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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 7)

By Tom Goodmanson May 19, 2020

As we enter the last few weeks of May, countries, markets and businesses across the world are figuring out how they can safely return to physical spaces for work, entertainment, school, shopping and more. When we started to work from home several weeks ago, there was no playbook.  It is no different now that we are making plans to go back to our “normal” lives.  It is going to take a lot of people making educated guesses to find a path that works. Not only that, but we need to be ready to adjust on the fly to make sure we take care of our biggest assets – our people.

We have already seen some companies provide guidance that will have employees working from home on a much more regular basis. We will also see significant changes in how and when we travel. Certainly, for a period much longer than I ever imagined. I have to rethink how I engage with our employee base. 

In the past, it was nothing to jump on a plane and head to an office.  Now this is only possible if I am willing to be quarantined on both ends of the trip. We will have to determine how we value and use physical space and all the things that go along with that, like commuting and employee engagement. 

At Calabrio, food is at the center of everything that we do, and it will likely be some time before we can offer that perk again. We will need to think about how we build a technology infrastructure to support a larger remote workforce. Other changes like this could have wide-ranging impacts that we have not yet even considered.


 

Last week I talked about lessons learned around handling the tough decisions driven by the pandemic, this included scenario planning for best-case outcomes which still involved hard choices. This week, l will cover worst-case scenarios and what we need to think about as we determine the future of our organizations. Much of my advice has come through talking with other leaders and our own partners and employees. I hope these thoughts and ideas are helpful as you continue your leadership journey, too.

Round Two Uncertainties

With the easing of stay-at-home recommendations comes hope, and some sense of relief. I think we can all agree that there is no getting back to “normal,” but as I said in my week 5 update there is an opportunity to create a modified way of doing business that allows us to serve customers as well, if not better, than we did before 2020.

We cannot however, let that hope and sense of relief distract us from thinking about worst-case scenario planning. Even with carefully crafted “back to the office” plans, there is the real possibility that our best laid plans will have to change or be put aside.

For example, changes to government guidelines will impact how we reopen and stay productive. Organizations may experience hotspot outbreaks among employees that require a different approach to physical proximity, interaction or cleaning and sanitizing routines. And, of course, re-opened regions with a rebound in COVID-19 cases may once again issue stay-at-home orders.

My biggest worry if we experience repeat flare-ups later in the year is the toll this will take on mental health. As people once again find themselves inside and isolated for extended periods, but this time during the darker months, business leaders will need to double down on supporting the mental health of their teams.

At Calabrio, we have already brought in a wellbeing webinar series for staff, amplified internal communication, promoted flexible working hours, and given an all-company day off to lift spirits. These kinds of efforts will absolutely be needed, but we will need to develop even more routes to support staff if there is a “round two.” What meditation apps can we partner up with; can we be even more innovative in our approach to the working day; should counseling sessions be available?

Just as companies are preparing their office re-entry plans (or a whole new world of work), they should plan for a potential round two.

Creating a Strategic Plan

If you decide to allow permanent changes to your remote work policies, what happens if productivity drops significantly later in 2020? How will you effectively evaluate employee performance to align salaries and bonus structures? Are salary reviews and bonuses even a possibility in the near-term future? Will recruiting and onboarding suffer from a change in employment structure or will you see fewer qualified job candidates?

Last week I said this is a great time to do a SWOT analysis for your business. Take into consideration each department within your business and lay out the possibilities for negative impact. A good list to start with might include product management, research and development, production, marketing, sales, support, finance, IT and HR. 

With this list in hand, add in notes about your options for response to negative scenarios and impact on employees and customers. For example, if a customer-facing employee contracts COVID during an in-person event or meeting, document your actions and how you will communicate to stakeholders. Document the risks of your decisions and actions and the level of impact on the business. If your engineering resources are thin due to unexpected illness or responsibilities outside of work, document your plan to fill in these gaps. 

Finally, think about what your new organization will look like during recovery and any changes to roles and responsibilities. Consider how a change in your business might impact how you staff or hire. Some changes might require you to re-skill or re-train employees to better match what your company offers or how you do business. Will your employees have access to the resources they need if the structure or model of your business changes permanently?

Involve Your Teams

A key thing to remember as you go about creating a strategic plan for recovery is that you do not, and should not, need to make these decisions alone, or by executive committee. One of the best things that has come out of our transition to work-from-home is a change in how we view hierarchy.

At Calabrio, we have always tried to have an open-door approach, with people working really well in cross-department teams and across titles and functions. Through our transition, we have relied much more heavily on input from people at all levels, and even encouraged our customers to become part of how we forge our path forward. I cannot stress enough how important it will be for all of us to maintain this mindset. The worst thing a leader can do right now or for the difficulties that may – and likely will – lie ahead is lock out teams, try to solve it alone and only communicate the easy news.

Involving people at all levels of the organization will not only ensure that you gather insights and best practices from team members directly impacted by challenges, it also motivates and inspires employees to own and act on change. The past few months have been extremely difficult, but giving employees ownership of how we transition through recovery and toward a future path can create improved morale and excitement for the future. I hope our contemplations 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.

If you missed any of the posts in my series on what I’ve learned about leadership during this pandemic, you can find them all at Calabrio Corner.




Edited by Erik Linask
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