Operating in crisis mode can bring your team short-term gains, but look out for long-term pain
Responding to COVID-19 for the past year, many of us have been in constant “always on” communication mode. That was appropriate as providing information to key internal and external audiences was vital, especially at the beginning of the initial response and during the spikes in cases we saw during the summer, fall and early winter.
Now a year later, as the situation improves, it’s important for all of us to take a step – OK, maybe a half-step – back and assess what we are doing. We need to step out of crisis mode and get back into a more normal state of operations for as long as we can. However, taking that step back can be incredibly hard to do.
Where this can be a real problem is when managers and leaders crave a crisis situation as their standard mode of operating. I’ve seen some people seemingly create crisis situations – made-up deadlines, self-imposed standards or goals that can’t be reached, competition with other business units in the same organization, arguments with peers, etc. – because they crave chaos to some degree.
"When managers refuse to plan, their subordinates often receive sketchy or even wrong information — information upon which they depend in order to do their jobs well. When managers create chaos, it changes the priorities and schedules of everyone around them by turning important things into important and urgent crises." - Dr. Geri Puleo
In the short-term, leaders who create crisis situations do raise productivity and bond people together in a common cause. However, over time those people burn out their teams and morale suffers. Most people are simply not wired to be in crisis mode 24/7 for sustained periods of time. The adrenaline rush is valuable in short intervals, but can become toxic if it never goes away.
Avoiding the creation of a toxic work environment is not just the morally correct thing to do, it will also help you avoid losing your best team members. As Dr. Puleo remarks,
"When workers believe that they have no control over how they do their work, they will often seriously consider where they are working. This type of turnover can be directly attributable to the downward spiral of burnout resulting from poor planning."
So, what can you do?
If you can, use some time now to do long-term planning and focus on strategic issues. If you can't seem to step out of crisis mode, do some self-analysis to see if you’re working through a legitimate, immediate crisis or creating one. If the latter, you need to course correct right away. Unfortunately, it's highly probable that COVID-19 - and other issues - will present opportunities to react to real crisis situations in 2021 and beyond.
Furthermore, if you need a system for separating the urgent from the simply emergent here is a great Ted Talk on the subject.