In 2019, I wrote a piece on Leading Through Change, outlining simple change management strategies to help guide your team through periods of uncertainty. However during a massive disruption such as as the current coronavirus pandemic, additional and often more robust guiding leadership principles are important to follow.
- Develop a Communications Strategy. Fast. Communication about massive organizational change needs to be clear and repetitive about what changes employees can expect, what is expected of them and how their responsibilities will be impacted.
- Work Across Department Heads. You will need to get buy in from your top leaders, source employee concerns, and act in full alignment with your leadership team. Do not work unilaterally or in an uninhibited manner. Demonstrate your ability to value different perspectives and then execute a clear plan that everyone can own and work through the layers of the organization.
- Full Transparency. Your organization will also serve as an information resource for your staff, so it is important to provide updated information about the crisis at hand. Transparency from the beginning–i.e. not minimizing events–about the facts is critical to maintaining trust even though it might tarnish your image in the short-term. Trust does not get created during a crisis, rather it is seeded months and years prior.
- Defuse Psychological Defenses. As a leader during total disruption, it is important to understand that part of what you are managing and piercing includes a range of psychological reactions including denial, minimization, cognitive dissonance, shock, immobilization, and inability to focus, etc. Acknowledging and normalizing these reactions while encouraging your team to stay proactive is key.
- Clarify Policies. Remind your team about any current policies regarding paid sick time and travel. Also it is important to give your team the option to work remotely. Some studies show that remote workers are more productive than on-site workers. It is important to provide your team with the necessary tools (e.g. project management software) and processes (e.g. virtual meetings, informal performance conversations, etc.) to guarantee productivity and performance.
- Forecast & Plan. A severe disruption (e.g. economic collapse, public health crises, natural disaster) can completely derail your original organizational and financial goals. It is critical to quickly re-evaluate various financial scenarios and develop several contingency plans. There are a number of great forecasting templates including Pulse, Dryrun, Float and even Quickbooks will allow you to do short-term cash flow predictions.
A common blind-spot that I notice in my Executive Coaching practice, especially in small and mid-size businesses, is the failure to plan in advance for events such as a public health crisis. Although there are many reasons for this (lack of resources, leadership foresight, etc.) and while not all crises can be anticipated, it is imperative that leadership teams thoughtfully assess external, potential threats and disruptive forces to their business; PESTLE and Scenario Planning are both great frameworks that can be easily tied into your annual strategic planning.