Leading in the NEW ABNORMAL: Covid-19 People Priorities

A crisis by definition involves an abnormal state.  So let us be clear:  the coronavirus pandemic has not ushered in a new normal but an abnormal social and economic dislocation unlike anything in memory.  To be effective in battling this existential threat to life and economic well-being, organizational leaders need a playbook that prioritizes speed, flexibility and adaptability in managing uncertainty.

Here are three people priority focus areas for leading effectively in the NEW ABNORMAL.

FOCUS AREA 1.  PROTECT AND PRESERVE

The prime imperative for organizational leaders now is to protect their people in any way they can responsibly do so.  When basic safety measures are in place and preserved, employees (and other stakeholders) can better manage immediate and longer-term uncertainty.  Consequently, they are better able to comply with important directives, adapt to radically different work and living conditions, and continue to be productive while sheltering in place.

Leaders should:

  • Convey that they are in charge and taking action
  • Acknowledge people’s emotions and fears
  • Show compassion in word and deed
  • Prepare for multiple personnel scenarios as well as mitigation steps
  • Share in any sacrifice that impacts employees or other key constituencies
  • Explain the rationale behind tough or painful decisions

 

FOCUS AREA 2.  COMMUNICATE FREQUENTLY

The coronavirus pandemic presents evolving challenges on a daily basis.  Government directives, family responsibilities, work requirements and situations are in rapid flux.  Employees crave reliable, current information so that they can maintain some semblance of control and safety over their environment and loved ones. Remember that in stressful situations people often have difficulty retaining information accurately and fully.

Leaders should:

  • Tell the truth to the extent that they can appropriately disclose information
  • Be clear and to the point
  • Focus on key messages and repeat them often
  • Stay fact-based; avoid speculation
  • Use short sentences, bullets and checklists
  • Acknowledge “known unknowns” to show that they are aware of them
  • Coordinate messaging across senior management for consistency

 

FOCUS AREA 3.  PROMOTE ADAPTABILITY

The American philosopher and psychologist William James observed, “Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”  Motivating people to take practical, positive action to advance a shared goal fosters individual and collective resilience.

Leaders should:

  • Model behaviors and attitudes that help employees regain a sense of control and purpose
  • Encourage creative problem-solving to address real-time business needs and operations
  • Use technology to maintain community and remote engagement with employees and other stakeholders
  • Promote flexible work arrangements to accommodate stay-at-home disruptions
  • Share stress management activities and resources

 

A CHALLENGE OF HISTORIC PROPORTIONS

In summary, the Covid-19 crisis will undoubtedly transform our world and society in ways that cannot yet be predicted or identified.  For now, leaders of both private and public sector organizations can succeed in navigating this NEW ABNORMAL by consistently showing their employees and other key constituencies that they are competent, trustworthy and responsible.

Copyright © 2020, Susan Battley.  All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.