Leadership during a crisis

Article by Rachel Houghton, managing director at Business Moves Group (BMG)

HR leader, confident female business leader, leadershipI wish I could say that this was the first crisis I’ve dealt with as a business leader.

I was promoted to managing director of BMG in 2008. Two weeks later, the collapse of the Lehman Brothers preceded the financial crash. On the plus side, I learned some valuable lessons about leadership during a crisis that I’ve been able to put to use over the past few months.


Adaptability and resilience is absolutely key, and it has to start with you. You must be resilient and build a resilient team. Without a resilient team, how can you have a resilient business? Effective leaders will work closely with their senior management teams to identify how the business can adapt. These conversations need to be ongoing as the situation is so fluid, with Government guidance regularly being updated.

From there, leaders are in a position to speak with their employees and ask them to take on roles that they may not normally be involved in. At the same time, there must be a recognition from leaders that not everyone will be able to take on various roles, and employees must feel able to communicate that.


Clear and frequent communication with all employees is an absolute must. This includes staff who are working and those who are furloughed.

For the staff who are working, communication needs to be honest, open and non-judgemental. Leaders must demonstrate that they trust and are loyal to their staff. They can do this by being open to feedback, new ideas and criticism. In return, employees will show their loyalty and the business will be in a stronger position as a result.

Communication about non-working issues is just as important. Leaders must remember that everyone is experiencing this situation differently. People working from home might be balancing that with childcare and home schooling. Others may have concerns about vulnerable family members.

Contacting employees on an individual basis is a powerful way to show leadership. It shows that you care, you are listening and that you are invested in them as a person. We’ve worked hard throughout the crisis to ensure that everyone still feels part of the same team, regardless of whether or not they are furloughed. Our work WhatsApp group has been a hive of activity as everyone keeps in touch and supports each other.


Even at the best of times, there are some decisions which can be tough to make and require a lot of thought. That’s a luxury we’ve not been afforded during this crisis. Decisions have had to be taken quickly and sometimes without knowing the whole picture.

Our primary responsibility since day one has been to protect the business. After all, without the business we’d all be without our livelihoods. But therein lies the problem – for most businesses, the obvious solution to reducing costs is by scaling back on staff, which goes against the desire to protect staff.

I had a good idea of what needed to be done at BMG in order to keep the business operating, but rather than making the decision and telling my teams, I reached out to everyone to suggest an appropriate course of action and to ask for their support.

This proved to be the right way to go. Everyone was very understanding and offered to do whatever it took to help the business and their colleagues get through this. By consulting everyone before announcing anything, people felt empowered. With so much job uncertainty across the country, showing employees that you value their feedback is critical.

As well as communication, my top tip for decision-making is being strong enough to change course whenever new facts or information surfaces. The COVID-19 crisis has been fast-moving and Government advice is changing all the time. Leaders must stay up-to-date on the facts, adapt their strategies and communicate this to employees. It’s essential to communicate the ‘why’ behind a change as much as it is the ‘what’.

Following these fundamentals – communication, adaptability and resilience – will form a strong foundation for effective leadership. As difficult as this crisis has been, and will continue to be, it can also be the ultimate learning and development opportunity. Grab it with both hands and you’ll be so much stronger when we come out on the other side.

About the author

Rachel HoughtonRachel is responsible for the strategic growth and day to day management of Business Moves Group. She is a company-wide mentor and change agent in the business and thrives on decision making and innovation. She works with a strong management team and continues to develop close relationships with the client base and has overall responsibility for HR, Health and Safety and Compliance.

During her tenure, Rachel has restructured the organisation, grown the business divisions and rebranded the company. She heads up the bid team for major contracts to deliver sustainable client solutions fit for purpose. She has held a number of positions at BMG in project management, operations, sales, as commercial director and now as managing director. She is passionate about evolving the company and making it a fun and effective place to work.



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