Five lessons to take from this crisis into the next

Business 5th October 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the most radical social and workplace disruption that many of us are likely to face – ever.

As a manager or leader, you have a vital role to play in reassuring, motivating, and steering your workforce through these tough times. But not only for today’s crisis. Who knows what future disruptions society might face? Planning strategically today and focusing on people rather than processes will ensure you’re well-placed to face whatever stormy waters come our way in the future.

We’ve put together five suggestions for you to consider:

1. Make sure people matter as much as money
For years, many business leaders have paid lip-service to ‘putting people first’. But often, though they might not admit it, financial considerations have remained their prime focus. Now is the time to be serious about people – for their sake and for business’s sake.

On the one hand, HR has to act as a conduit to ensure executives understand everything from the impact of change on the workforce to employee concerns and how best to address them.
On the other hand, it’s about supporting managers at all levels in striking the right tone. After all, many employees are going through difficult and uncertain times. They feel fearful about their health and their futures. More than ever, they will, with justification, be sensitive towards how they’re treated.

You, as a manager or leader, will be under stress too. You may feel tempted to go into command-and-control management mode. But take care. This approach can easily disengage staff and damage trust. Your aim should be to achieve the opposite.

2. A time for leadership development
Now, more than ever, HR has a key role to play in delivering leadership development.

The trick is to offer them targeted support and training, based on their specific situation. For example, how to handle Zoom meetings or how to deal with their team’s individual challenges.

You also need to encourage team leaders to check-in regularly with each other on their departments’ progress and challenges.

3. Maintain a sense of priorities
Your people will not want to hear about your grand visions for the future. Instead, they’ll be looking for the sense of security offered by measured, pragmatic direction.

Much of the daily news can be pretty gloomy. The role of HR is to act as a clear signal through the fog of gloom and confusion about what really matters.

Above all, you need to be transparent with your people. Communicate the reasons behind your decisions and be honest. Acknowledge that you might not necessarily have all the answers.

Transparency creates trust and connection. This, in turn, helps improve individual and company resilience. When your employees know what’s going on, they feel more secure, meaning their resilience will be higher and their workplace contribution more effective.

4. Listen to the mood music
If you are to make informed decisions around workforce-related challenges, you’ll need to be clear about what your people are feeling and thinking. You need to keep your finger on the pulse of the employee mood.

With the current crisis, you need to be more conscientious than simply sending out the usual annual employee survey.

Analysing survey numbers isn’t enough. You and your HR teams need to be actively listening. You need to be analysing what people are saying. It’s often known as qualitative listening and can take time to analyse. But it’s here that you’ll achieve real substance.

Your job is to dig deep and understand the mood music.

5. Plan together for a post-crisis world
One thing’s for sure. Work and social life will one day settle down. What the new pattern will look like is anyone’s guess. As a company leader, your eye will naturally be focused on operational matters. But it’s important not to neglect the people side of your business.

You need to be looking carefully at today, tomorrow and the long-term future – evaluating which old and new ways of working you want to retain and which to discard. Now is the time when the cliché ‘decisive, blue-sky thinking’ genuinely comes into its own.

Now is your opportunity to affect real, positive change by ensuring that people are at the heart of every strategic decision you make.
You need to be thinking strategically about your ‘new normal’ and what you will learn from the current crisis that you’ll be able to apply to the next.

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