Adaptability and flexibility are key leadership traits when crises occur, because a company’s current strategy and work plan may no longer be relevant.
Yesterday was tax day. Rather, it was, up until COVID-19 showed up and put us all in the hurt locker. That’s a good thing, right? That we have an extra three months to pay our taxes this year, if indeed the federal, state, and provincial (for my Canadian friends) governments didn’t take too much tax out already from our 2019 paychecks? I never really liked paying taxes that much (does anyone?), knowing how hard I worked for my paycheck, although I clearly understand the need for taxes. It wouldn’t hurt so much if you knew your dollars were being wisely spent, but this is where I leave it because as you know, I don’t discuss politics.
The extension of the US federal deadline for taxes almost seemed like a no-brainer, given what we anticipated in terms of the impact from the deliberate, economic shutdown of the US and world economies. Because that’s what you do in a crisis, right? You re-group quickly, and business as usual and staying the course get thrown out the window, don’t they? Well if the crisis is large enough, for sure, and this one may indeed be the largest self-induced economic crisis in human history.
Adaptability and flexibility are key leadership traits when crises occur, because a company’s current strategy and work plan may no longer be relevant. It’s time to assess the crisis’ impact on the business, its employees, and customers. Now I’m not even going to venture a guess as to what the workplace may look like in a few months or a year from now, but now is the time to adapt based on impacts to people and work, and to stay flexible as conditions are changing daily, and you may have to course-correct numerous times yet.
For those of you in leadership roles at any level, especially those of you working remotely, below are a few actions you can take right now to ensure you and your team are aligned and focused on the right priorities:
Reset expectations and priorities:
You’re in a new world, so is your team and everyone else in the company. You have been and will be for at least the next several weeks, if not longer. Communicate with your boss and get clear on what’s expected of you and your team. Meet with your team and make adjustments to the current work plan and priorities. Confirm this new work plan with your boss to ensure everyone is aligned. Communicate to your extended leadership team and the larger organization through conference calls, email, etc., to confirm changes to work priorities and to answer questions, of which there will be many. Remember, you’re always in the middle as a manager and leader. There’s always people below you and above you, and they’re both demanding things from you! Seek direction from above, and communicate throughout your organization.
By the way, the longer the economy is shut down for all intents and purposes, the longer you’re working remotely, the longer the shelter in place orders are in effect, and the longer the travel restrictions remain in place, the higher the probability is that some of this, some of these new ways of working, some of the new work processes, distribution channels, this new culture that is being created in front of our very eyes, becomes permanent. Yes, permanent. If you find new, effective ways of working or delivering products and services to customers that are cheaper, better, faster, then why would you ever go back? There may be some limitations or temporary workarounds that are established now, that will eventually be lifted or eliminated later, especially if there are work rules governed by labor contracts or if certain commitments were made to employees, but there is no doubt that things are changing and will change, many for the better. Change brings renewal and with it, new opportunities, new priorities, and new expectations.
Focus on critical tasks:
Now is not the time for business as usual, or redefining long-term strategy, or conducting performance reviews. It might be, however, a perfect time for defining a new, short-term strategy. What needs to be done now, and over the next couple of weeks and months? What work is truly of an emergent nature?…great…let’s do that, and then focus on other critical tasks…not the mundane or usual suspects.
Because you will be spending limited time together with your team, that re-set of expectations re-defines for everyone, what the most important work is that needs to get done. Are there customer orders to fill? Is there an obligation to perform essential services for the public, including keeping the lights on, responding to medical issues, transporting foodstuffs? Beyond the emergent, what else absolutely needs to get done in order to keep the business running? First and foremost, ensure you are taking excellent care of your employees including their health and safety. Communicate with your customers and focus on delivering what they absolutely need. Ultimately, keep the business afloat by both cutting unnecessary cost and waste out of the business, and trying to maintain revenues and cash coming in.
Did you know that you are the Chief Communications Officer for your team and all the people that report to them, throughout the organizational heirarchy? Yes, it’s a critical part of your job as a leader. You don’t get to be a wallflower and just hope, that everyone does their job and meets your expectations and those of the organization. I’ve got news for you, your direct reports are looking to you, their boss, more than anyone, to keep them informed, provide direction, take charge, you name it…and if you’re not up to that task, then you will not be a respected, credible leader. This is of critical importance currently, and it should have been all along. So if it wasn’t your strong suit before, make sure it is now and moving forward.
For now over-communicate, and that means touching base with your team regularly through an agreed-upon cadence of video and/or conference calls, email and other forums for reporting and communicating critical information. When and if you do go back to a physical presence on the job with your team, make the conscience choice to make communication one of your primary responsibilities as a leader. If you’re not the best communicator, nor the best public speaker, there are plenty of ways to develop this skill. I guarantee there are resources within your own company, including training classes, and the best teacher – experiential opportunities – that are available. Communication skills are some of the most important for leaders, both verbal and written. These can literally be the most valuable skills you have, and increase your chances of success immensely, no matter what you do in life.