Tips for leading your small business team through uncertain times

Small business owners are feeling more optimistic about their prospects for growth. The latest quarterly Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey, which was conducted November 10-14, recorded the highest level of optimism among small business owners since 2008. The Small Business Index score increased to +58, a significant climb from +49 in July and up 34 points from 2013. Among the small businesses surveyed, 71 percent expect their overall financial situation to be ‘very or somewhat’ good over the next 12 months and 51 percent expect their revenues to increase ‘a little or a lot.”

Even with things looking up, there will undoubtedly be times of uncertainty at your small business. A customer or large client could go out of business or be bought, prices for goods and services you rely on can go up affecting your bottom line, or a new competitor with a lot of muscle and money behind it can come on the scene. At uncertain times like these, it’s natural that your team will begin to feel stress and worry about their future. The anxiety may be even greater among remote employees who do not feel as in the loop as their colleagues who come in the office every day.

When times are uncertain, your team looks to you for assurance and answers. It’s challenging to focus on the needs of your team and try to resolve the problem your small business is facing at the same time. Nevertheless,  you need to inspire confidence in your team and help everyone stay focused.

Here are five things you can do to manage your team in times of uncertainty:

Be available. Avoid detachment. Your team wants you to engage with them more than ever when times are uncertain. Don’t assume you need to keep everything to yourself. Communicate your concerns but keep your composure.

Stay focused: Don’t let worry sidetrack you or your team from taking the steps necessary to keep business moving ahead. Continue to focus on the goals and vision you had when you went in business in the first place. It may be helpful to write down a list of key action items or put together a comprehensive plan, if that’s what needed. You may need to refine processes. Get input from your team, as appropriate. Make sure everyone understands what their role is, which may change temporarily or even long term.

Be candid: Don’t try to paint a rosy picture. Be candid with your team about the situation and the challenges; but don’t be pessimistic. Your message should be about working together to resolve the problem.

Emphasize communication: Communication is a two-way street and never more important than during times of uncertainty. Share what you know and listen to what your team has to say about their concerns and doubts. Don’t necessarily wait for employees to come to you either. Ask questions and give feedback. You may want to hold more regularly scheduled meetings during a particularly challenging time. Use video and web conferencing tools, many of which are accessible across mobile platforms as well as the desktop so everyone can keep up to date no matter where they are.

Encourage risk taking: Your team may be less inclined to take risks when times are uncertain, but trying new things may be needed to get through the challenges. Encourage your team to think of new ways to solve problems and to take on new roles and responsibilities Acknowledge and commend them when they do.

Getting through uncertain times is a team effort. With the right leadership, your team will be up for the challenge.

About Judi Hembrough

Judi leads Americas Marketing strategy and go-to-market programs for the Small and Medium Business (SMB) customer segment at Plantronics. Judi has been a marketing director at Plantronics for 10 years in various roles focused on Strategic Alliances Marketing, SMB and Home & Home Office solutions. Prior to Plantronics, Judi was President of William-Christie Associates, Inc. -- a management consulting practice, for 10 years where she guided numerous companies such as Palm, Intuit, CBS MarketWatch and HID, in driving new initiatives.