two coworkers fist bumping
From frequent and transparent communication to avoiding micromanagement, there are several ways business owners can practice effective leadership during tough times. — Getty Images/scyther5

There are few things in life that prepare you to manage a team of employees who look to you for guidance, leadership and day-to-day instructions, especially when your business is in crisis. Whether it’s an employee with a personal crisis, a global recession or a natural disaster, every business owner will face some obstacle outside their control at some point in their career.

If this is your first time leading a team through tough times, the task can feel daunting. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Set your employees up for success

To lead effectively, you must remove any roadblocks that would prevent someone from doing their job successfully. Ask your team regularly what they need in order to do their jobs better or more efficiently. For instance, it might be helpful to open your restaurant an hour earlier to give the kitchen team more time to prep food. Or, maybe you add some time between salon appointments so clients don’t complain about having to wait for a chair. “Removing roadblocks tells your employees that you care about making their work experience the best it can be,” write the experts at Square.

Communicate frequently

Today’s employees value open, transparent leadership. Share your plan for guiding your organization through the crisis to help decrease anxiety and give your team a sense of direction. When you assign a task, tell your team members why you’re assigning it to them and how it will help achieve your business results. If an employee asks for something you can’t say yes to, such as more paid leave or additional resources, explain your reasons for saying no. There’s really no such thing as overcommunication. “You may not know your strategy, but you can certainly talk about your values, priorities, and observations,” Jeanne DeWitt, the CRO of UberConference, told Harvard Business Review.

[Read more: Top 5 Employee Communication Strategies]

One of the benefits of working at a small business is that your team works more closely than at a big enterprise.

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Don’t abandon professional development

One of the benefits of working at a small business is that your team works more closely than at a big enterprise. “Junior-level” employees work side by side with managers and even you, the business owner. This gives you the opportunity to invest time in mentoring your team, no matter whether they’re starting their first job out of college or learning the ropes as a first-time manager.

Learn what it is that motivates each member of your team, and take the time to invest in their specific goals. For instance, if you own a cafe, send your barista to a workshop on latte art or to learn the latest techniques. For managers who want to advance, consider paying for a certification course in project management. An investment in your employees is, inevitably, an investment in scaling and perfecting your business. It shows that you care about your team, not just about your bottom line.

Have systems and processes in place

It’s tempting to try to micromanage your team to ensure your business survives. Your business is your baby, and when times get tough you’re going to want to be the one to steer the ship (and hoist the sales, and be the lookout, and manage the deck…). But micromanagement helps no one. It’s time-consuming for you and demoralizing for your employees.

Mitigate the urge to micromanage by putting the right tools and processes in place. Create some standard operating procedures (SOPs) that outline how to run specific areas of your business. Determine what tasks can only be done by you, the business owner. Then, create procedures for the day-to-day tasks you can offload (for instance, daily inventory checks or employee scheduling). Write step-by-step procedures that outline clearly how you want these tasks performed. For instance, for processing customer returns, your SOP might include a list of six criteria that have to be met in order for the refund to be accepted. Add tools to your POS that make it easy for a staff member to accomplish each task.

[Read more: How & When to Conduct Employee Reviews: A Guide]

Acknowledge a job well done

According to one estimate, "85% of employees report being overworked and under-appreciated.” Effective managers keep their employees engaged by recognizing their hard work.

There are many fun ways to acknowledge your team’s success. Yum Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, hands out recognition in the form of swag: rubber chickens, wind-up teeth, tiny racecars, and more, each wacky prize symbolizing something unique that an employee has accomplished. Small businesses on a budget stick to the “employee of the week” tradition. Your appreciation could be as simple as thanking someone at the end of the day. Just make sure you’re providing positive feedback and encouragement to build your team’s confidence.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 31, 2020