We keep hearing that “leadership is needed to get us through the current crisis” and that “successful survival through COVID-19 requires strong leaders.” While these observations are true, they do beg the question of what exactly a leader should be doing now to ensure business continuity and success. Are there certain actions that organizations can take to come out stronger at the other end of all this?
Here are a handful of concrete, specific actions for organization leaders to take to better get through the pandemic profitably and maybe even better than before:
1. Take stock. Objectively. With your own numbers
Nearly every organization I talk to is focused on cost control and cash flow. Clients may go out of business. Clients may not be able to pay bills on time. Corporations are imposing strict spending cuts and reducing budgets.
These are realistic concerns, and certainly spending must be carefully managed; however, other financial metrics should be analyzed, too. It may be that there are other ways to save money than furloughs and hiring freezes. For instance, if you run a law firm or other business, examine your fee structure. Perhaps you can modify the way you bill your clients going forward, in ways that will help your finances. Retainers or project fees could be a way of getting cash in the door up front, so that you already have it in the bank and don’t need to worry so much about receivables and collections.
Likewise, if you are a company that purchases outside services, examine your own spending amounts and type. Your data may show that you have overlooked some areas that are ripe for savings, or that your budgets would be a lot less “bumpy” if you arranged for some project or success-based fees.
2. Pay attention to your teams
Shockingly, I recently heard of a company that is losing talent, and the leaders aren’t even saying farewell to those who depart. I’m sure the leaders probably feel too busy or overwhelmed now just damming the flood — or possibly they want departures in order to save money. However, such an open lack of empathy and manners encourages other colleagues — who may already be demoralized by working remotely and seeing friends quit — to feel under-appreciated and disengaged. Those leaders may save money now, but who will be there to keep doing the work well if the best and most-experienced talent leaves?
3. Communicate frequently and candidly
As we are learning from recent books and films about Winston Churchill, getting through a crisis requires constant messaging with candor. Telling your organization’s employees what is really going on with finances, benefits, organizational structure, and business plans reduces the stress of the unknown. It also makes people feel valued and part of solutions.
If, as a leader, you are uncertain how much to share or when to share it, get a leadership or communications coach. Mark Smolik, general counsel and chief compliance officer for DHL Supply Chain Americas, has given compelling talks on how his team came together and achieved the unimaginable during crisis. We hear the same from the medical teams dealing with panic and overload during this pandemic.
Talk, talk, and then talk some more with all levels of your teams.
4. Seriously: Study your culture with data
Plan your strategy intelligently. Seriously. Think Churchill or Eisenhower. Everyone should not be looking into the same things. The finance experts should be analyzing your finances. Your communications and strategic planning leaders should be developing remarks, communications calendars, and FAQs. Other leaders and managers should be tasked with assessing your D&I numbers, the level of leadership training and experience of your subordinates, and the efficacy of your mentorship and sponsorship regimen.
Now is the time to figure out how to be best positioned for the next phase of your business. Understand how you hire. Check the numbers for why people join and leave. Are they aptly trained? Are you paying attention to career development desires? Are your colleagues encouraged to communicate frustrations and development needs? Have you performed candid skills assessments?
Now is the time to conduct valuable training as well as open dialogue about personal potential and plans. If you position your teams to be highly diverse in all senses of that word, and craft solid development plans for your high-potential employees, you will emerge from this crisis better positioned than your competitors and much stronger for the future.
5. CALL your clients. I mean it. CALL them. And track it
All of us are sitting at home looking at our computer screens all day long. A phone call means human contact that is so missed by so many. If done with preparedness, you can cement client relationships like never before.
Develop a script that gets beyond “How are you doing?” to understand the real fears of your client. Use this time to learn about other areas of your practice that could be improved — everything from bills, to frequency and length of emails, to too many points of contact, to whether you remember their birthdays.
There are proven ways to improve relations with your internal and external clients with oral communication. Learn the best ways. Develop your tools. And follow through on it.
As this crisis continues, you — as an organization leader — needs to look a little more outward for opportunity, rather than only inward with fear. Creatively plan for growth instead of only contraction. Innovate how you do things, and how you communicate. Enrich and engage your teams with proven talent solutions. And follow the metrics.
In the end, you will feel good, outpace your competitors, improve your processes, become more effective and efficient, and demonstrate to your teams that you are a true leader.