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How COVID-19 Is Testing My Leadership Skills and What It Is Teaching Me Along the Way - A Weekly Update (Week Three)

By Tom Goodmanson April 21, 2020

Last week, I talked about some of the inspiring ways our customers are tackling the challenge of coronavirus and strategies Calabrio is using to aid our customer network. Staying positive can be difficult now, and that’s why sharing positive stories from our network is so important.

As leaders, our role is to help our people understand what is going on – with our company, our employees and partners, and within our communities. My feeling is that, right now, we cannot just nurture communication; we need to focus on overcommunication.

I touched on this in my first weekly post when I spoke about using technology to create connection points. But, I think that this approach is so important that, following my own advice, I am overcommunicating it to you.

A few weeks into our new remote-working environment, having clear communication practices in place for leadership is vital to preventing morale, originally so vivid among teams, from dwindling.

In our own efforts to be as communicative as possible, our leadership team has identified three areas that are making a difference in our organization. These ideas came from open discussions with our employees, customers and partners. Maybe they can help you as you think about your business, as well.

Highly Visible Feedback

Our mantra at Calabrio has always been to “show up.” To us, this means being there when we are needed, no matter what, no matter the hour. We are nimble and able to pivot to where customers or employees need us at any given moment. For us, this is about reinforcing our commitment to others, ensuring visibility and offering feedback where, when and how it is needed.

This mantra has been tested, more than ever, within our organization over the last few weeks. It has become even more apparent during the pandemic that leadership needs to show up for our teams in a highly visible way. It is equally important to other leadership traits such as empathy and inclusivity.

Our leaders have made new commitments in how we show up, such as always being on video for meetings to reinforce our human connection. We show up for virtual outside-of-work events, even when it may be inconvenient. We participate in chat streams, using engaging and encouraging language. We ask about people’s needs beyond work and share common experiences.

None of this is easy, especially during times of uncertainty, and it does not come naturally to all leaders. But, these initiatives are what we need right now, and they can only be achieved through concerted, visible leadership. Let me also stress that leadership is not limited to C-suite roles. We have to set the example, but we can also show other managers in our organizations how to be more visible, engaged leaders.

One way we have helped our leaders become more comfortable is by creating a level of consistency around our efforts. For example, we have new, scheduled team and individual check-ins and feedback sessions. We have organized Q&A sessions – not only to provide an open forum, but also to train leaders on how to improve their skills in this area. We have weekly group meetings with our North America and international teams to address regional issues. Equally, for all employees, we are running bi-weekly company online meetings to get everyone on the same page about operations, calm nerves and share successes.

For our customers, we opened online forums. These were created specifically for customers to have a space to share stories and information with their peers who are facing similar challenges. As I mentioned, we set up a COVID-19-dedicated hotline and have been running ongoing communicationshighlighting new resources and product support/additions for customers, so they know we are there for them. My challenge to you is to ensure that there exists a consistent feedback loop for customers (and employees) and make them aware of its existence in case they run into problems or need help.

Full-volume Flexibility

So many of us have been heads down, dealing with the new challenges that are right in front of our faces. But, leaders need to take a step back and look at the challenges facing those within our network, both in the company and beyond. This is our opportunity to practice better human connectivity – often the most challenging part of being a leader.

Everyone is in a new situation – and each person’s situation is unique. It is guaranteed that, within your network, you connect with people who have family in healthcare, first response, or law enforcement. They may have kids at home, parents nearby or far away, special-needs family members, or a spouse who has to go to their job every day, despite the risks. They may be alone. They may be quarantined with four small kids – or away from family.

This is the time to practice full-volume flexibility. Be vocal in letting people know that it is ok to do things differently. For many, the typical “9 to 5” is out the window, and we do not want to nurture feelings of guilt or cause people to burn out or have to choose work over family.

Employees are still finding their own patterns, especially during the work week. Be consistent and overcommunicate that expectations have changed. Do not be afraid to repeat messages around how employees can find help, get relief or access outside resources. Especially now, if employees need to access health or wellness benefits, make sure they hear, often, how those are accessible.

Lighten Up and Have a Little Fun

No one is saying that the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken lightly. We are overcommunicating to our employees, customers and partners on all the ways they can stay safe. This is serious.

That said, our employees need an outlet. Sometimes they need to laugh; they need to share stories about the chaos of their new home life. They need to share Tiger King memes. As leaders, we need to encourage this, and we need to participate. We are all part of one effort right now. Joining in the “fun stuff” has as much to do with our own mental health as it does with setting the tone that “fun” is acceptable and, even more so, encouraged.

At Calabrio, we created virtual hangouts for coffee breaks, yoga and happy hours. But, we also looked at how we could take some of our in-office traditions, like the chili cook-off, into the virtual realm. So, now we have Waffle Wednesdays, where we hand out prizes for the most creative made-at-home waffles. The latest competition is a “steps challenge,” which encourages our employees to get away from their screens for a bit and get some exercise. It amazes me to see how people are thinking outside the box to ramp up their exercise points while continuing to #stayathome.

And – one of my favorites – we currently have an informal rivalry going for the “most unusual Microsoft Teams video background,” and we have impromptu gatherings where people wear their funniest hat or outfit to a video call. Be creative! We have even formed interest groups on Microsoft Teams for employees to post about and discuss their favorite things with like-minded employees. The groups are centered around pets, parenting, music, fitness, gaming, photography and more. Our employees are enjoying these opportunities for a quick break throughout their days, and we are all finding a laugh can do wonders for our quarantine mental well-being.

At Calabrio, we are overcommunicating, because anything less is under-communicating right now. As leaders, we should be encouraging all our employees to help where they can, while providing a little levity along the way. I hope some of these thoughts and actions will inspire other leaders to do the same.

If you missed my first two posts about what it means to be a leader during this crisis, you may find them here.

Edited by Erik Linask
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