How Business Leaders Can Thrive Through Chaos

Business woman leads her team through chaos

I grew up as a "latchkey" kid with both parents working. My routine involved walking home from school alone, letting myself into my house with my "key," and taking care of myself until my parents came home in the evening.

I quickly learned the value of problem-solving and how to handle stressful situations (i.e., my dog getting out and being attacked, to needing to go to the doctors for stitches but having to wait until my parents got home).

These skills have been beneficial to me throughout my career as I've helped companies drive change through chaos.

Companies today are continually faced with re-organizations, downsizing, layoffs, mergers & acquisitions, and marketplace shifts, leaving an aftermath of chaos. Companies that operate in this chaos typically have these common characteristics:

  1. Policies or procedures are non-existent, poorly implemented, or not enforced.
  2. The organization is more reactive than proactive.
  3. There are layers of bureaucracy, with a lack of accountability across the organization.
  4. There is an absence of transparency.
  5. There is a lack of communication across the organization.

As you see these chaotic signs within your company, it's time to step up and take a leadership role. Here are three things you can do to drive change and thrive through the chaos.

1. Provide Impactful Leadership

Business leader drives change through chaos


Providing impactful leadership starts with being able to ruthlessly prioritize, drive meaningful collaboration, and empower others.

  • Prioritizing is hugely challenging, but critical to gaining alignment and driving business results. Without it, businesses flounder.
  • To create a meaningful, collaborative environment, it's important to set clear goals and expectations, foster team cohesion, and celebrate the wins.
  • In building successful, engaging teams, it's critical to encourage and support the decision-making environment to give employees the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions.

I recently worked for a cannabis company where there were the usual chaotic signs: lack of prioritization, no policies/procedures, lack of communication across the organization, and everything being an urgent request. The first thing I did was prioritize what our strategic initiatives were, aligning with both senior leadership and my team.

Once priorities were aligned, the next step was ensuring team collaboration by giving them direction, setting clear expectations and providing them with the tools they needed to do their jobs in order to help drive quick wins.

In the first six months on the job, as a team, we were able to drive significant change and business results. We launched new edible products (15 SKUs) supported with new packaging, a first-ever senior leadership approved marketing plan, $75K savings in excess inventory management, a new finance/marketing budget management system, and a significant presence at industry events.

Being able to effectively prioritize, collaborate, and empower employees led to increased productivity and employee engagement. The bonus was being able to bring everyone and everything together to achieve those big wins which was hugely gratifying!

2. Improve Business Processes

Woman shows leadership through chaos


The second thing you can do to thrive through the chaos is to improve business processes by allocating team resources, implementing project and document management tools, and templatizing documents and assets.

  • Allocate team resources to maximize the potential to drive increased productivity. It's important to understand the scope of the project/assignment. Make sure the right people are assigned to the right project. Lastly, ensure all resources have the needed support.
  • Leverage project and document management tools to create an organized approach for increased organizational collaboration and improved productivity.
  • Create templatized documents and assets which help teams by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

At this cannabis company that I worked for, project management was going to be key in order to drive collaboration, communication, and transparency throughout the organization, which had been significantly lacking. I worked with my team to leverage Sharepoint (managing event logistics to new product launches) and developed quarterly reports & marketing templates (budgets, marketing plans).

These types of business process solutions that were implemented improved employee morale through increased efficiency and productivity, while also driving bottom-line savings. Being part of a work environment where you can make a significant impact like this is tremendously rewarding.

3. Develop A Strategy

Manager leads his team during chaotic times


As a leader, it is expected that you will develop a strategy to drive business objectives, aligning you and your team to the overall organization's vision. A strategy can provide a shared vision for the organization, especially when times are tough, providing a purpose for everyone to rally around.

During my time at the cannabis company, I worked with my team to develop the first approved marketing strategy that was able to effectively execute against the brand's vision.

How Executives Can Thrive In Chaos

From my experiences of driving change through organizational chaos, I realized I needed to be calm, focused, and prepared as I implemented my key strategies: providing impactful leadership, improving business processes, and developing a strategy. In today's noisy and chaotic world, leaders will need to be prepared to manage through the chaos in all its forms.