Here are a few words I wrote a while ago for my people about how to handle 1:1s where there is a crisis in a company, such as layoffs, market uncertainty, or COVID-X :D

Building Trust

What you’re going to find in this post won’t be useful if your reports don’t trust you.

That’s why it is important to be a consistent and dependable manager who is really truly interested in helping them. Don’t promise things you’re not sure you can achieve. Be honest with your answers, if you don’t know something say it. If something was poorly managed or communicated, admit it, if there are plans/initiatives to improve it don’t forget to mention them (as long as it’s ok to make them public though).

Make an extra effort for easy wins, whenever there is an easy way to solve an issue go for it. These small things show that you’re trying to help them and you’re there.

Now it’s the time to be meticulous, if you said you’re going to do something then do it, you don’t want your people to think that you don’t care or that you don’t have time for them.

Be present. Tell them you’re there for them whenever they need you.

Our focus should be removing ambiguity and uncertainty.

Both of them lead to conflict and discouragement because people are going to fill in the blanks, and they’re going to do it in a time where they are feeling most fearful and uncertain about their jobs, so it’s not going to be good.

As a rule of thumb, you should over-communicate what you do know and be honest about what you don’t know and repeat the information again and again. If you know people are concerned about the future of the company, their jobs, or any situation that might be happening. Try to address it and explain clearly why they don’t need to be worried, but don’t lie if there is uncertainty it’s better to acknowledge it and help them navigate it, most companies nowadays have specific resources for wellbeing, remind your people they can use them.

For example, someone from my team was really worried about the future of her project, so in the last 1:1 I’ve brought up the subject and explained to her why there is nothing to be worried about, something I had already told her, but repeating the message is important for the message to sink in.
We should try to be more push-based than pull on communication or proactive instead of reactive, even for simple things. Most times people solve questions because their reports are asking them, which means they’ve been wondering about them for a while.

Belongingness

During a crisis, especially when there are people leaving the company or there are a lot of changes, most people lose their sense of belonging, the connection to a group of people, and when this happens their amygdala perceives problems as a threat. This is the typical fight or flight.

This means that it’s more difficult for them to listen, to see things in a positive way. So you should try to reinforce that feeling, how? Talking about their teams and the things they’re achieving together. For example:
I’m really impressed with the work we’ve done with X. The way we took ownership of the project was great! We were super proactive, the moment we realized about the project we analyzed it to understand what was the best approach for the long term. I’m especially impressed by how we managed to handle stakeholders, we convinced them of the way to do it and we’ve been able to implement it on time, just in two weeks. Impressive. It’s just great to see how this team works together to achieve goals.

Questions we can ask in the 1:1

Showing concern and awareness of the situation. Showing them that you care.

  • I wanted to check in and see if there’s anything I could do to support you right now. I know the answer to this question is probably obvious but how are you holding up with all the things we’re passing through?

Opinions entirely my own. Sr Eng manager @eventbrite ex @google . Management, critical thinking & psychology. http://medium.com/@flopezluis/