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Leading Your Workforce During Times of Terror

By Greg Smith
Posted Thursday, September 9, 2004

Management consultant Greg Smith says the way you "TAKE CHARGE" of your employees in these difficult times could shape the future of your company.

As the national election and the third anniversary of 911 approaches, the workforce has been on an emotional roller coaster. People have fallen to terrible lows of fear, anger, and frustration, risen to mountain top experiences of patriotism, and fallen again. On and on it goes. While no one knows when the threat of terrorism will end, one fact is indisputable: the out-of-control emotions of our employees will have an impact on our organizations. How can business leaders lead in the wake of this situation?

No two people will respond to these events in exactly the same way. Some may seem unaffected, others may exhibit cynicism, and still others may react in dramatic ways.

Managers have a critical role to play in these uncertain times; indeed, how managers treat their employees today will continue to resonate tomorrow. Managers need a strategy for helping their people and organizations get through the current crisis. Greg Smith offers the following 10 steps-which is organized under the acronym TAKE CHARGE-for managing, motivating, and leading your employees:

T - Target fears and anxiety.Employers who address the concerns of the workforce will go a long way to provide a safe, secure, and productive workplace. People traverse through a span of emotions during threats of terrorism beginning with concerns over their individual safety, their family, their friends, their job and finally their financial security. Managers should have plans to address each of these concerns in order of importance.

A - Accept the fact performance and productivity will drop. People respond differently in crisis situations. Expect to see lower attendance, difficulty concentrating, refusal to fly on airplanes, requests for sick leave and increased absenteeism--all normal responses. People will need to talk more, a natural aspect of dealing with the threat. The more they talk the healthier the organization becomes.

K - Keep communication open. Information is powerful-an energy source. Meet with staff members at all levels to identify concerns, as well as to promote resources and other services. Use focus groups and town hall meetings to help people deal with the threat. Keep websites updated with crisis plans and provide a place for people to watch or listen to the news at the workplace.

E - Educate managers and supervisors. Front-line supervisors and middle management are the backbone of the organization and the first-line of defense. Training should include how to identify and reduce stress, as well as how to refer individuals to professional assistance if needed.

C - Cultivate a calm, confident, and compassionate leadership style. Don't underestimate the importance of your personal leadership style. Simple expressions of concern and consideration go a long way. Managers should compartmentalize their own personal feelings.

H - Help those in need first. First and foremost--make no assumptions on how people feel in time of crisis. Some individuals may need professional assistance-so insure they understand how to access the employee assistance program. (EAP) Family members and employees activated for military service are particularly vulnerable. Identify employees who have family members in the military, and also know those employees who are in the reserve and National Guard.

A - Activate crisis plans-Ensure your organization has plans that correspond with the Homeland Security Advisory System. Employees need to know what they are supposed to do when Threat Conditions increase. Plans should include how you will communicate these conditions to your workforce. (The Threat Conditions are Green = Low, Blue = Guarded, Yellow = Elevated, Orange = High, Red = Severe.)

R - Restrict negative behavior. No matter how you feel about the war or the threat of terrorism, make sure you draw the line to prevent abuse, harassment, and venting of anger on other people. Make clear, in no uncertain terms, that behavior of this sort will not be tolerated and will be dealt with in the strictest terms.

G - Get people to focus on a higher calling. War and terrorism creates psychological damage on individual self worth. It violates them and attempts to rob them of control over their life. Management's role is to help give control back to people to focus, to motivate them toward a cause where they can make a difference.

E - Expect and plan for the inevitable. It is everyone's hope the threats of terrorism will cease, but it will be unlikely. Begin planning how your organization will respond in the event of an actual terrorist attack. Keep your disaster plans and emergency notification rosters updated. Prepare yourself for what could be a long and emotional time period.

Embracing these ten steps is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do from a business standpoint. Your employees will remember how you treated them and their family members during this highly emotional time. If you want your organization to be a place where the best and the brightest will want to work in the future, you must be very careful what you do in the here and now.

About the Author
Greg Smith is a nationally recognized author, business performance consultant, and authority on leadership. He is a former Army officer who was involved in terrorist situations. He has written numerous books including his latest, Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention. Greg has been featured on television programs such as Bloomberg News, PBS television, and in publications including Business Week, USA Today, Kiplinger's, President and CEO, and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the President and "Captain of the Ship" of a management-consulting firm, Chart Your Course International, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464. More articles available at (


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