Culture

Takeaways from leading through unprecedented times

Paulo Monçôres
Paulo Monçôres September 15, 2021
Takeaways from leading through unprecedented times

The COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in the past two years, making us reshape how we work, live, and interact with others.

In moments like the one we live in, leadership must step in and take the initiative through these challenging times. As someone in a managerial position, you can’t only think about your job and family: you have to consider the jobs and the households of the people you work with.

The first thing to have in mind when you are in a crisis is: this is not the first calamity to happen in the world and won’t be the last. We will overcome it. Life may look different on the other side — sometimes everything returns to normal, sometimes it doesn’t — but we will get through this horrific moment.

Besides the importance of taking into consideration the economic and health problems related to the present situation, it is vital to notice that, as often occurs in times of tremendous change, two events take place almost simultaneously:

  • Unprecedented opportunities;
  • Problems you were not aware of.

Let’s dive into each one to understand how they usually appear inside companies amidst transformation and how you can work on them in your favor.

Opportunity to understand what is indeed crucial to the organization

Moments of crisis have the powerful effect of bringing super clarity to an organization. When you face a relevant, huge problem, you need to narrow your focus and adjust your department to the current moment.

To adapt to the new reality, the leader must make decisions that immediately impact the present situation. Those changes can be reallocating team members to other areas, closing a team, rethinking budget, adjusting expenses, accelerating specific projects, canceling others, or eliminating fluff.

These practical opportunities help your organization get laser-focused on what truly matters during a crisis. These moments often bring the feeling of “What we should do if we had only six months to keep the lights on?”

A crisis can also create missional opportunities. People in need today weren’t in need a month ago — difficult times often create opportunities for us to exercise our missional goals.

Most people see problems. Leaders address the concerns and seize the opportunities. At VTEX, we had so many projects accelerated in the previous months, such as Live Commerce, New in-store experiences, Conversational Commerce, and Analytics.

Some of these projects are already in our schedule, while others were created to attend to the customers’ needs that appeared in the last months, driven by the change in how people look for and purchase goods.

Though a sensitive moment brings valid concerns and demands actions towards the well-being of their employees and stakeholders, the moment can also help companies to create, build and release robust, meaningful solutions.

Identify the most urgent problems and solve them when they appear to you

It may seem obvious, but to solve problems, a leader must first identify the issue.

The obstacle we face is COVID-19 and its collateral effects like social panic, fear, anxiety. And let’s not forget the potential for a negative economic impact, which takes a toll on people’s lives.

But even when we are facing more “common” challenges, the approach to solve them is the same: once you have identified the problem, create a plan — even a simple one — to start solving the more urgent matters.

It should become clear as you tackle the situation that times of crisis unfold what’s essential and what isn’t. If you still have questions on the best course of action you can take, sit down and chart out: “What is essential to do?” vs. “What is off-mission?”

Focus on mission-critical items only: it’s not practical to make solid plans during a crisis when the situation is constantly changing.

To clarify: it is essential to have long-term goals and guidelines, but it is crucial to put only short-term, actionable plans into motion in hard times. Creating short-term projects, ranging from a few days to a few weeks, also prevent you and your people from disappointment as things invariably change.

Finally, foster communication. Even the hard ones

Being humans, no matter how devoted your team is to the mission of your organization, their first thoughts in a crisis will veer toward themselves and their families and not the organization.

In your speeches during moments of crisis, acknowledge their feelings and priorities. Don’t be afraid to say what people think or answer what your team may be too scared to ask. People won’t follow you if they think you don’t understand them or their circumstances.

And the most important advice I could give is: tell the truth. Even if you don’t have all the information needed and your evaluation of the moment is still clouded and uncertain, tell your team precisely that.

Even though your gut about said situation is overly optimistic, you need to be realistic. Moments of hardships are not the best place for pure motivation: it’s time for leadership. Leaders take people through problems, not ignoring or hiding them. ​​People prefer to handle bad news better than no news at all.

If you don’t have an answer yet, say so. If you tried something and it didn’t work and have a new idea, it’s ok, to be honest with the team. Speak confidently but not make assumptions that all of your plans will happen in the desired way. You and the team will make wise decisions as needed, but you can’t predict the future.

Leading through unprecedented times isn’t an easy task, but working during ever-change times can be less stressful when you are at a company that embraces change and acknowledges the importance of taking care of people.

If you want to be part of a company like this, look at VTEX’s career page and see our current job opportunities!

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