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5 Strengths Every Leader Needs to Get Through This Crisis

May 8, 2020
Where some see doom and gloom, great leaders take the reins and make *&(%*# happen.

Here we are deep in a crisis like we have never seen before. Before March, we were literally looking at an unemployment rate we hadn’t seen in decades. Life was good!  Hell! Life was great! Suddenly, it all came to a screeching halt.  Jobless claims shot up.  Productivity ground to a halt. Our city streets began to close up and started to look more like something out of an eerie apocalyptic movie. To quote my late grandmother, “We were going to hell in a handbasket!”  But, where some see doom and gloom and just go with the flow letting life happen to them, great leaders take the reins and make shit happen. Here are five key areas to help organizations navigate through significant disruptions.

These areas are based on research conducted by Denison Consulting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which provides culture and leadership assessments and solutions.  

Denison finds to successfully navigate a crisis; the organization must possess the following five strengths:

1.  Communication

There is a lot of misinformation out there that has people worried. This creates fear. The fear is caused by uncertainty.  No one can get a straight answer on where we will all end up. So, don’t be the organization that fuels the uncertainty. Be the organization that communicates through the crisis. I am sure you now have plenty of new policies and priorities in place.  Make sure you communicate that to your people.  

A CEO I am working with through the crisis gives regular updates to all employees every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This includes information about the state of the company, new policies/procedures, as well as safety updates from the CDC guidelines. During this time of uncertainty, as a leader, you have to understand that the fear is driven by each person’s livelihood. Many probably worry whether they will have a job when all of this is over. That becomes a slippery slope of, “How will I pay my bills or feed my family?” Don’t even get me started on “What if I catch the virus and then bring it back to my family?” Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

So how do you get the information out there? Being a manufacturer, you probably have a mix of people on site and working at home. For those working from home, utilize programs such as Zoom to hold virtual meetings and town halls. For onsite, distribute information through common apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Whatever the vehicle, the key is to keep people up-to-date each step of the way.  

Now, more than ever, there is a lot of uncertainty in the workforce. In the back of your head, remember, people have fears. They worry about the virus. They worry whether they will have a job. If they lose their job, how will they pay their bills and feed their family? These are real concerns, so it is up to the leadership of the organization to keep people informed about the way forward, as well as continually changing policies that may be coming out of the CDC. The key here, as a leader, you need to be out in front of this crisis communicating with your people. Share information that you get. Listen to people and their concerns.  Be the leader everyone wants you to be.

2.  Technology

If you had a telework policy in place before the virus, you were probably in decent shape to take on the “Shelter in Place” policies each state adopted. The Flexible Work Arrangements 2017 Survey found that 74% of organizations offer telecommuting as an option. It goes without saying that if you were the 26% that were “on the fence” on teleworking, you are probably scrambling to get off it right now. If you were a doubter, you should know that there have been a lot of developments over the last decade that makes teleworking much more productive. The Internet, email, laptops, mobile phones, hot spots and Zoom means our office can be anywhere we want it to be. The key here is to embrace technology. The world is going to be different after this is over. You don’t want to be the only one that didn’t learn his/her lesson.

3.  Well-Being

Our essential employees do not have the option of working from home. They are on the floor building and shipping product. Here the focus is about their well-being. What are we doing to keep people safe? All of these have to be thought through often following CDC guidelines that may or may not be rapidly changing. If things change, explain why. People will get it as long as they have a steady flow of information. The important thing is, as stated above, keep communicating with your people. This is not the time to leave it to the rumor mill to churn updates. You alleviate fears by continually providing information to employees. In addition, if you are going to talk safety. Make sure your words match your actions. For example, one of my manufacturing clients is now staggering clock in/out times so they don’t have a mad dash at the door at the end of each shift. Another still uses huddles for quick informational meetings, but now they have red X's on the floor to make sure people are properly distanced. Do you have a limit on the number of people in break rooms? Finally, make sure you have plenty of hand sanitizer, wipes and so on. All of this shows you care and you mean what you say. Be understanding there are multiple forces now creating chaos in your employees lives. Always remember that the stay-at-home orders included everyone in the family. So, people are trying to figure out childcare and home schooling. It is a mess out there. Don’t be the leader that just makes more of a mess of it. The key here is empathy. Truly understanding what we are all going through. Then be the leader who does his/her best to help lead people through it.

4.  Customers

Look at this crisis as an opportunity. When we come out of it, you will understand your customer better than you ever have and maybe have a closer relationship.This is how it works. You will have new policies for operation. Your customer will have new policies for operation. It will be important to communicate with your customer on a whole new level to understand their policies and abide by them, but for them to understand your polices and abide by them too. Remember, the uncertainty you see in your own workplace probably is present in their workplace, too. Therefore, you need to understand what your customers are feeling and then apply it to how you work with them whether it is on a simple phone call or on site. The key here is to apply how you communicate and update your staff to how you communicate and update your customer.  Understand their new policies (and make sure you communicate it to your staff) and if they have any new expectations for your organization.  

5.  Connection

With your office staff remote, learning to work together is going to be much more difficult. If you have had teleworking policies pre-COVID, you may have some experience. If not, no worries. As I stated under the Technology section, there are all sorts of great ways to work remote. It won’t be a matter of the technology holding you back, it will be you and your people who will get in the way. A company I work with upon shifting everyone to telework immediately had their IT people showcase Zoom and all of its’ features during multiple sessions. By the end of the week the company was off and running on how to set up meetings. They held town halls, Monday morning huddles and even arranged a Friday cocktail hour. People will adapt and you will be amazed at how quickly. The key here is to be open to new ways of doing things. Do not fight it. Learn from it. If people struggle, help them. Be the leader that champions change, not resists it.

Curtain Call

This is it. All of this is unprecedented. There is no script. No guide. There is plenty of uncertainty. But, what we do know is great leaders create great organizations that adapt in times of turmoil. There is no doubt things will be different when we come out of this current crisis. The key will be will we, as leaders, be different? Will we have changed for the better? Will we have learned?  

Jay Richards is a member of the founding team at Denison, a firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in corporate culture and leadership development. For 20 years, Jay has worked with manufacturing firms in improving their culture and leadership. 

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