Embracing Corporate Chaos: Keeping Your Head When It All Goes Awry

It happens to the best of us: you're moving right along, in a nice little groove, and then BAM! The fit hits the shan, and you lose all semblance of control over your workflow. Efficiency and productivity become too hard to say, let alone achieve. Now you're stuck in a rut, holding your head in your hands and wondering how you got there and how you're going to trudge through. Don't fight it, and don't start treating your desk like a pinata. Keep reading to learn how to deal when you get blindsided by corporate chaos. 

Quitting Reaches New Heights

There are many reasons things go haywire, and I'm not talking about Mercury Retrograde or atmospheric interference. More Americans are quitting their jobs than ever in the past five years, to the tune of roughly 2.5 million people per month (or 30 million annually) Source: Forbes.com. Fewer employees means more responsibility for everyone else – hiring, training, picking up the slack. Recruiting can be a lengthy and disruptive process.

Anticipate Sources (and Recognize Symptoms) of Chaos

The Third Quarter is a Hectic Time in General

The July-September months on many companies’ Outlook calendars are likely filled with the most cumulative days and weeks blocked out for vacations than
any other time of year (even rivaling the winter holidays, we would bet). Not only that, but in the third quarter companies analyze the past 6-8 months as they position themselves for Q4 and end-of-year planning and strategy. Budgets may be limited, things might not be going as well as anticipated, you may be ramping up or switching directions reactively, or you may be taking on more projects than ever before (especially if things are going really well). 

Be Proactive: Anticipate Chaotic Events

This applies to the entire year, not just the third quarter. But if you consider Q3 a chaotic event in itself, then by all means, plan way ahead. In a post from February called Disasters Happen: Are You Protected?, I used the statement “planning is preparedness” to introduce ways to plan for the unexpected. In terms of the third quarter, if you know you’ll be stressed trying to accumulate lots of data from the beginning of the year, present reports, plan and strategize for Q4, create marketing campaigns, conduct review meetings, and analyze profit/loss to come up with next year’s budget, it may be wise to work around the many vacations that could be scheduled during the summer months.

Identify your key stakeholders and rainmakers and try to grab the lion’s share of their attention on important matters before they go away, with follow-ups and action items already scheduled upon their return. Of course, give them a couple of days to catch up and get back into the swing of things, but being proactive this way will definitely alleviate some of the challenges of the third quarter and prevent you from feeling stuck taking care of everything alone.

Have Contingency Plans in Place

Knowing what’s at stake, having a recovery time objective, and simulating mock crisis scenarios are all things which will help you identify and avoid threats to your success. If you have a break-even number in mind for an important initiative, come up with a backup plan in case you don’t hit that number. If a special project requires a certain amount of key personnel, organize a small committee within that team to keep things on track, and create a plan in case anyone on the team has an emergency or needs to leave the group. Leave no stone unturned in your preparations and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Monitor Market Feedback

Companies who are oblivious to how they’re perceived in the public eye are dangerously uninformed. If you aren’t checking in with your followers and adjusting your approach when necessary, you could be missing the mark in many important areas. In keeping with the theme of being proactive, constantly checking in with customers and knowing how they feel about your business is key to staying on track. Do you facilitate and welcome customer feedback? At the very least, you should have a contact form on your website, but I recommend a link to a survey, which can be placed on your website, social media profiles, and emailed out to past and present customers. 

Another approach to monitoring your brand perception is to establish profiles on popular directory sites, like Yelp and The Yellow Pages. When prospects search for your business online, the more results you have the better. Also, make sure you have an active voice on social media in order to allow the public to interact with your brand, and check on your engagement consistently by evaluating the performance of your content across all channels and following up when necessary. Thanking people for sharing and interacting with your brand will multiply your presence and likelihood of word of mouth referrals – the kind of metrics you can’t predict.

Hiring and Firing Are Hard on Everyone

Whether dissatisfied employees quit, great employees relocate, or bad employees get laid off, hiring and firing are hard on everyone – particularly HR, operations, and your administrative/support staff. Whether a company finds its back against the wall in the event of a shrinking staff or needs to aggressively recruit due to rapid growth, many departments are thrust into panic mode. They’re asked to take on more work to manage the workflow of the departed employees and keep things functioning smoothly, or they may be expected to interrupt their normal responsibilities to get involved in the recruiting process.

Avoid Staffing Dilemmas: Recognize When Employees Are Unhappy

If you catch any of your employees playing the card game Corporate Chaos (yes, it’s real) in the cafeteria, you may be too late. Studies show that there’s a vast misconception surrounding the reasons people leave jobs. Most employers think their employees leave for sunnier skies, greener pastures, and more money. While this is true a fraction of the time, the greater truth is that people usually quit people, not their jobs. Skim this PeopleFluent.com article for the top 5 reasons good people quit.

The Best Way to Appreciate Your People Is To Run Your Business Effectively So That They Don't Have To Struggle

Among the feedback from happy employees about their favorite places to work lie valuable clues for any organization. Turns out, culture is just as important as pay. Make sure you’re keeping up with the times by allowing your millennials room to grow in ways that are conducive to them. Fostering professional development means more than mandating that someone clocks in and out at a set time every day and spends a concrete amount of hours behind a desk. Many top-recruiting companies are aware that one of the major keys to growth is giving their employees freedom, which can be a touchy subject for old-school employers. The ability to telecommute, work remotely, and adjust one’s own hours proportionate to their workload are all things that many modern job-seekers consider non-negotiable when searching for opportunities. Other value-adds are adequate paid vacation time, family and sick time separate from vacation days, excellent benefits, a great 401k program, and perks like life insurance and bonus compensation.

Treat Your People Like People and They Will Love You Back

Invest in your employees’ personal growth too, and you’ll surely win their loyalty. Offering seminars and workshops at a discount (or footing the bill entirely) is a great way to keep your people motivated and striving. Partial tuition reimbursement programs, inviting guest speakers to meetings once in a while, being active in the community, fundraising, and hosting nice company events are all things which boost morale and nurture a team environment as well as personal development.

Give your people all the tools they need to succeed. Be responsive and follow up regularly. Be accountable. Ask your employees what their goals are. Check in to see how they’re doing, not just how a project is going. Don’t have an agenda when you approach someone – be genuine. Give them a long enough leash to make you proud of them without being micro managed. Don’t be hands off – if you’re rarely around, unresponsive and terrible at follow-up, you’re not exactly inviting your people to come check in with you.

Be open to all feedback, positive and negative. Be receptive and not averse to change. Encourage a candid environment. Promote a work-life balance. If you recognize trends with employee concerns, be sure to establish procedures to correct those issues. Be a good listener. Encourage your people. Don’t make them beg for raises – figure merit increases and cost-of-living supplements into your annual budget for any employees who have put in a year or more. Remember, they’re working for you more than they’re at home with their families. They deserve to be treated well.

Of Course, a Little Fun and Some Incentives Never Hurt

If you really want to see a decrease in employee turnover, make your company a fun place to work. Show your employees that you are grateful for them by planning impromptu or surprise festivities (with enough advance notice for people to make plans to attend). Have friendly contests and give out prizes. Promote jeans day, pot luck luncheons, or sneaker day. Host brief morning huddles and share nothing but positive news, even if it’s personal in nature. Be human – pay attention to your employees’ personal lives and distribute gift cards (or a hand-signed Hallmark card at the very least) when they have a significant life event.

Bring in breakfast or lunch once a week. Take a survey of your employees’ interests and plan a quarterly event that caters to some of them – maybe one quarter you have a sign-up sheet for a baseball game and the next quarter, to a musical or play. These kinds of team-building exercises take everyone’s mind off the problems and tensions of everyday business and facilitate work bonding. Giving your employees a reason to look forward to coming to work other than just doing their job and staying out of trouble will create rock solid company culture, which will protect your reputation and inherently contribute to your growth.

Experiencing Growing Pains (or Slowing Pains)

Milestones like expansion and relocation, rebranding, the creation and launch of new products/offerings and positions, and even downsizing can dramatically impact a business from the top down, causing disorder, confusion and turmoil if not handled appropriately from the start. If a company’s objectives and goals aren’t clearly communicated to its employees, chances are there will be many hiccups and bumps in the road (with a likelihood of dampened morale in the forecast). The direction of the company should be aligned with the corporate structure and culture in order to keep business from imploding.

Relocation and Expansion: Making It Easier on Everyone

If your business is in growth mode, relocation and expansion can be very exciting (and hectic). Don’t wait until 30 days out to start planning, unless you want your employees to jump ship. Check out this April post titled Corporate Relocation: 6 Things You Should Address Now for some helpful tips to ensure a smooth transition and mitigate chaos.

Something that isn’t mentioned in the above post, but is definitely a crucial part of the planning process, is making your employees feel like they have a say in what’s happening. Don’t just announce that you’re moving and expect everyone to jump onboard joyously with new tasks and an increased workload. Any kind of change will affect their lives in some way, and they may be feeling apprehensive. When you announce the news of a move or another location, be sure to include a written commitment to schedule a series of meetings dedicated to addressing their concerns. Set up a special email address specifically meant to field questions regarding the change, and be sure to incorporate the answering of those questions into a weekly conference call, meeting, memo, email blast, or other form of employee inter-office communication.

Finding out how your employees feel and taking their feedback seriously will help soften the blow and make everyone more excited about (or at least less opposed to) the process.

Chaos Disrupts Communication

One sign of corporate slow-down is decreased or inadequate communication from management to employees. Any change or decrease in communication frequency and style can subconsciously alert your employees to underlying chaos, triggering panic or unrest. Be sure to always maintain open lines of communication, clearly outlining expectations and corporate directives, and remember to be respectful and considerate regardless of what’s going on. Check out this post from August titled 7 Common Workplace Communication Obstacles and How to Overcome Them for some tips on what to avoid and what not to do.

Chaos Can Be Good Too - It's All In How You Look At It

How you handle any kind of corporate chaos is by far more important than its occurrence in the first place. Change is inevitable, so being adaptable and resilient are necessary for growth and preservation. Having a clear corporate strategy, communicating professionally, mastering the art of responsiveness and follow-up, making your employees feel important, being a hands-on manager without being a micro-manager, and being humble, receptive and real are all ingredients in the recipe for success. When you embrace change and foster a harmonious environment, your company will be securely positioned on the fast track to triumph over any kind of chaos that the world brings your way.