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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 6)

By Tom Goodmanson May 12, 2020

I want to start off this week’s column by thanking everyone who has been reading along on Customerzone360 and those of you that have reached out via email and social media to share your own stories. If only one lesson sticks with me (but believe me, there are going to be lots of lessons that I hold on to), it will be that we cannot get through this type of global change alone.

As I have been writing down and sharing my experiences, I have also been connecting with and learning from other leaders. It is only though this community sourcing of ideas that we are all finding our way through the impact that the pandemic has had on our businesses, our communities and our lives. Together we will get through it, even if everything looks a little different on the other side.


 

Last week I talked about the new cultural and procedural matters that should continue when we start to return to the office. I believe that this disruption of our typical business patterns will have lasting impacts—many for the positive. Our routines and mindsets will likely never return to the same state as before the pandemic. But that is OK, because I believe that good leaders can use this as an opportunity to evolve and improve.

That said, we also have tough times and choices to handle. Through talking with other leaders, here are a few of the things you can do to tackle and plan for the difficult parts. I hope these thoughts and ideas are helpful as you continue your leadership journey, too.

Get Honest with Yourself

Even for those organizations that have weathered the pandemic, there are going to be hard decisions to make. You do not want to be caught off-guard, so start thinking about what might happen in the coming months.

Now is a great time to do a SWOT analysis for your business. Think about your organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relative to a new world and a new way of doing business. Think about how a cultural change might impact your business and your brand.

Write down the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario for your business and make a rough plan for both. Document the things that scare you the most and how you, as a business and as a leader, would react if they happen. Do the same with the things that you want the most—what would it look like if you could change your business to focus on ideas, strategies, offerings or business models that you never had the time to try before?

To begin, start with your best-case scenario plan. Lay out what you hope to achieve in the next 6-12 months and create a plan that assumes the best outcomes are possible. Define what you need from your customers, employees and other stakeholders to make the ideal scenario happen. Be realistic in light of the changing business landscape, but do not be afraid to stretch your goals a bit.

Be Prepared for Losses

No one can predict what will happen in the coming year. So, think about the potential losses that might impact your business. What happens if one or more of your employees fall ill, or if employees need extended time off? Consider the impact of closing an office, factory or other physical location. If any of these scenarios have already happened, did you act in the best way or would you do anything differently now?

Examine your financial vulnerabilities. How much financial loss can your business weather? Can a financial loss be recovered, or will you need to adjust your business goals and strategies? It is important to understand your revenue model and customer categories to determine where loss can be tolerated and where it will hurt the most. Develop a plan to protect your most valuable streams of revenue and think about your actions if any of those channels are under threat.

Thankfully, while others have had layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts, Calabrio has not. But, we have flexed between different business scenarios to pave the way forward, and have had to make hard decisions to ensure the immediate and long-term health and safety of employees and customers, and the economic health of Calabrio.

Finally, think about the transitions that could be positive. Do you have customers that require a high investment for a low financial value? Now is the time to plan for how you might part ways with those customers in order to protect high value ones. Do you have satellite offices that could easily transition to remote workers? Are you holding on to assets that you do not really need?

These may be hard decisions and changes to make, but by planning for them now, you will be able to more easily visualize the business risks and benefits of acting or not acting on change, if or when the time comes.

Speaking of being honest with yourself about the tough choices, you must also be honest with teams. You might have heard me mention the need for communication, or overcommunication, in my last five posts—that goes for hard decisions, too. Leaders have to communicate about the tough topics, even if it is easier to avoid them. We need to send the all-company emails that we resist or put ourselves in the “line of fire” in live Q&As. While I always thought of myself as an overcommunicator, the last weeks have shown that I must do this even more and putting such transparency into practice is difficult. But it is essential.

Pay Attention to Team Morale

With the continued changes we are all going through—the uncertainty of what the future holds, changing schedules and patterns for work and school, caring for others and worrying about ongoing health risks—people are getting tired. The emotion and effort required just to maintain a sense of any consistency in our lives is draining.

Even in our organization where we have been very lucky to be able to protect jobs and keep most employees on a fairly typical work structure, all the external forces have taken a toll. As a result, employee morale tends to dip and engagement with others in our personal and business lives wanes over time. At Calabrio, we have a good number of virtual group meetings and staff gatherings. It is those kinds of forums that leaders must tap into to gauge the state of team morale. In fact, the other week, I noticed that the teams were much quieter than usual. There was almost an emotional heaviness to each virtual meeting we attended.

I know I have said in the past that our customers always come first, and that holds true. But, we cannot do that when employees are worn down or disengaged. So, I decided to announce a day off to give everyone some breathing room. It was just one extra day, but that day gave people time to take care of all the little things that just never get done on weekends. It gave them time to relax and spend time with kids, families, pets, or just simply read a book, go out for a bike ride or do some much-needed DIY. It was a joy to check our Work-from-Home Stories channel on Teams and see the photos of how everyone spent their time off, and that they still felt so connected that they wanted to share about their days.

The impact of this day off was immediate. Employees felt a little bit more refreshed; it gave them permission to put work aside for the day and do something else entirely. We all know that feeling of taking a day off when everyone else is working—there is that nagging pressure to check in, to stay on top of what is happening and to never really “clock out.” But with everyone off, it provided that extra nudge to give employees the freedom to truly log off.

Speaking of time off, this is not the time to limit vacation days. Sure, we need to manage employee availability and that can look very different depending on what type of organization or business you are. But keep in mind the human-centric workplace. Employees that feel good—physically, mentally and emotionally—and that have a chance to balance their life and work requirements create a better, stronger culture. This, in turn, creates an environment that is beneficial for your customers. As a workforce engagement management vendor, we are used to saying this to our own customers, but it is of course true for all, us included. So, as much as that decision might be hard, given how busy many of us are, encourage reasonable vacation time.

I would like to say that I knew how to handle all these tough decisions before 2020, but the truth is, I am learning, too. In the last months, I have focused even harder on asking others for input and support, I take notes and think about the really tough things that I would rather avoid, and I am open to ideas about how we at Calabrio might need, or want, to change in response to the pandemic. It is not always easy, nor comfortable. But when I talk to other leaders, these are the actions that are helping us traverse the tough times, look to the future in a positive way and move past second-guessing our own actions. I hope our experiences can inspire other leaders to think and act similarly. As always, reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have stories or tips you want to share.




Edited by Erik Linask
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