Why you should never waste a good crisis
“Crises are inevitable, which is why it’s important to approach challenges with an open mind, focusing on the value and opportunity they bring,” writes Yulia Trakhtenberg, VP R&D at Gloat
If you work at a startup that’s experiencing hyper-growth, you know that optimism, passion, and faith are must-haves. These qualities drive us to see challenges as opportunities. The challenges we face make such a big impact on shaping our company, and are fundamental to our overall success. At the end of the day, crises are inevitable, which is why it’s important to approach challenges with an open mind, focusing on the value and opportunity they bring.
In times of challenges, it’s more important than ever for organizations to demonstrate their appreciation for employees. Our teams are not afraid to go above and beyond to address the most difficult issues, and such resilience cannot be ignored.
Beyond that, the crisis is a great opportunity to train new people. As a growing startup, we have challenges that large companies do not experience, which means that the circle of influence each of our employees and team leaders carries holds lots of weight. Establishing direct and clear procedures during the crisis, different from what the company usually has can help deal with difficult situations right off the bat.
Moreover, transparency and communication are key to turning crises into opportunities. The information should be easily accessible, tasks must be prioritized, and practical solutions must be available for team members during a crisis. During stressful times, workers seek information and metrics. My recommendation is to deliver critical information to everyone and regularly update the team to reduce uncertainty. It’s worth checking in with your direct subordinates, as well as the entire team so that everyone feels cared for and valued.
Assembling a crisis management team can help dramatically during the crisis itself. This is the factor that enables teams to make decisions quickly. Nearly a year ago, one of our enterprise customers informed us that they’d be hosting an event in which thousands of their employees would be using our system. We’d never experienced such an event, and we weren’t sure what to expect. We had two options - to miss a growth opportunity or to jump in the water head-first.
After weeks of preparation, the event was underway. And still, even with all of the hard work put into place, the system had difficulty withstanding the huge load of users. A ‘War Room’ was established with all of the key company stakeholders, including, R&D, DevOps, QA, BizDev, and Customer Success. We developed a set of quick solutions and covered everything necessary for the event with monitors and dashboards. We found bottlenecks, added more machines where we could, and even decided to close a particular feature to allow the system to work more smoothly. In the end, about 50,000 users entered the platform, and as a result of the challenges we faced, we built an entirely new operational team for the long term.
For the organization, this crisis became a huge opportunity. Junior employees learned from the veterans, new levels of trust were built between team members, and we were more honest about our mistakes. The crisis helped us to understand the urgency of such change, and strengthened the levels of trust between the teams. Thus it has become one of the most fundamental building blocks of our team, leading us to develop a robust architecture and improved monitoring systems.
In general, facing a crisis is frightening; perhaps that's why not many people talk about their challenges and difficulties. But I want to encourage anyone facing a seemingly impossible challenge to talk about it. There's probably at least one person you know who's been through something similar and can give advice, or at least be there for you. Every big problem is really just made up of a lot of little problems. The key is to deal with each issue piece by piece. When you zoom in, the individual problems don’t seem nearly as daunting. The greatest benefit that a crisis can bring to your company is the chance to learn from it. Reflect on your approach and think about what you can do to avoid the same problem in the future.
Yulia Trakhtenberg is VP R&D at Gloat