Like most entrepreneurs, I have certainly experienced my share of ups and downs. When bad stuff happens the hardest part for me as the leader is putting aside personal fears, anger and frustration to help get the team back on track to success. No one understands this more than Mark Sinatra, the founder and CEO of 2015 Inc. 5000 company Staff One HR, a professional employer organization (PEO) based in Dallas. Recently on my podcast, YPO 10 Minute Tips From the Top, I interviewed Sinatra about these very challenges and how to overcome them.
Staff One HR, lost its biggest client back in 2011, putting the company in a dire situation. At the time, there were 28 employees whose livelihoods and future depended on the forthcoming decisions of the CEO.
Sinatra, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), remembers that day exactly and how he dealt with the situation moving forward. Obviously he steered the team to success since he made the Inc. 5000 list, and learned a lot along the way. It would be best to learn from his experience while hoping you never have to put his advice to use.
Here are some highlights below. For the rest of the story, click here for the podcast.
1. Take care of yourself first.
When crisis hits, it is easy to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly without considering your mental, emotional and physical health. Sinatra knew that in order to succeed, he had to be his number one client in the craziness. "I was so preoccupied with work, that when I was just focusing on getting myself right from a physical and mental standpoint, that really was the root that helped everything else fall into place," he noted. He altered his diet, ensuring that he was eating right and was constantly working out and engaging in physical activities to give his body space and time to recover from the constant stress.
2. Be transparent with employees.
Nobody likes to share constant bad news. As a leader, you want to be positive. But holding back on critical information is unfair to people whose lives could suddenly be altered if things fell apart. Still, sharing too much could cause some employees to jump ship before it sinks. Sinatra believes you have to keep people informed. "It's about creating that kind of transparent environment and deeply caring about the folks who are with the company," he stated. He noted that there were monthly updates on numbers and metrics and employees are constantly kept in the loop about the company.
3. Develop a specific plan for recovery.
Of course, simply telling employees about the crisis solves nothing unless there is a plan of action. Sinatra knew that flailing around would provide little security to the team. Giving them a structure reduced stress and kept them on track. "We were constantly communicating in detail on the plan and then executing. And then having the employees actually see that action carried out made them feel strong and secure." Sinatra noted.
4. Build unity through a core purpose.
Keeping employees invested in the company's future is tough when things are tense and scary. Sinatra found strength and glue in the purpose and vision of the company. He explains, "You have to paint that vision and that purpose and that higher goal that really drives people to come to work to company everyday and that is really the guiding light that can really build that community to recover from a destructive event like we experienced."
5. Lead by example.
Sinatra knew that regardless of the plan and the vision, everyone would look to him to lead the way. And he took it upon himself to make sure that he did not disappoint. His approach? To be very "hands-on." Sinatra described during our interview how he went to Houston, even going door-to-door with his team on prospect calls to talk positively about Staff One HR. "As the CEO, I wanted to send the message that all hands were on deck and I was taking it very personal to build the company back," said Sinatra.