How Organisations Can Build a Lifetime of Credibility in a Crisis
Every organisation stands on its feet by having a culture of its own, regardless of its lineage. If employees do not find their leaders to be strong enough or the mental and emotional stability in the people they work with, it is difficult to retain their trust.
Deepa Chadha, SVP, HR & Corporate Affairs, Vistara
The ongoing pandemic is truly unprecedented and has significantly impacted all aspects of life, around the globe. The volatile business environment and the economic recession has put most businesses under tremendous pressure. When the pandemic struck the world, there was no playbook to navigate the crisis for any organization’s business and people. Challenges in the world, especially for aviation and travel, were of a different magnitude altogether. Nations went into lockdown, people movement was paused, and commercial air travel came to a complete halt, bringing airline revenues to nearly zero. While things gradually improved to some extent over time, the pandemic is still far from being over. Among other disruptions, the pandemic moved airline leaders to take tough decisions for the workforce.
With operations spread across states and countries, and due to varying restrictions in each location, defining an effective return-to-work plan that works well for all at the same time is very difficult. Add to this the challenge of complete imbalance in health risk profiles for corporate staff versus those on the frontline. In the business of extremely high operating costs and in an industry severely affected by low demand amid intense competition, leaving jobs untouched is obviously difficult. The big question that arises is - how can an organisation with such deep impact on its businesses, keep employees motivated and invested in the company? How can companies build credibility in such adversity?
In today’s VUCA world, making an organisation resilient is imperative. A singular layer of an organisation cannot alone make this possible – it has to cut across Leadership, culture, processes and people. I would, however, emphasise on the culture aspect more than the others, for if an organisation has resilience weaved into the very fabric of its culture, everything else usually falls in place. Human beings naturally tend to resist change, but if agility is part of everyday (work) life, things can be smoother in times of crises. For an organisation like Vistara that has two parent organisations - Tata group and Singapore Airlines - that have stood the test of time for decades and continuously achieved success despite odds, the battle is half won. Having said that, every organisation stands on its feet by having a culture of its own, regardless of its lineage. If employees do not find their leaders to be strong enough or the mental and emotional stability in the people they work with, it is difficult to retain their trust.
Communication in such times needs to be more purpose-led than business-led. Timely, transparent, empathetic and engaging communication goes a long way in building a sense of community – an absolute essential to weather a storm. Organisations can build a lifetime of credibility in a crisis, and right communication is one of the most important ways to achieve this. Keep your people informed of what’s happening, tell tales of courage of your colleagues across functions, make everyone feel part of the difficult phase, let them know there is empathy for them. At Vistara, we took a number of such initiatives to help every employee feel connected to the big picture. At the same time, we ensured that at a micro level, 1:1 check-ins and regular virtual meetings helped managers detect and address concerns and foster team collaboration.
Being resilient and ensuring good communication do not eventually work if an organisation’s actions are not aligned. This does not mean that necessary, hard decisions that affect employees cannot be taken. What’s important is to know for certain that the organisation made every effort with conscience to avoid taking such difficult steps, that the organization is doing the best it can, and finally, how those decisions are communicated. If we think employees do not get to know business realities, that would mean living under a rock. At Vistara, we had to take the difficult decision of reducing some staff costs, by implementing salary cuts, with the intent of protecting all jobs. The empathy, care and transparency in the CEO’s message ensured that all employees understood the objective and the humane approach of the organisation. It not only helped employees appreciate the management’s efforts, but also take pride in their association with a brand with such integrity.
(The article has been attributed for BW People platform, written by Deepa Chadha, SVP, HR & Corporate Affairs, Vistara)