Leaders around the globe are still reeling as they assess the COVID-19 disruption to their businesses. While there are many sobering decisions to be made, it’s important to remember that a crisis shouldn’t be managed in a state of gloom and doom. Experienced leaders know that a crisis can test the strength and structure of an organization, allowing it to shed any processes and procedures that prevent the team from being lean, nimble and supportive of one another. Consider the ways in which you can make the best out of this less than ideal situation.
1. Be Transparent
In uncertain times, anxiety is high. If your team is worried about the status of their job or the well-being of the company, it will be difficult for them to focus on the task at hand. Don’t keep them guessing. Share your own concerns upfront and quickly follow-up with any information you have to reduce uncertainty. “I don’t know” is an acceptable response as long as your team feels confident that you are sharing what you do know.
2. Express Compassion
As important as their job is to their livelihood, employees are processing a wealth of emotions as they assess the impact COVID-19 will have on their life and/or family. Take the time to ask how they are doing and what you can do to help. Set aside a little time with every interaction to check in on the status of any personal issues they’ve shared. With human interaction being limited as a result of social distancing, sometimes all an employee needs to get through this stressful time is a listening ear.
3. Set the Example
Fear invokes the lowest form of thinking. The best way to keep your team calm, cool and collected during a crisis is to set the example yourself. If they notice that all of a sudden your personality and management style has changed, it will add to their uneasiness and cultivate fear. Although roles and processes may change to adapt to the situation at hand, continue being the leader you were before the crisis.
4. Anticipate the Risks
The impact of social distancing is not the only risk to consider when adjusting your business practices in response to COVID-19. You must also anticipate the operational impact should someone from your team (or several) require a leave of absence, due to sickness or viral exposure. Don’t wait for these events to unfold. Consider your strategy for filling in resources and adjusting processes so that your business can continue moving forward until they return.
5. Assign Crisis Roles
Modifying your business practices to account for the risks associated with COVID-19 will require putting out a few fires, either internally or externally. Make sure your team is well aware of the role they play. If they are insecure about who does what and when, it can cost you time trying to figure it out on the fly. As you anticipate risks, assign these roles in advance.
6. Empower Employees
In addition to making sure your team knows their assigned role, empower them to make decisions. The more time spent going up the chain of command and back down, the less effective your team is in moving forward and responding to anticipated fires and unintended consequences. There will likely be mistakes as your team gets its footing. Give grace to ensure that your team doesn’t feel hesitant to make decisions and move forward in the future. Generously handout accolades as your team successfully adjusts to their new situation.
7. Establish Priorities
Prior to COVID-19, your organization was likely concerned with growing the business, innovation and market share. Today, or at least temporarily, your priorities have likely shifted to controlling costs and operational changes that account for social distancing. Establish these new priorities with your team so that they are working under the appropriate paradigm. Identify three to five reasonable long-term goals and ensure their daily tasks align in these areas, given this new business outlook, or what some are calling, the "new normal".
Although historic, COVID-19 is not the only crisis your team will likely encounter. Under normal circumstances, it isn’t uncommon for employees or contractors to take an unexpected leave of absence due to sickness, an accident or family emergency, forcing you to recalibrate. Taking the time to incorporate these suggestions will not only help get your team back on track today; but it will serve as a framework to successfully manage crises that come your way in the future.