How are CEOs of the Unicorn Club assuaging their ‘panic-stricken’ staff?

Business leaders are reaching out to their workforces and associates, through social media and mailers, to assure them of their support and to give them hope of tiding over these challenging times hand in hand.

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(L-R) Jeff Bezos, Satya Nadella, Punit Renjen

We often hear that running a large company is one of the most complex jobs in the world. Business schools, strategic consultancies, headhunting firms, training providers, executive coaches all have a tendency to mystify the work of the CEO. When one dreams of establishing a million-dollar firm, the prime aim of the visionary is to have his taskforce ready to fight in the arena as they are the ones who put into effect the dreams and ambitions of the caretaker.

The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has quickly eclipsed other recent epidemics, in both size and scope. In addition to the human toll and the disruption to millions of people’s lives, the economic damage is already significant and far-reaching. Amidst this deadly turmoil, it is the duty of the owners of the unicorn conglomerates to put the fears of their ‘panic-stricken’ employees to rest, and make them believe that they will all fight together in this adverse condition.

Considering that we all earn for the welfare of our families and to provide them comforting lifestyles, the primary concern of the bread earners today is to protect themselves and their families amidst this fatal pandemic. Here is what distinguishes a resilient leader from a normal comrade sort of a leader. While most leaders are strategising to keep their businesses unaffected and forcing employees to come to office to work, resilient leaders are walking hand-in-hand with their employees, making sure that they are not alone in this pandemic; and that they need to primarily take care of their health by adhering to government norms and self-quarantine themselves.

According to Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte Global, “The essential focus in a crisis is to recognise the impact this uncertainty is having on the people that drive the organisation. At such times, emotional intelligence is critical. Resilient leaders express empathy and compassion for the human side of the upheaval in everything they do during a crisis —for instance, acknowledging how radically their employees’ personal priorities have shifted away from work to being concerned about family health, accommodating extended school closures, and absorbing the human angst of life-threatening uncertainty. Robust leaders also encourage their people to adopt a calm and methodical approach to whatever happens next.”

Merging minds under one umbrella

In a crisis, customers often revert to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to basic desires such as safety, security and health. How can the nature and tone of customer communication and the sensitivity of your customer experience shift in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis? Customers are struggling through this crisis too. Therefore, they expect empathy. They will seek to be treated with the same kindness and grace that you show your workers. Simple things/acts can go a long way. UberEats is asking customers if they want food left at the door rather than being physically handed over to them. Many airlines have e-mailed customers describing their enhanced plane decontamination efforts. Some restaurants have encouraged their wait staff to visibly use hand sanitiser to assuage patron concerns.

Similarly, Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder, Amazon, dedicated a post to his employees listing the measures which the tech giant is going to take to keep its personnel safe. In the same message, Bezos has also encouraged those who have been laid off during this epidemic to consider working for the Company.

Bezos shared a post on his official Instagram page on Saturday, saying, “This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty. It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is itself most critical.”

In the post, Bezos highlighted how Amazon is deviating from other business verticals and emphasizing on how to provide utilities to people at their doorstep in the most efficient manner. He also urged people from other professions to join hands in times of such dire need, if they are currently jobless. Amazon is also trying to provide masks to its employees who are unable to work from home. The Company has placed orders for ‘millions’, but it has been facing problems as the masks are in short supply and the governments are currently directing them to facilities that require them the most, such as vulnerable areas and hospitals.3

In the memo, Bezos also reiterated that the Company is going to hire 100,000 more people and also mentioned plans to raise the wages for Amazon’s hourly workers. He ended the memo with, “Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. I know that we’re going to get through this, together.”

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft, seems to be working on the same lines. His mail aims to calm the employee base in response to the global pandemic coronavirus (COVID-19). Nadella addresses the workforce and enlightens them about how Microsoft is working closely with “governments, health providers, schools, food suppliers, and other commercial customers.”

Nadella’s empathetic e-mailer emphasised on taking utmost precaution to safeguard the health of one’s own self and that of family members. He shared that like everyone else, he too is worried about the health and safety of his family, co-workers and friends. “My wife and I worry for her ageing parents, who are far away from us in India. I see the struggle in our local community, and around the world; the empty streets and restaurants, and I wonder when our social fabric will be restored,” said Nadella. Lastly, he detailed how Microsoft is currently paying its employees in retail stores and hourly service providers the regular pay.

In a time of crisis, trust is paramount. The following simple formula emphasises the key elements of trust for individuals and for organisations:

Trust = Transparency + Relationship + Experience

COVID-19 is likely to accelerate fundamental and structural changes, which were inevitable in any case, but are now likely to occur far more rapidly than they would otherwise. Consider that the ‘virtualisation’ of work—undertaken from home or elsewhere, with remote collaboration and reduced travel for physical colocation—has been evolving steadily.

Today, all around the world, businesses—and their talent—are learning to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate on virtual platforms, and understanding the increased efficacy and efficiency such modalities of work can provide. Virtual work and collaboration tools are likely to create a booming new market space.

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