Leading Through Crisis: Advice from Mitchell Elegbe
With lots of information circulating on how to adapt to the crisis, we decided to seek out best practices from experienced business leaders to help entrepreneurs navigate this period of uncertainty.
In a session with Mitchell Elegbe (Founder & Group Managing Director, Interswitch Group and Board-Member, Endeavor Nigeria), he shared his concerns and perspective on how entrepreneurs can become better leaders through this crisis. Having successfully grown his fintech company to unicorn status, Mitchell Elegbe is a people-centric leader who believes in motivating his people to have confidence in their value as individuals and team members.
The wellbeing of your employees is crucial
As CEO, Mitchell’s concerns began with the welfare of his 1,000+ employees working remotely. He checks in with 32 direct reports daily; a culture he advised should be passed down.
“This is an opportunity to stay close to your staff. The way you handle your staff will define the way they see the organisation post-COVID”.
- Ensure that ALL employees are equipped to work remotely. For jobs that can’t be done remotely, ensure that there are safety precautions in place to keep employees feeling secure.
- Set new priorities for your team. Perhaps now is not the best time to set new sales targets; instead, encourage team members to check in on their clients and customers. Additionally, think of ways to keep your employees engaged, focused, and active (i.e. team bonding activities such as a virtual fitness class).
- There are many ways to prevent layoffs. This could mean a top-down approach to salary cuts, to ensure that you retain as many employees as possible. If your company is not making any profit, it’s a tough decision. Whatever choice you make, when the crisis is over, people will remember your actions.
Communicate clearly with your employees and stakeholders
Mitchell’s communication strategy includes communicating with his board of directors, employees, investors, and clients.
- You’re bound to get bad news during a crisis. How you handle it will communicate with your employees that you care about their wellbeing. By leading with courage, you inspire others to do the same.
- Investors want to see returns. You have to let them know that there is a plan; “it isn’t cancelled, but it is delayed”.
- Develop a method to communicate with your stakeholders (i.e. a colour coded business driver diagram for updating your board on the health of your company). Use other communication channels such as emails, WhatsApp, and phone calls.
- Have contingencies in place (i.e. a succession plan that identifies what team members are ready now, or will be ready in years to come).
If you’re raising money, it’s going to be much harder now
For most companies raising money, you need to be able to convince your shareholders that when this is over, you aren’t worse off. “As an entrepreneur, the ability to show potential investors that you have a plan — which is delayed because of the crisis, but not useless — will give them some comfort.”
- Have a two-pronged mentality. Ask yourself, “when everything gets back to normal, how do we position ourselves perfectly for investors?” And on the flip side, “if things get worse, how do we sustain the business?”
- Ensure that your investors understand your market.
3 Tips for Leading in a Crisis
- Have a conviction that you will get through this; that you will not face a challenge you cannot overcome. The crisis is a season, and it will pass. African business leaders need to keep building the confidence of investors and use this opportunity to show resilience.
- As a leader, your shareholders, board, employees and customers are all trying to gain inspiration from you. “When you panic you take the wrong steps. Remaining calm in the middle of the storm is very important.”
- Place multiple bets and explore all the options. “I do not believe that when one door closes, another opens. All the doors were open on day one, and you only picked one. You only started looking for another one after the first one closed.”
Your people matter
- Be aware that for many of your employees, their job is their livelihood. It’s one thing to let someone go due to poor performance, but when the forces are beyond you, make sure you keep the heart of your staff with you. “In tough times, don’t give your employees the impression that you will throw them under the bus.”
Accept that there are things you can’t control. As a CEO, all eyes are on you; you’ll be forced to make tough decisions and some of them will come with a cost. People never forget how you treat them when they need you; for staff or customers, their well-being should be the primary concern. Right now, it’s important to adapt to the situation; but once the crisis is over, be ready to kick-off strong. If you get the fundamentals right, you can manage this crisis.