appear as choices between one side and another. For example, is the business better served by focusing on high quality or low cost?

Should it be focused on short-term gain or success in the long run? Is it more important to make decisions quickly or to get input from a lot of people? Is maximizing financial margin more important than fulfillment of mission?

People tend to have different ideas on these issues even in the best of times, but trauma can stoke and inflame them. For example, the nation has grappled with the question of whether the health of the economy or the health of the populace is more important.

“Leaders can intentionally create mindsets to maximize the effects of both sides and minimize the downsides of each to achieve things they couldn’t otherwise,” said Hendel. “For example, in a crisis, effective leaders can BOTH take charge AND build consensus. They can be BOTH direct and candid AND diplomatic and tactful.”

Posted in: Insights, News

Tagged with: Coronavirus, COVID-19

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