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Leading Through A Crisis: Five Factors for Success

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Leading Through A Crisis: Five Factors for Success

  • Dr. Ari D. Kalechstein
  • On 27 July, 2020

As the President and CEO of Executive Mental Health (EMH), and like many other leaders of small healthcare companies, managing a business in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary challenge. In March, it was do or die; specifically, as facilities closed their doors to outside visitors, we decided to reinvent our operation to provide mental health services remotely via TeleHealth. Had we not made that existential decision, up to 60% of the EMH staff could have lost their livelihood.

Unsurprisingly, the change was hard; nonetheless, we executed the concept and learned a lot along the way. Here are five critical factors healthcare leaders might consider to maximize the likelihood of successful company transition in times of crisis.

  • 1. Be honest with your team: Fear of exposure to COVID-19 and job security were concerns for EMH staff. We highlighted that the health and safety of our employees is a priority, provided PPE, and created protocols to maximize safety. We were honest and let them know we care about them – they are our most important asset. Moreover, and instead of projecting bravado and sureness about the outcome of the pandemic, we were honest with our team. I told them:

    • • I understand that you’re afraid and unsure. Most people are.
    • • If you do not want to go into facilities, then you do not have to.
    • • My goal is to keep the entire staff onboard without layoffs.
    • • We are going to create a pathway for success. Just hang in there.

    According to the feedback from my staff, this approach was much appreciated. It gave them confidence that:

    • • We have an open dialogue about our business’ prospects.
    • • Together we would identify a pathway to success.

  • 2. Find new benchmarks for success: During the course of the lifetime of a company, it is expected that a company will face some sort of existential challenge, whether it be a downturn in the economy, a change within a particular industry, and/or an unanticipated situational factor, e.g., COVID-19. Those challenges create the need for business leaders and their team(s) to identify new guideposts/markers for success. Additionally, it is useful to identify intermediate benchmarks rather than a single benchmark of success. This approach allows teams to experience success on a more frequent basis and for a leader to commend those successes.

  • At EMH, we identified the intermediate benchmarks as finding the right tools for our new trade, consulting in the right partners to test the program, and encouraging each of the team members during this transitional phase. Once those intermediate goals were achieved, we sought to attain the next series of goals - - ensuring that our clinicians had full caseloads and returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of productivity.

  • 3. Communicate the vision and collaborate on the solutions: With our new benchmarks in hand, we started talking openly with staff about the successes and failures and received honest feedback from them on our progress. For EMH, and during the first 8 weeks, that meant twice-daily executive team Zoom meetings, including weekends, to engage the team in collective problem-solving. My experience has been that, combining independent consideration of strategies for problem solving, and then reviewing those strategies with the EMH team, resulted in a more efficient, effective process by which solution were identified. Furthermore, and because the solutions were created by the team, the solutions were easier to implement because the team participated in the creation of those solutions.

  • 4. Recognize and share success. When individuals/teams are managing significant changes, there is a greater risk for members of the team to feel anxious and/or have doubts about their ability(ies) to implement new strategies. Hence, I positively reinforced the efforts by my team to adapt to these changes and navigate the uncertainty. Although most leaders understand the value/benefit of providing positive feedback to team members, it can be overlooked looked during times of transition and great stress. My experience has been that team members are more likely to flourish when they are recognized publicly for their successes. Furthermore, and from my perspective, it is important to remember to spread the credit around to each of the team members who earned it. As I have repeatedly told my team, “Even if I create a brilliant concept, it only works if my team believes in and executes it.”

  • 5. Make time for human connection. In times of crisis, people are scared, sometimes lonely, and search for ways to remain interconnected. In the absence of watercooler moments or afterhours meetings, we instituted Zoom-equipped fireside chats. Even in sunny Southern California, FDR’s brilliant communication strategy worked for our team. It allowed us a time to communicate weekly successes, shed light on the colleagues responsible for those successes, communicate future goals, and say how we were going to achieve them. We shared the spotlight, rotating talks from me as CEO to clinicians and community liaisons, as well as outside guests. Each had a unique and very personal story on how EMH had affected their lives, and how they’ve managed in the time of COVID-19.

Even faced with a pandemic, we can motivate teams by being transparent and by encouraging positive change. For more ideas on leadership in times of COVID-19, check out:


Dr. Ari Kalechstein is the president and CEO of Executive Mental Health.