As the coronavirus spreads across continents it has sent the stock market plunging and businesses scrambling to create contingency plans in the event of a major outbreak in their communities. While we hope that the virus can be contained and have a minimal impact on our organizations, it’s prudent to prepare ourselves for the possibility of leading our teams through a crisis.
As we have seen in countries across the world, the steps taken to combat the virus have caused massive changes for individuals and businesses. As the leader of your team or organization, you will have new leadership challenges to address.
Here are the five hats leaders must wear during times of change:
During times of change and uncertainty, the most critical activity a leader can engage in is communication. You must communicate what is happening and why it is important - and you must listen to the feedback of those impacted by the changes. As you lead your team or organization, think of the multiple avenues you can use to communicate information as often, and as widely, as possible. Many organizations choose to create living documents that employees can access on their own schedule, but that cannot replace communication from you. Be certain your team hears vital information in as many ways as possible including emails, meetings, and chat applications.
Change isn’t something people always describe as fun. It can set off anxieties about the unknown and can invite a variety of reactions including questioning the change, proposing different ideas, and steadfast refusal to adopt all of the changes. As the leader, you must model the new way so others can follow your example. Your words, tone, and behavior will be critical in driving the change and creating confidence throughout the change process.
The Letting Go Enabler
Involuntary change, especially when paired with a potential crisis, can be accompanied by strong emotions. The anger, frustration, anxiety, and ambivalence your team will be experiencing is normal. It’s likely you will be experiencing many of the same emotions. Prepare yourself for a variety of responses to change as you adapt your business in the face of an external threat. Plan on providing empathetic listening and helpful information while also projecting a sense of confidence that the business and the team will work through any challenges that may arise. Help you and your team let go of what they thought should happen and instead reframe what is possible to move forward together.
Adapting to this change will require a resetting of priorities. High workloads mean our capacity for new work is limited, and the nature of an outbreak means that you must plan for one or more of your team members being unavailable as they take care of themselves or a family member. You can identify the critical functions your team performs and create redundancy to ensure those tasks are covered. This would also be a good time to let some things fall off the team’s to-do list. Categorize all other activities as Good, Better, or Best. The time not spent on business-critical tasks can be prioritized by asking employees to spend 35-40% of their time working on tasks classified as “best.” If necessary, allow “Good” and “Better” tasks to slide until things normalize.
It takes a lot of energy to make change happen, and with our brains on high alert, it is easy to notice everything that is going wrong. Catching people doing the right things can go a long way in boosting individual and team morale. Under any circumstances, positive feedback provides a boost and a confirmation that we are on the right track. It becomes even more valuable during tense and uncertain times. Finding ways to celebrate day-to-day accomplishments will lift up your team and give them the motivation to continue pushing through.
While we don’t know what is going to happen next, or how it will impact your organization, it’s prudent to develop your plan and practice the leadership behaviors that will guide your team through uncertain times. And remember to wash your hands!