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How Do You Handle Turbulence?

It is impossible to dodge turbulence. What is the secret to improving performance during turbulent times?

Turbulence can be caused by a variety of external and internal factors. To truly qualify as turbulence, it probably needs more than one cause. Often turbulence is the result of an external change followed by a less than effective internal response.

When the leadership is slow to recognize that a nonprofit is in turbulence, the result is a serious problem that needs to be solved, a lack of resources to respond to the challenge, and very little time to respond. Without more time, a plan, and resources, often the response is to make do.

Successfully making do requires good morale, a highly motivated staff, and peak performance from the staff. In short, the great people who are working at your nonprofit need to be greater. To thrive during turbulent times you must raise morale, motivation, and performance.

Morale – Depends on hope, optimism, being part of a team, believing success is possible, and a belief that the goal is worth attaining.

Motivation – Depends on understanding the adverse consequence (What does failure mean?), immediate results (If I do what you ask, what will be the immediate benefit?), logical sequence (What needs to be done makes sense and there is a structured way to achieve success.), positive emotional engagement (Whatever needs to be done will result in positive emotional feedback like joy, happiness satisfaction, pride, etc.), and it serves a higher purpose (something beyond the individual, group, organization, and clients).

Performance – Depends on increased quality, effectiveness, efficiency, and consistency.

It is important to remember that after every turbulent period it is best to have a period of quiet. Leaping from one crisis to another exhausts the team. Exhausted teams are nearly impossible to motivate. Morale is difficult to manage because the last big push feels like it failed since the next crisis occurred immediately. Put another way, the third consecutive crisis usually crushes hope, optimism, and belief that success is possible. Performance usually peaks during the first crisis. Is it sensible to try to push beyond the peak?

Next Step:

Set the goal larger than you expect to need to help prevent falling short and creating a second crisis

Make sure all five motivators are present when you introduce the crisis (adverse consequences, immediate results, logical sequence, positive emotional engagement, and higher purpose – any order will do)

Make sure every team member receives a morale boost each day

Let the team members define how performance will be improved

Loss of control is a common feeling during turbulent times. Giving the staff the freedom to define the performance improvements and objectives provides them with a sense of control.

Turbulent times are also times when sustainability is low. Moving from turbulence to calm quickly also quickly restores sustainability. In fact, nonprofits which quickly recover from a period of turbulence often find their sustainability is higher immediate after the crisis than it was before the crisis.

A time of turbulence is an opportunity to demonstrate your greatness as a leader. Show that you care, keep morale high, motivate the team, encourage performance improvements, and avoid false or overly optimistic communication and you will be seen as a great leader after the crisis passes.

Use even the smallest challenge as an opportunity to practice your crisis management skills.

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