Alex Fedorov is CEO and founder at OBRIO, an IT company with Ukrainian roots that develops products in mobile applications, web products and SaaS.
Business owners always say that each company has to live through a real crisis before it becomes a real business. All big companies we know have experienced a few big crises during their lifetimes, and they are still in the game. There are a lot of studies about crisis management on the web, but none of them tell us how to manage a company during times of war.
Our company had never seen a real crisis before February 2022. However, even before we did, I always told my team: “Every company has its time in the sun and a time of crisis.”
When the Russo-Ukrainian War began on February 24, all Ukrainian businesses faced a crisis. I’ll use our example to explain how we dealt with it.
Here are six tips for effectively managing a team during a war.
Establish an emergency communication channel
In such times of upheaval, people will require a lot of up-to-date information about what is happening. When people don’t know what’s happening, there arises a vacuum that can be filled with rumors or distorted news.
To avoid this, you must establish a special communication channel that’s active around the clock. Slack notifications, for example, can be automatically turned off outside of working hours, so make sure you utilize a channel that your team uses most often so they are less likely to miss important notifications.
This might seem like an easy and pretty obvious step, but it is the most efficient way to help your team when they’re feeling lost or disoriented, which is only natural when there’s a war raging around them.
Communicate with your team twice as often
Training to manage stress, anxiety and personal finance will help your employees build the needed knowledge and respond to tough situations.
Great leaders communicate with their people, and we must all remember that “overcommunication is good communication.”
For us, this saying has never been more correct. Communicate as frequently as there are updates on the issue but not less than twice a day. Additionally, follow your usual rules for team communication: Be honest, empathetic and humane.
Finally, when there’s a serious crisis, most people’s critical thinking faculties can be hindered. In such situations, you may have to over-explain things to your team more than usual. Do not shirk this responsibility. If your team needs its hand held, be there to hold it. It’ll pay off in the long term and help you stay in control from the early days of the crisis until things calm down.
Stop investing in R&D and get people back to work ASAP
As a leader, you must save your business, as it is something people rely on in times of uncertainty. The first thing to do here is to save as much cash as you can in order to stay in business as long as you can. That often means cutting back on non-essential spending. This can be a tough decision, but it is a sacrifice you may have to make.
After our team was in safe locations, the best way forward was to get them back to work and help them calm down. It sounds strange, but this is the best way to direct the anxieties and nervous energy of war. At work, where everything is known, prescribed and straightforward, people find calmness and a continued sense of purpose.
In my experience, the first wave of crisis is the most difficult because of the high levels of uncertainty. However, once you get over that phase, there will be fewer variables, which is when you return to investing activities if they are still feasible.
Use your standard remote-work policy
When the war broke out, it was very difficult to manage the team and reestablish our business processes. So we waited to do it after our team was evacuated and relocated safely.
Proven remote policies were a lifesaver when our employees were not in their usual environments. Nobody discounts the value of team spirit, so invest in it more since people will need each other’s support at a much greater degree during times of great strife. Among online team building activities, AR activities proved to be an amazing mood enhancer.
Conduct special training to support your team
Crises, thankfully, are rare, but that also means people often do not have enough knowledge to handle the loads of unusual information they’re bombarded with in such situations.
In such situations, you should:
Educate people by conducting special training with the help of experts. Training to manage stress, anxiety and personal finance will help your employees build the needed knowledge and respond to tough situations. The Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications has created a guide titled “Psychological support during the war,” explaining how to spot and assist with mental health problems.
Invite successful and respected people to share positive thoughts on the situation and perhaps explain how they’ve faced especially tough times. Authority bias is real and it works as a morale booster when a team needs direction and a sense that things will turn out to be fine.
Share relevant positive news to cheer up your team and create a vision of a better future.
Tie business goals to social initiatives
When war broke out, people wanted to help. This was good, but we realized it can affect focus on work and could eventually lead the business to an even more profound crisis. In such times, put your over-explanation tool from Step 1 to work and educate people on how your company’s success benefits society.
As a result of what your team accomplishes at work, your company can invest more resources in charity initiatives when growth or profitability is maintained or improved. As a consequence, your team can do more and have more resources to do something significant for society.
This should have no effect on your existing OKR system because your company’s goals will stay the same. However, the team perks have changed — instead of a nice barbecue, you will now invest saved money in something beneficial to the wider society. Statistics show that when a company leads with purpose, 76% of respondents are more likely to trust that company.
Volunteering has become an essential component of our team’s operations. For instance, we arranged contributions, looked for equipment, supplied soldiers and helped secure supplies for people in disaster zones.
Each company will face a crisis caused by a unique combination of factors. Still, the tips I have provided here are applicable to almost any problematic situation. Do not forget to maintain a strong leadership position and stay empathetic with your team.