“The coronavirus crisis is a story with an unclear ending. What is clear is that the human impact is already tragic and that companies have an imperative to act immediately to protect their employees, address business challenges and risks, and help to mitigate the outbreak in whatever ways they can.” 

“COVID-19 Implications for Business” by McKinsey & Company

As many of our customers struggle to confront the business implications of the COVID-19 crisis, they are left looking for support and guidance in responding to these unprecedented events while also considering the future.   

On a daily basis, organizations are being forced to re-evaluate priorities, focus their attention on understanding how this epidemic is impacting their business, and then quickly making decisions that are swiftly actioned to confront their real-time challenges while driving immediate results.  There are so many unknowns, largely due to a lack of experience in dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.  

As we work with our customers, there are several questions that we consistently see them facing as they execute during these very uncertain times. To offer perspective and guidance, we held a webcast, “Leadership during COVID-19” with two seasoned leaders, Andy Laudato (Twitter | LinkedIn) and Robert Claybrook (LinkedIn). Here’s what the speakers and attendees had to say:

  • Where should we be focusing first and why?
    • “The first thing we did was establish a leadership/response team. It’s a small group of five people and we meet every day, seven days a week, in the morning and afternoon.”
    • “We’ve come up with a list of priorities, or guideposts, that guide every single decision.  First and foremost, our priority is the health and wellness of our employees.  The second is the health and wellness of our customers…And finally the health and wellness of our business. We want to make sure we still have a viable business after all this. We’re making every decision through that lens and aligning ourselves to those priorities.”

Summary: As the reality of “work at home” sets in for people, teams, and organizations, it is important to consider multiple factors that will keep people safe yet operational, individually and together.

  • How do we ensure the integrity of our leadership in our efforts to navigate the unknown and remain operational (and financially solvent) during the crisis?
    • “There is an emphasis on being (1) customer-focused, (2) humanity-first, (3) business-driven and (4) technology-powered.”
    • “Taking every day in small increments is important as you talk to your teams and help them navigate through the stress of the situation.”

Summary: Crisis leadership teams who stay connected, aligned, and respond as a united front to implement changes while pivoting when necessary as priorities change daily will be effective and garner confidence

  • What are the top stresses you’re encountering?
    • “We’re dealing with so many different policies and regulations. It’s difficult to keep up with all the rules whether they’re local, state or federal as we shift operationally and try to ensure consistency across the organization.  It’s been a real stress point for us.”
    • “The home networks are challenging. You have multiple people trying to work from their homes and the finite resources of their home networks make it challenging to work.”

Summary: Working in the setting of home can be foreign, to many if not most people. Employees are no longer working from home; they’re working at home. As the workforce continues to be virtual, it’s important to create routines. Organizations need to solidify policies for the virtual workforce and set ground rules.

  • What are you doing regarding culture?  How are you keeping morale high or positive for your virtual workforce?
    • “We have a fun committee and we’re looking for fun things to do at home.  We’ve done a funny hat contest and bring your pet to the camera during our internal calls.  We’re talking about also doing a virtual happy hour.  Anything that we can do to keep the levity.  It’s a serious situation but there’s no reason you can’t have a laugh or a chuckle.”
    • “We’re asking everyone to turn on the camera (during conference calls). Listen to folks. Smile at each other. Talk about the challenges everyone is facing and see how we can help each other.”

Summary: Organizations need to strike a delicate balance between acknowledging the seriousness of the situation while also injecting humor and humanity.  This goes a long way in helping people deal with the stress and reality of the situation.

  • How do you stay connected within your ecosystem when serving your customers and clients?
    • “You just have to spend time talking to people. A lot of one-on-one conversations.”
    • “Just keep sharing and learning from each other.”

Summary: Understanding your ecosystem of partners, customers, and clients is essential. And even more so, being aware and considerate of their experience during this crisis is crucial. Search for that delicate balance of being supportive without being intrusive.

  • What have you learned from your experiences during other times of crisis and how are you applying it today?
    • “Communication, communication, communication. Focusing on communication is what I’ve learned from the past that we’re trying to apply aggressively today. ”
    • “I think you have to go back to the basics of establishing communications with your task force or leadership team, being able to get in touch with folks, gather information, make decisions quickly and be able to quickly push that information out.”

Summary: Some of the key lessons we can learn from past experiences is the need for businesses to reallocate capabilities, shift sales channels, and essentially look for opportunity amid adversity. A crisis will tax the resilience of your people, teams, and whole organization.

  • What’s the “new normal?” How will it affect the future?
    • “Long-range planning now means one week…Until we get stable, long-term strategy is out the door and we’re working day-to-day.”
    • “I think there are many things that will change in the long-term…The mindset about work from home will change. I don’t think we’re going to move completely to work from home.  We all need the social aspect of going to the office. But I think it will become more common.”
    • “The daily meetings that we’ve established aren’t going to go away. They’re going to continue…We’re going to become more efficient in how we communicate.”

Summary: Although the future is unknown, it is important to integrate possibilities to inform decisions being made in real-time as the crisis unfolds. Not integrating enough possibilities or integrating too many possibilities will work against you, there is a delicate balance to be discovered.

These were some of the key discussion points during our webcast, “Leadership During COVID-19.” Listen to the on-demand recording of the session to hear everything that was discussed.


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