How leaders can create a new and better normal
COVID-19 is causing far more damage than just financial damage. Leaders are scrambling to secure supplies, keep fearful employees motivated to work, and, in some cases, keep bold strategic plans that have been years in the making from falling apart.
Indeed, this is an unnerving test of corporate leadership. Following are the tips that experts have come across the world on how leaders can help their organizations navigate all this. Here’s what they had to say.
Leading With Agility And Humility
Experts say workers want to feel they’re in the same boat as the boss. “People need to know that even though the leader is employed to manage and run a business, he or she is also a human being—someone that cares for them and understands what they are going through. The leader must lead from the front, exhibiting the values and behaviors they expect from the team.
Leading from the front doesn’t mean being isolated, however. To be sure, for many leaders, one of the hardest things to do is to rely on the opinions and decisions of other people. But that’s exactly what they need to do in times of crisis, especially when the cause of the crisis is outside of their area of expertise.
Leaders also have to be agile, in changing not only plans and work schedules but also their own leadership styles. In fact, it is likely to be the case that different leadership styles will be needed as the year progresses through different stages. Right now, for instance, an affiliative and participative style of leadership, where decisions are made through consensus and based on relationships, may be best. Later, assuming the virus runs its course, a pacesetting “run fast and keep up” style or a more directive “here’s what we need to do to make up for lost time” approach may be in order.
Explicit And Transparent Communication
At this point, leaders should know that they need to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis. Experts say executives have to communicate quickly and clearly to be in front of potential issues rather than having to counter misinformation. And with a viral outbreak such as this, different organizations will need to communicate differently—airline employees and stakeholders have different concerns than those of an industrial B2B company, for instance. Communications should be tailored to each stakeholder constituency based on their unique concerns.
Communicating with employees about what protocols the organization is putting in place to keep them safe should always come first. With partners and vendors, he suggests establishing a project team to monitor the situation and relay updates. Investor relations, corporate communications, and management teams should work in unison to navigate the response from investors and consumers and address any concerns proactively.
Experts say leaders need to be authentic and transparent. People are obviously nervous about the implications of the virus, and it is essential to keep them engaged, informed, and safe. This is indeed a time for human resources and management to show a supportive and steady hand. Managers should be prepared to support employees’ concerns individually, as individual needs may vary widely. Sometimes that means admitting to stakeholders about being afraid, and other times it may mean admitting you don’t know something. Communications should always include “here’s what we know, what we don’t know, and what we’re trying to find out.
Keeping The Business Running Effectively And Securely
As long as the virus remains a threat, the focus should be on keeping employees and their families safe and free from contagion. Making people feel secure and taken care of will then help leaders get the workforce focused on preserving operations as best as possible as the outbreak spreads. For many organizations, that means finding supplementary suppliers that can ramp up production and fill in the holes created by the shutdown.
Out Of The Office But Not Out Of Work
In many countries, with schools and factories closed, employees are working outside the office. Even before all this, remote work had increasingly become a fact of work life, with nearly one-quarter of Americans alone doing some or all of their work outside the office before everyone was ordered home.
Working remotely is not asolution, of course. Research shows that productivity can decrease in the short term when workers go remote. For leaders, more people working from home more often, if not exclusively, creates a level of risk if the team isn’t proactively managed. Leaders should be in daily, frequent contact with remote employees. Another tip: translate some of the office’s culture to virtual work. For instance, if an office normally does face-to-face meetings, have participants turn on the cameras of their phones or devices when they are having work calls. It’s a practice that can apply for all sorts of virtual work, virus-inspired or otherwise. Then everyone is on a level playing field.
All the remote work—along with vacant offices—could bring up another dilemma: keeping an organization’s property and networks secure. Thousands of workers who are used to an office network are now logging in from unfamiliar places on devices that may not be fully up-to-date with security features. Corporate leaders need to increase vigilance at an organization’s security operations center, monitoring abnormal behaviour since more employees will be mobile. Be extra cautious with emails and spear-phishing attempts using coronavirus themes.
Engage, Engage, Engage
Leaders already struggle with engagement; surveys have shown that fewer than half of employees worldwide say they are “highly engaged” at work. That task is even tougher now as the coronavirus has employees not working in their usual spots or, worse, temporarily not working.
Soliciting feedback through a pulse survey can give leaders information about what employee concerns are and what actions would be most helpful to resolve those concerns. Just as critically, it’s important to ensure that employees are energized once the crisis has passed. Gathering employee feedback about what would be most helpful to them as life returns to normal will ensure that leaders and managers focus on the actions that will have the greatest impact.
Through And Beyond The Virus
Before the coronavirus appeared, many leaders were recognizing the power of prioritizing “purpose movement” issues over maximizing profits at their organizations. Indeed, explicitly stating a company’s purpose, and then having the organization revolve around that purpose, has actually been shown to increase employee engagement and, in some cases, profitability.
One of the main questions critics have about the purpose movement is whether organizations will abandon their principles when the bottom line is, well, on the line. But the best leaders are able to turn short-term tragedy that hurts their organizations into a sense of shared purpose and community that betters it in the long term.
Indeed, the coronavirus may help identify the next generation of great companies ... and leaders. “There will be people who see the connections between the coronavirus and opportunities to contribute to society and provide business value simultaneously.