The first hours after disaster strikes your business are critical for its recovery. Everyone with any connection to your firm will look to you for guidance, direction and hope. How you respond will send powerful messages to your stakeholders, customers and employees. The correct response can mark a turning point for your company. However, if handled poorly, the incident can create mistrust, confusion, lower productivity and ultimately reduced financial performance.
It's important to remember that a business disaster is not just about dollars and cents or profit and loss. It is also about the human capital invested in the company. Your employees make up your business. They are your most important asset, so you will want to ensure that you respond appropriately with both competence and compassion. You will need to display your concern for the personal tragedy in the disaster at the same time you help employees, customers and other stakeholders begin to put the next steps in place. You must create structure out of the chaos and confusion.
Unfortunately, an occasional outcome of a business disaster is a blaming mentality. Employees and other stakeholders may hold leadership accountable for problems resulting from the crisis whether they should be held accountable or not. At this time, it's important to remember the very human reactions that a business disaster can illicit.
People who have experienced a severe trauma often fall back on rather primitive and emotional defenses. They will seek to find safety and feel secure. They may not be logical in their thinking, and longer-range thinking is set aside. Decisions are often less rational and more emotional.
Because they have experienced a complete lack of control over their circumstances, many people who have lived through a catastrophe will attempt to make sense of it so they feel as though they retain some control. In this way, they believe they can prevent it from happening again. They will seek to find an answer to the question of why the disaster occurred and why to them. In the absence of fact, many people will create the answers to those questions, which often lack objectivity.
In addition, people impacted by such tragedies will often withdraw from others as a result of distrust. Your employees may pull away out of fear and uncertainty. You will need to reach out proactively in some cases to ensure that employees remain engaged in your company and its rebuilding.
Here are some steps you can take to help your employees through a difficult time:
Discuss the disaster openly.
Demonstrate caring leadership.
Help through the transition.
The way a business owner or manager handles a disaster in the early hours following the event as well as the weeks and months beyond will write the story of the company's recovery. Be sure your story has a good ending.
In coming editions of our newsletter, we will include information on how to prepare for a natural or man-made disaster.
Information is currently available on our website.
- Mary Paulsell, Missouri Business Development Program