There's been a lot of energy put toward modeling our economy during the COVID-19 crisis on past events, whether it be the Great Recession or the Great Depression. Either way, those models cannot anticipate the trajectory of this virus, nor can they quell the anxiety of financial advisors. Here, Jordan Birnbaum, ADP’s inhouse behavioral economist, shares his thoughts on how to lead during a global health and financial crisis.
Leaders, It’s Up to You…
Your number one job is to mitigate anxiety. If you are thinking of performance assessments or internal reorganization for long-term strategy, hold off on all those plans. Now is not the time to put your employees in a place of uncertainty.
“There are a lot of things leaders can do to assuage anxiety. And of course, the best one of all—it’s just the biggest cliché: understanding what is and isn't in our control and staying focused on what is in our control.”
Take actions that help your team “get their arms around anxiety, because anxiety doesn't help,” Jordan said. Here are some ways to make space for anxiety management, because yes, this is your new job title.
- Acknowledge what their fears are.
- Give your team the space to articulate their concerns.
- Be very timely and consistent with filling them in with information the moment that you get it.
- Be transparent about what you don't know.
- Be transparent and available about your own fears.
- Whenever possible, give people a plan.
“There are a lot of things leaders can do to assuage anxiety,” Jordan said. “And of course, the best one of all—it’s just the biggest cliché: understanding what is and isn't in our control and staying focused on what is in our control.”
Creating action plans around what you do know and what you can plan for is the best and easiest way to ward off that spiraling feeling of losing control.
Layoffs & Maintaining Control
“In terms of the uncertainty with job security, there's no good answer,” said Jordan. “This is because the best answer you can have is how can you do it with as much empathy and compassion and creating the least amount of pain as possible.”
The financial landscape of hardship is pretty apparent. If your CPA firm is in trouble, and if you’ve been transparent and honest with your employees, then there might already be an air of anticipation when it comes to layoffs. Not that this makes it any easier!
“Do it with as much empathy and compassion...creating the least amount of pain as possible.”
Jordan advises managers to express that “engaging unwillingly in layoffs is a response to the tragedy that is unfolding around us.” These are difficult decisions to make, just as keeping a business alive when so many others are failing is a monumental task. Acknowledging how much layoffs hurt while being as authentic as possible with your team is the best path forward.
At the end of the day, management needs to be able to take comfort in knowing that:
- Much of this was out of their control;
- What was within their control was handled with dignity and compassion.
Keep focused on what you can control, and act with empathy and understanding. While the issues your firm faces may be complex and the decisions difficult, it’s really the best you can do in this uncertain pandemic environment.
In light of staff reductions and workforce changes, some accounting firms are exploring their options, including leveraging technology to help fill the gaps and more easily navigate this awkward time. But where do you start when considering various accounting software solutions, and what questions do you ask to ensure you’re making the best decision for your firm?