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This is how CEOs can support employees during a crisis

In a time riddled with political instability, a global pandemic, and police brutality, companies need to prioritize the well being of their teams. Not sure where to start? Here’s a three step framework:

This is how CEOs can support employees during a crisis
[Source image: Anton_Sokolov/iStock]
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Last year was extremely tumultuous: a global pandemic that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, horrific acts of racial injustice that illustrated how far society is from reaching racial equity, and extreme political instability that further divided our country. With all of the pain and anguish experienced in 2020, the world was looking forward to 2021 and the fresh start that coincides with a new year.

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Unfortunately, that optimism was short lived. Less than one week into January, we witnessed atrocious acts of domestic terrorism when people stormed the US Capitol in an effort to undermine Democracy and stop the count of electoral votes. To make matters worse, their violent behavior was not met with brute force, like last summer’s BLM protestors, but rather met with light resistance.

As the media continued to show footage of the siege, I could not focus on work as a CEO. I knew my team would be affected as well. My co-founder, Ryan Williams, and I realized that we needed to respond quickly, authentically, and to prioritize the well-being of our team over all else.

Our response to crises was built upon what we learned from previous events, specifically the death of George Floyd. During last year’s crisis, our reaction wasn’t perfect; we were unorganized and slow to react as we were all trying to understand our own emotions of how another Black person can be so heartlessly murdered under the knee of a police officer. However, we knew crises weren’t going away and we had to be better prepared.

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We worked with the organization and created a three step crisis response framework:

Step 1: Acknowledge the situation internally, as soon as possible—it is important to acknowledge situations as they arise; people will be distracted and will look to leadership for support. As a leader, it is my responsibility to prioritize my team’s well-being by encouraging them to take time to process events. Protecting the mental health of your team should always be a leader’s top priority and it’s important to reiterate this during times of crisis.

Step 2: Convene the task force, within the first 12 hours of a crisis—after the events of this past summer, we created a task force to help Jopwell organize and proactively respond to major events affecting our team, our community, and our country. Within the task force, there are subcommittees that help us deliver on this mission:
Resources—subgroup responsible for collecting and vetting the resources and tools we use to respond
Response—subgroup responsible for putting pen to paper and structuring Jopwell’s point of view
Execution—subgroup responsible for disseminating our response across various mediums

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Currently, one third of Jopwell’s team is on the task force, with representatives from across the organization to ensure a holistic response that covers all facets of the business. Whenever there is a major event, we convene the task force.

Step 3: Hold space, within the first 24 hours—it is embedded within Jopwell’s culture to come to work authentically and as your true self. Allowing people a safe space to share their thoughts during times of crises is a strong part of that. As part of our response, we create space for people to voluntarily share their thoughts and discuss their feelings.

During the siege on the US Capitol, we applied this framework:

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Step 1: Acknowledge the situation internally—Ryan and I each sent our own note to the team, conveying our thoughts and encouraging our colleagues to focus on their mental health and wellbeing. We encouraged the company to take the necessary time to process what was happening and we reaffirmed that leaders were present with open doors if anyone wanted to discuss what they were feeling.

Step 2: Convene the task force—I requested an emergency meeting of the task force to begin brainstorming our internal and external response. During this meeting, we agreed to issue a statement to our community and to our clients, publicly condemning these acts, and to host a private town hall for our clients. Historically, we hosted events to support our community members, but in this instance, we wanted to share tools and resources with our clients to help them support their teams internally.

Step 3: Hold space—We held an optional company meeting led by Ryan and me. We began the meeting by sharing our own personal thoughts on the event before breaking out into smaller, more intimate group discussions facilitated by leaders from the business.

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While our response was much more organized and timely this time, there are still improvements to be made. Responding to crises is an ongoing learning opportunity and can rarely be perfected given the nature of the work. However, it is important to build a framework that is all encompassing and reflects your company’s culture. At Jopwell, we pride ourselves on being empathetic experts and encourage authenticity in all of our work. Our framework reflects that and prioritizes our team’s well being above all else.


Porter Braswell is the cofounder and CEO of Jopwell and the author of Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work.