We have an unprecedented crisis on our hands. Before last week, while reports kept popping up about employees in few organisations contracting the virus, leading to a work-from- home situation, normalcy prevailed for many of us. We kept one eye on the news and another on driving business as usual. However, when the Government mandated work-from-home and isolation, it thrust the corporate world into a situation it was not really prepared for.
With such uncertainty, it is upon the leaders to shine a light on the road their employees should take.
This is where the twin challenges arise — of trying to ensure that the employees, colleagues, customers, and their families are kept safe, and of attempting to prevent disruptions in the supply chain and stay afloat. Driving business continuity at a time like this comes with its own set of challenges and to-do’s since this is not business-as-usual.
The best leaders are very clear in what they want to communicate
Here are a few essential dos and don’ts that leaders need to keep in mind during a crisis situation.
Stay genuine and authentic
Leadership is successful when the employees believe in the leader. In such times, it is all the more important to know what and when to say, because people in an organisation have limited avenues to source information from and are most likely to believe whatever comes straight from the horse’s mouth
“A leader should not present flowery words to the employees in times of distress. Along with grace and dignity, being genuine in words and actions is the most essential element in leading people,” says Nihar Ghosh, CHRO, Emami Group.
Take the example of Jeff Bezos, who in an open letter to his employees on March 22, said, ‘It is only going to get worse before it gets better’. While the message is not all positive, it presents true facts without any sugar coating. This not only helps build an employee’s trust, but also paints a clear picture of the state of business at hand.
“Clarity, assurance and accountability have to be essentials of any leadership communication in moments of crises. The best leaders are very clear in what they want to communicate”, says Prabir Jha, HR specialist.
However bad the state of things may be, clarity in a difficult time is more assuring than flowery words.
Keeping the flock together:
Every company has experienced work from home, and while the concept is not new, a complete remote-work scenario is something nobody had ever practiced. This may prompt leaders to work harder and for longer hours to stay in touch with others within the organisation.
With everyone working from home, leading during this time translates to staying connected. People are more used to the physical space rather that the virtual one. Therefore, it falls upon the leaders to help them navigate through this every business day. Constant communication cannot be over-emphasised at this point.
As every organisation out there is trying to stay afloat, there may be dedicated teams working longer hours to ensure that business continuity becomes possible. However, not everyone may be able to pull in the same level of productivity that is expected of them. The same level of output as on a regular working day cannot be expected from the workers during such times, since this is a scenario they are not used to.
Sensitivity and empathy are key to keeping the employees engaged and motivated to continue working despite the challenges encountered in delivery. Now, there will be constraints that people may not be used to, and in this scenario, there may be multiple variables hindering work, which are not thought of. “Exacting standards of outcome is not the best thing to do right now because people may just give up or sign off,” points out Ghosh.
This is especially true for jobs, which are more outcome-based, such as sales or marketing. There will be a high degree of anxiety created around this time. Therefore, sensitivity and compassion are important elements in leading people.
While there is a lot of pressure on employees to deliver, the leadership faces the pressure to provide answers.
A leader should not present flowery words to the employees in the time of distress. One should be genuine in words and actions.
Leaders are human too. Despite the tough environment, they have to project a sense of calm and assuredness to those under them. Most organisations have blueprints on how to function during a crisis. Even so, people may merely be taking it one day at a time. Employees at this time will need answers to questions that one may not have.
So what can be done?
Honest, consistent and adaptive communication is the need of the hour. Rather than projecting false confidence it may help more to be honest about being uncertain and proactively following up on earlier statements. This means, actively addressing any concerns that are raised and adapting to the ever-changing reality.
Preparing a plan B:
This may sound apocalyptic, but it may be time to have a contingency plan in place. There may be a need to start a dialogue around a plan B for the organisation. With business hit hard and struggling to stay afloat, workers are bound to wonder about the fate of the organisation and their own.
In such a case, all leaders must communicate with their employees about what a worst-case scenario may look like, and how the company is preparing for it. “The essence of leadership is to make people feel that their leaders are standing beside them, not just through words but through actions,” asserts Ghosh.
It is the times of distress that make or break a leader and with no clue as to when the lockdown is going to be lifted, leadership needs to heed these few points to drive business continuity and overcome the barriers of leading remotely!
To conclude, as Jha puts it, “Done well, an informed group of people can collaborate responsibly to effect a remedial game plan that finally wins them, individually and collectively, their day. And it becomes folklore to leverage in future storytelling in culture shaping that ensures a more battle-ready environment for the future.”