“Keep calm. Remember your training.”

Sounds like a line out of a war movie, doesn’t it? The soldiers are huddled together just before the climactic battle, and the leader has just enough time to offer those five words of advice.

When a crisis emerges in your organization, it may not be as dramatic or dangerous as a war movie. But those words of wisdom still hold true.

In a crisis, employees need to see confidence, resilience and grace under pressure. Everyone is watching. What they most need to see is that you’ve analyzed the situation and come up with … a plan. Your plan gives you confidence, resilience and grace under pressure. It’s the source of your credibility.

Without a plan…
Imagine you tried to lead without a plan. Imagine your people saw you responding unpredictably to the episodic challenges that you face. How fast would they lose faith? How fast would morale and productivity plummet? How fast would your star performers bail? And in the middle of a crisis, how would that talent flight make you look in the eyes of your bosses?

So the most important action step in a crisis is to develop a rock-solid plan.

But that’s only half the battle. The other half? Helping each person on your team understand their role in making your plan succeed.

Instead of saying, “We’re in trouble, so I want you to work really hard to get us out of trouble,” great leaders convey this message: “I believe in this plan but can’t make it happen alone. I need YOU to use your skills to accomplish this mission-critical goal. It won’t be easy, but if we achieve it, our company will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. And your input will have made a real difference. So can you help us out?”

Connecting the dots
Great managers are skilled communicators who connect the dots for their people. They create alignment by linking company goals to their employees’ deep psychological needs. When you can show employees a “line of sight” between their day-to-day activities and an audacious goal like turning the company around or surviving an industry downturn, you’ll get the buy-in you need to accomplish that goal.

Here’s a roadmap managers can use to engage their direct reports in a crisis:

  • Describe the plan. Paint a picture of where the company will be when it accomplishes its goals. Show the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Communicate your own buy-in. If your people see anything less than 100% conviction on your part, they won’t follow you.
  • Lay out your key objectives. Show your team how these objectives fit into the overall plan, and how achieving them will help the company turn itself around.
  • Ask for their help and establish “line-of-sight.” Tell them the company needs their skills and abilities to accomplish its goals, and show them how their day-to-day activities will make a difference.
  • Review goals regularly. Sit down each week with all team members to track their progress and emphasize the important role they’re playing. Never miss a chance to reinforce “line of sight.”

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