Crisis Management Plans: 5 Key Behaviors for eCommerce Leaders

Published: Jul 14, 2020

Creating a crisis management plan is tough, least of all during a global pandemic. Here are the five key defining behaviors of effective eCommerce leaders.

In a fast-paced industry like eCommerce, a leader’s ability to create an effective crisis management plan has become a critical skillset. Experience often plays a key part, but it doesn’t automatically make or break someone as a good leader in a crisis. Let’s explore what does.

Good vs Effective Crisis Management Plans

When you think of the qualities associated with ‘good’ leaders, it’s likely your response is emotion-based. These leaders are often compassionate, unequivocally committed to both their team and company success when times are tough. Decisions are made ethically, after much consideration, and for the greater good.

‘Effective’ leaders work slightly differently. These are the ones that simply get the job done, no matter what crisis or obstacle gets thrown at them. They are goal-oriented and fixated on moving the needle from where it is now, to where it needs to be. All with the aim of securing a successful business outcome.

The key difference here is the ‘effective’ leader’s ability to make quick decisions under intense pressure and creatively explore solutions. If something isn’t working, strategies are pivoted immediately, using the latest information at their disposal.

Can a leader be both ‘good’ and ‘effective’?

In short, yes. A great example of this is Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. According to research, she is “the most popular New Zealand prime minister in a century,” with 92% of poll respondents saying that her decision to take strict measures during the COVID-19 crisis was “the right call.” 

Ardern has built a strong reputation for caring about people. However, she also has a strong, evidence-based strategy for applying that ethos in a practical way. This had resulted in a high level of trust and respect worldwide.

Clara Ross-Benham, Head of People and part of Yieldify’s leadership team agrees, commenting: “a balance is important, especially during a crisis where we often see a conflict between the needs of the employee and the employer. A manager serves two functions: to lead a team and to contribute to the success of the business. Communication and honesty will go a long way in building the trust of your team and navigating them through unsettling situations. It’s important not to over-promise. The goal of both a ‘good’ and ‘effective’ leader here is to ensure that the employee and employer have an understanding. 

“A successful leader should be able to connect and to collaborate. Achieving this requires empathy and greater business awareness. I believe the best leaders care genuinely, not just about their direct reports but about the company as a whole. This allows leaders to bring together the right people, give effective feedback and work as a collective.”

But what is the glue that binds Jacinda and other effective leaders together? Below we explore the 5 key behaviors of crisis planning, nominated by business leaders for business leaders, adding in our own top tips.

5 Key Behaviors To Embrace When Creating A Crisis Management Plan

1. Trust-building

Mattress Next Day | crisis management

Martin Seeley, CEO of MattressNextDay believes “Honesty is one of the most valued character traits, but many leaders fail to achieve it.

“Honest leaders inspire trust from their team, which leads to employees being more productive and loyal. This transparency builds credibility and support.

“In a crisis, a leader must admit when he or she doesn’t have answers to all the questions rather than confusing people with false information. Withholding important information that could affect employees is also dangerous because it can breed mistrust and uncertainty. Honesty will make people work for you not because of your title but because of who you are.”

Top Tip: It’s key to communicate, and that doesn’t stop at the leadership team. Consider creating an FAQ document or intranet page that provides clear answers to the important questions that all employees are asking. Even if the answer is simply ‘we don’t know yet, but we’re working on it’. Silence fuels fear and promotes distrust, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

2. Acting with courage

Fracture | crisis management

According to Abhi Lokesh, CEO of printing company Fracture, courage is mission-critical in many ways. “Whether it’s how you communicate with your team to being willing to make significant changes to your business strategy in the face of adversity. However, in many ways, courage can be found in the actions you DON’T take versus the actions you do take.”

“We tend to admire and lionize those leaders who exemplify the traditional definition of courage. For example, being bold and instinctive, shrugging off doubt and ignoring reason, single-mindedly striding into battle or tackling adversity head-on. The truth is that courage and cowardice often get confused for each other. It’s important to try and understand the difference.”

“The courageous leader is the one who exercises restraint and calm even in the eye of the storm. As human beings, we’re biologically wired to react instinctually to danger – hence our “fight or flight” response. It’s incredibly hard to fight that impulse and conquer that instinct. True courage is not simply following the herd and doing what everyone else is doing. Instead, it’s stopping and asking “Why?”, reflecting upon past experiences, and seeking counsel from those around you.”

Top Tip: It’s easy to confuse action and motion with courage. So be patient and ensure that you’ve analyzed a situation from the necessary angles before you make a move. Whatever decision you make will likely face intense scrutiny, so having the facts, figures and logic to back up your rationale will help overcome any objections.

3. Anticipating the unexpected

English Blinds | crisis management

John Moss, CEO of English Blinds comments: “An effective leader during a crisis is one that is calm and adaptive. They understand that the crisis is still evolving and is, by nature, unpredictable, and so requires a fluid and responsive approach to mitigation and management.”

“Being able to take a big picture view and understand not just the current or direct impact of the crisis is important too. This ensures that the secondary or knock-on effects that are apt to happen down the line are prevented or planned for as well.”

“Staying one step ahead, being able to visualize the potential directions or conclusions things will take, and problem-solving or troubleshooting on the fly are key skills. As is being able to keep a cool, clear head and provide direction and reassurance to others.”

Top Tip: Forward-thinking is a key component of any crisis management plan. The more scenarios that you can predict in advance and create a plan for, the more prepared you will be when disaster hits. However, of course, there will always be events like a pandemic that takes us by storm. In which case, having a basic framework that applies to any scenario will be invaluable. You can find this in our Crisis Management Toolkit which is free to download here.

4. Critical thinking

Creation Business Consultants | crisis management

According to Carolyn Cairns of Creation BC: “One trait of an effective crisis leader is their critical thinking skills. They should be able to understand and appreciated the unique complications of each crisis situation.”

“A leader with critical thinking skills can recognize the logical links between concepts, recognize the validity and significance of claims, spot contradictions, or flaws in judgment. Thus, allowing them to make the best decisions.”

“They must also be able to assess how certain information can be relevant in specific situations especially during a crisis like the pandemic.”

Top tip: Trusted third party stakeholders can prove to be valuable sounding boards for testing out new strategies and ideas. They are far enough removed from the crisis management plan at hand that they can offer fresh perspectives and spot subtle flaws that might otherwise be missed. Invest time in building these relationships as they can bring other great rewards as well!

5. Leading from the front

Aligned at Work | crisis management

Laurie Battaglia, CEO of Aligned at Work®, commented: “In times of crisis, people are looking for a visible leader, one who leads by example and knows how to engage the hearts and minds of people who are under pressure.”

“People seek information and guidance during times of crisis. They hope that the leader either has experience in leading through a crisis or that the leader is surrounded by smart people with that experience or knowledge.”

“Great crisis leaders know when to make a snap decision, and when to engage with others to come up with the best solutions. They inform, stay visible, and create an environment where others can step up or step into leadership with them. Value is placed on listening and listening often. They surround themselves with trusted advisors who have the people’s interests at heart. And they describe the larger purpose that people sign on for and support.”

Top Tip: Leading by example doesn’t have to mean taking the entire burden of the world on your shoulders. Surround yourself with a trusted crisis-ready team and bring those employees with you on the journey to the solution. Listen carefully to what they have to say and use this to help inform what actions you take. This will also assist you in achieving buy-in across the business when your plan is ready to present publicly.

In conclusion

The role that effective leaders can play in a crisis management plan is immensely valuable to any organization. Aspiring leaders shouldn’t wait for a crisis to occur to start nurturing their skills. This will ultimately allow them to perform to their full potential if/when disaster strikes.

Things to remember:

“Greatness is not in where we stand but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Want to learn more about creating a crisis management plan for e-commerce?
Episode 2 of our new web series, #TrendsOfTomorrow, is all about this topic. Click here to access the full video archives.