The world of work is a little rough these days, to say the least. Companies large and small continue to scramble in the face of serious economic and cultural uncertainty. Ongoing inflation, workforce automation, post-pandemic burnout, and “The Great Reshuffle” are just a few of the many challenges eroding confidence among employees and employers alike. Every day seems like an exercise in digging deeper to find the patience and strength needed to keep your cool.
Most HR, business and finance leaders are focused on making do with increasingly tighter budgets while bolstering employee retention. This isn’t a viable long-term strategy, but it’s one way organizations can minimize damage while pushing through lean times. No wonder many professionals feel like they’re moving in quicksand.
But don’t lose hope! I’ve been there before and have come through it intact. Here are five proven tips you can use to alleviate some stress and avoid sinking further than necessary…
5 Ways to Keep Your Cool During Tough Times
1. Take Inventory
Imagine you are Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You’re in a strange new place where anything could happen — not all of it good. It’s intimidating to feel adrift in the unknown. But I recommend adhering to the same advice the Hitchhiker’s Guide shares with every wayfarer: Don’t panic.
Take in the situation around you. Make an inventory of what’s happening in your organization, in your industry, and in the world at large. Who is most affected by today’s realities? What are they saying? More importantly, what are they not saying? What kind of ideas are floating around? Which of these ideas seem most useful and actionable?
Document the resources available to you. Specifically, insist on gaining better visibility into your workforce costs. Account for all of your employees, freelancers, contractors, temporary workers, and consultants — everyone who is paid to get work done. Consider not only their salaries, but also related benefits and employer taxes, which can add an additional 30%-60% to your costs.
For most companies. employee costs represent the most significant budget item. However, many organizations lack a comprehensive view of these costs. A single dashboard where you can understand all of these costs can improve visibility and clarity. Both of these are critical to making smart management decisions now and going forward.
With a clearer, more holistic perspective, you can begin to formulate a broader plan. In fact, I recommend that you develop multiple plans. Scenario mapping is a smart strategy that can help you keep your cool as a leader. Prepare for as many “if/then” scenarios as possible. That way you won’t be caught off guard when your ideal plan goes awry. Just look for indicators that Plan A is in jeopardy, and switch to Plan B, or whatever plan aligns best with the changing climate.
2. Take Action
Once you develop one or more plans, do something. Pick your most promising path and act. While it might be tempting to wait out the storm, in my experience, this strategy rarely succeeds. By taking initiative, you can seize the opportunity to exercise some control over the situation at hand.
No doubt, a crisis creates challenging circumstances. But it also presents opportunities for change. Through action, you position yourself to take advantage of opportunities that can ultimately benefit your organization and your team.
For example, as a business or HR leader, you can advocate for more inclusive hiring practices, so your company can attract new sources of talent. Also, you can talk regularly with employees about challenges they are facing. Through these conversations, you can identify small but meaningful changes that will improve operational workflows and work culture.
This proactive approach creates an environment that helps you keep your cool. And perhaps more importantly, it can help you improve the employee experience, rather than allowing it to erode.
Finance leaders can take a similar proactive approach to identify areas where it’s possible to trim overhead and increase efficiency without damaging fragile employee engagement and satisfaction levels.
3. Get Lean
Pack light and pack smart. This is a wise rule of thumb for any adventurer, but now more than ever.
This is a great time to put agile methodologies into practice. With greater uncertainty in day-to-day work, and fewer people actually doing the work, teams need to stay flexible, be adaptable, and adjust when opportunities arise.
Whether it’s too much bureaucracy, an excessive budget, or too many cooks in the kitchen — a glut of resources can actually impede progress, rather than facilitate it. By streamlining resources and workflows, you’ll be better prepared than a top-heavy organization to recognize and respond to unexpected internal or external changes.
Empower your team to do more with less. Audit your process, considering where you can improve by cutting out unnecessary steps and removing unhelpful roadblocks. Rather than assuming you should continue doing things as they’ve always been done (because they’ve always been done that way), create a culture that actively pursues and rewards improvement.
Ask yourself and your team what your customers really want. Then focus like a laser on delivering precisely that.
4. Question Everything
Crisis creates an opportunity to reevaluate the status quo. You may be tempted to wish for a return to how things were in the “good old days.” But consider this a chance to take a closer look. Were those days really as good as they seem? What actually worked, and what didn’t?
If you’re already rethinking your resources and workflows, you might as well reconsider how everything is done. A holistic approach can help you improve systemically, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.
One of the best ways to learn how something works is to look at all the pieces and evaluate how they work individually and as a whole. You can even apply this to your company’s business-as-usual standards.
Critique your operational best practices. Are these ways of working truly the best way to accomplish specific objectives? Question conventional wisdom. It may not actually be as wise as you think. Put organizational traditions under a microscope. Could your cultural norms be creating more discord than cohesion? Don’t leave any stone unturned. This is the ideal time to expose, examine and resolve underlying issues.
5. Recognize That Talent is More Crucial Than Ever
The four previous tips won’t amount to much if you don’t have the right team in place. It’s easier to keep your cool and act effectively when good people are supporting you. It’s also easier to ask questions and restructure an organization when you’re challenged and encouraged by sharp minds. Now is the time to invest in the kind of talent that will step up to this challenge.
Of course, in a candidate’s job market, this is easier said than done. But a more equitable approach to talent sourcing and a more intentional, streamlined hiring process can tip the odds in your favor.
AI-powered talent acquisition platforms can help eliminate bias associated with ethnicity, gender, age, or education. They can also help identify untapped skilled candidates from nontraditional backgrounds.
Consider how you can improve hiring outcomes by improving your candidate experience. For example, would recruiting results improve if you focused on 1-3 targeted interviews with key stakeholders (people who actually understand the position and the work to be done)?
Also, this is the ideal time to seriously invest in internal talent mobility. For example, what can you do to improve upskilling among existing employees? The more skills each individual develops, the more effective your team will be at adapting to inevitable changes and completing projects successfully.
Keep Your Cool By Embracing a More Stable Today
Although today’s business environment may be unclear, any organization can develop a more resilient foundation that can withstand chaos and change. Leaders can take ownership of this process by challenging past assumptions, rethinking outdated business practices, and channeling resources where they’re needed most.
It may not be easy to keep your head above water — let alone thrive — in the midst of this crisis. But it is possible to keep your cool and carry on without giving in to forces you can’t control. By applying these principles, you’ll be better prepared not only to weather the storm, but to get ahead of it. Just don’t forget to bring a towel!