By: John Bonoff
The COVID-19 pandemic demands a new type of leadership. Unlike most challenges that existed before the Coronavirus, much of what leaders face now does not have a reliable precedent. Leaders are having to create plans and solutions much quicker, with much less data to rely on, and the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been for employees. Courage and experience only go so far when the effects of the pandemic on businesses and employees are still being discovered in real time. So, how have other leaders successfully adapted to this world? And how does it impact people in their organization? Take the following strategies into consideration when navigating this new environment.
Execute on health and safety
As Maslow established in his famed hierarchy, basic needs must be met before we humans can think about anything else. Keeping employees healthy and safe should always be priority number one for leadership, but in these times, efforts will need to be doubled. Information needs to be distributed frequently, transparently, and in terms that everyone can understand. The demands of remote work must be tended to through increased manager check-ins, flexible schedules, and fine-tuned video-conferencing and collaboration tools. For employees that aren’t able to work remotely, leaders should focus on limiting physical interaction as an organization, as well providing resources like personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. Consider leveraging an internal communications platform to provide real-time communications to your employees for updates on company and local policies.
Employees cannot properly do their job if their health is threatened, and they are much more likely to experience change fatigue if their wellbeing is not supported amidst ongoing change. It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that an employee’s job is not a detriment to their health. This responsibility should be shared with others in the organization, but it starts with leadership. Meeting employees’ basic needs is the first step to getting through the crisis as a unified, connected enterprise.
Listen to your employees
The importance of leadership is most obvious in times of chaos. But to bring order to their organizations in today’s world, leaders are focusing less on speaking up, and more on giving others a chance to do so. Much has been said about the need for CEOs to evolve into “Chief Empathy Officers,” to become more vulnerable, and to ground themselves in authenticity when interacting with employees. As everyone is experiencing confusion and hard times, there is also an immediate business need: employees have answers. As businesses struggle to maintain a connected enterprise and effective leadership in the face of increasingly nuanced obstacles, employees can help decode these challenges. Try asking questions like,
“What is your biggest pain point day-to-day?”
“Are there ways you think the team can cut costs or support other departments?“
Or, “Is there any part of our future plan that I can clarify?”
Employees know what a company is lacking, what is frustrating, and often times, what other employees can do to adapt their daily work successfully. Begin having a larger conversation to understand employees’ point-of-view.
In order to stay connected to remote workers, make sure you have an agile communications strategy in place. A Gallup study revealed that a mere 39% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19. Leadership needs to know where clarification is lacking, and that requires listening. When leadership focuses less on what to say and more on what they hear, solutions to new issues can emerge much quicker, and company alignment and culture will get stronger.
Streamline the decision-making process
When the Coronavirus first hit, employers had to make a lot of difficult choices very quickly. Most companies had to amend the way they usually make decisions. Getting buy-in from all the usual stakeholders suddenly became too tall of a task in such a short window, so leadership teams had to adjust. As one expert suggests, this may mean that, going forward, the CEO and executive team will work more closely together, with more agency when decisions need to be made fast. Consider the ways in which internal communications can guide your workplace through immediate changes.
When it comes to adapting company policy for the benefit and safety of employees, leaders should make sure they are as informed as possible about what the people in their organization truly need. For some, this has meant establishing a cross-functional COVID-19 taskforce. With a roster of one person from each department, and a focus on employee wellbeing, financial stressors, and company policy, a group like this can effectively inform how leadership communicates around the virus. Make sure that at least one member of the group reports directly to the CEO, to keep decision-making agile. The best thing you can do is ensure the person at the helm is as informed as he or she can be.
As the weeks of quarantine wear on, and companies continue to search for ways of fighting back against the uncertainty, success has been found by certain leaders:
Those who truly care about the safety of their employees.
Those who listen to what their employees have to say.
Those who communicate with transparency and clarity, and admit when they are stumped.
Those who act decisively on good information.
These are the leaders that have been successfully navigating COVID-19.
Leaders didn’t ask to be in this situation, but now that they are, the responsibility must be embraced. The need to connect and communicate with fellow leaders and employees has never been greater. Outcomes will improve when this happens. Generations will look back on a world before and after the Coronavirus pandemic. For those of us who worked during the tumultuous times in between, leadership will have a large bearing on whether we look back and see a work experience worth forgetting, or a triumph amidst uncertainty.