As Anne Warren and I have been researching the new normal, the reality of the length, depth, and complexity of the Pandemic – now coupled with a Worldwide Recession and Civil Unrest – continues to require a different leadership focus.
But before you can lead well, you need to take stock of how YOU are doing. Self-care in a crisis, especially a long one, is your number one job. Otherwise, you can’t be there for your organization or your employees. During this time you have experienced your own personal challenges while also having the huge burden of being responsible for the survival of the organization and the livelihood of your employees. You need to have compassion for yourself. Focusing on replenishment and renewal is needed to be resilient. The definition of resilience is to recover readily – this is not possible if you are not intentional about taking care of yourself. Eat well – more vegetables, less carbs. More water, less coffee and alcohol. More sleep, some exercise. More outdoors, less screen time. Maintaining physical and emotional health is critical. Try as you might, you cannot give what you do not possess.
One day, like with any crisis, we will walk away with lessons learned that will help us as we move forward and adjust to a new way of work. Alas, work WILL be different. We want you to be on the winning side of this new reality. Below are five additional recommendations to improve your chances!
- Be reflective and curious – Spend this time reflecting on what you’ve learned so far during the pandemic. As an organization, what did you do/are you doing that has improved your way of working? Celebrate these things and identify how to leverage them moving forward.
Try naming three specifics. For many companies it was a time of greater collaboration and agility. Did you create new ways of working together? Was there increased innovation? More risk taking? How do you harness these things? Also, in a curious way, what weaknesses were revealed? How do you avoid these things going forward? As COVID continues to impact your business this fall and beyond, how can you take advantage of what you have experienced so far. Again, get specific about what you will do or not do going forward.
- Be empathetic – Your employees and your customers continue to be shell-shocked. Besides trying to work, they are busy comforting spouses and friends who have lost their jobs, seeing their financial cushion disappear and most difficult, dealing with their own illness or the illness or death of loved ones. And now, with summer coming to a close, managing home schooling as well!
You need to meet your people where they are. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as Gary Burnison of Korn Ferry suggests. “No one is interested in talking about the company’s strategic plan when they are out buying hand sanitizer and masks…once their basic needs are addressed then the focus can shift to alignment, common purpose and even opportunity for growth.”
Empathy is defined as the identification or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another. This comes more naturally to some than others. The good news is research shows that it can be learned. There is a plethora of books, articles, and on-line courses that help educate around empathy and a key skill that enables empathy, active listening. Empathy engenders trust and loyalty which will not only help you now but will increase the likelihood of continued support and your people’s willingness to go the extra mile as this crisis continues. It is not just soft stuff – As Prudy Gourguechen from Forbes writes, “ It (empathy) allows you to predict the effect of your decisions and actions will have on core audiences and strategize accordingly.”
Being encouraging, supportive and a good listener will be just as important going forward.
- Provide clarity and direction – We want things to get back to normal but the reality is that this will never happen. We can’t go back – the world, the economy as well as your industry and competition have changed. As a leader you need to anticipate what the new “normal” will be. During times of crisis the thinking and planning cycle must be shorter. People need direction now!
Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, refers to a quote from Napolean when thinking about crisis leadership: “Define reality, give hope.” Acknowledging the difficult situation and inspiring and providing reasons to remain confident are key. I would argue, however, that there is one additional element to add: provide a way forward/a plan. Connect employees to the future and where the organization is going. Make a shifting strategy clear and provide context.
Whether your company is still in survival mode or seeing some recovery, minimize distraction by focusing on what drives value and competitiveness versus what is non-essential. This is not a time for multiple agendas. Provide clarity in direction, establish key priorities and set expectations. Help the team see the possibilities and galvanize their support.
- Be prepared – This crisis is not going away for a while. Now is the time to plan your company’s continued response. With early COVID still fresh fresh in everyone’s memory bring rigor to dealing with the next set of disruptive events. Gene Klann in his book “Crisis Leadership” suggests you take a page from the Army and conduct an After Action Review, their tried and true method of learning to improve following an incident. After Action Reviews are particularly helpful when the larger war still rages!
Get those who have played a key role in business continuity together and focus on validations and lessons learned. Validations are those things that went well and as planned. Celebrate those! Take a two pronged approach on lessons learned, things that were not done well and things not planned for that should have been done to help the situation. Remember, this is not a time for blaming. It is an opportunity to demonstrate support and appreciation and be better prepared for what is ahead.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – Did I say communicate? I can’t say this enough. It is the underpinning of all the recommendations above. It is critical to connect more than usual. As a leader you need to be present, visible and available. Candid and personal communication demonstrates empathy. It provides opportunity to acknowledge and thank the staff for their dedication during a difficult and stressful time.
As change management has taught us, key messages need to be delivered multiple times. Remember you and your senior team will have wrestled with redefining the strategy and creating the plan for going forward. Through this process you have become committed to the new vision. Your people need time and further understanding to buy-in and get on board. Provide them with the “why” as well as the “how” to engender their commitment.
COVID-19 has had consequences for employees, customers and stakeholders. While some of these consequences are challenging, some may also prove to be beneficial. How do you harness the good and move past the bad? It is all about leadership. Hopefully the above steps will assist you as you reflect on how to lead your organization through the next chapter of the pandemic. To be successful, stay curious, be empathetic, provide clarity, practice continued preparedness, keep listening and communicate often. Together we will get to the other side of this!
We at P2Excellence are here to help and support you as you plan for what is next for your organization.