A new normal is quickly evolving. Live sports postponed, music festivals stopped, events and conferences cancelled, cinemas, spas, bars and play areas closed and home working enforced across many companies. These are unprecedented times, through which none of us have lived before.When business plans are tossed out the window and everything that we thought was stable in our life vanishes we need strong leadership to get us through. While we all pray for a quick return to normality there is no way of knowing how long the disruption will continue. Now more than ever people look to their leaders for guidance and support. If you are leading others during this global crisis, here are some things to keep in mind.
Take Quick Action
One week ago you could get away with a wait and see approach. Today you can’t. Companies need to be seen to be taking a swift action and making tough decisions. These decisions are better made sooner rather than later. The safety of your employees and other key stakeholders needs to be the primary concern. So do what you need to do to protect that and be pro-active rather than re-active. For many companies now this means home working and cancellation of face to face meetings, trainings and events. Get contingency plans for virtual options up and running as soon as possible. For other companies the current climate may mean shifts in business strategy and postponement of plans. Don’t make the mistake of carrying on as normal as the resulting PR will not look good. Lean into your company values to help guide your decision making on the best route forward. And take inspiration from these businesses who have made swift, positive changes in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
People need information and reassurance. They need to hear from the people in charge that things are under control and you have a plan. With people working from home and stress mounting it can be easy to forget to keep communication channels open. Without the informal ‘watercooler’ conversations it is more important than ever to schedule in catch up time with your team. Use video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft team (both unblocked now in the UAE) so you can see your colleagues and maintain personal connection. Quick 1-2-1 check ins at the start and the end of the day and team calls can make a big different to employee morale and motivation. Don’t leave your team members isolated, the disconnection can quickly start to wear down energy and positivity.
Optimism doesn’t mean a blind ignorance of facts and Pollyanna attitude. It is about being able to take a balanced view of the situation and choosing to see the opportunities and possibilities. Yes things might be difficult for a while, yes things are changing rapidly every day, bit dwelling on the negatives helps no one and will only drag you and your team down. Instead of focussing on what doors are closing to your business focus on what doors are opening. Draw up a list of the things you can’t do at the moment – this will tell you what to not waste your energy on and what to stop worrying about. Then draw up a list of what you can do – what is still possible and what new opportunities exist for your business. When I did this for our business the can list was three times as long as the cannot list and it immediately made me feel better. Do your own list or do it with your team and focus your time and energy on the can items.
These changes impact us all in different ways and your team will all be facing different challenges. Depending on your company and individual circumstances some of the issues your employees could be facing include: childcare issues, financial pressures, concern over elderly or vulnerable relatives, personal or family health concerns, family members in lockdown far away, event cancellations such as weddings and holidays, loneliness from self isolating, family arguments from self-isolating and so on! Some of these concerns are less ‘serious’ than others but that doesn’t mean the persons experience is any less valid. Being a leader during this time isn’t just about setting out a business contingency strategy and looking after the p&l; it is about creating an environment where your employees feel valued, cared for and treated as complete people. Take time to connect with your team members and understand how the pandemic is affecting them and their families. During this time we all need to demonstrate empathy and be flexible to employee needs. This is not the time to bring out the rule book, everyone’s situation is different and will need a different approach. It is easy to look after your staff when things are good and they have relatively few needs, but it is times of crisis that companies and their leadership are really tested. Do the right thing, be flexible and make sure your team and company pulls together to help each other out and get through this challenging time.