LSP Leadership in the Time of COVID-19
With so much fear and uncertainty driven by the COVID-19 global crisis, there’s not enough information or solid data to make any reliable forecast about a global industry that serves many geographies, verticals, and applications. What we can say is that some companies will see more business, others no changes, and still others will lose clients or business. In the absence of primary data at this stage, what is certain is that leadership during the COVID-19 crisis is more critically important than anything else.
The first and biggest challenge is how to manage and motivate teams remotely during a period of profound uncertainty. Ask yourself right now: Do you and your management team have the leadership skills to remotely manage your company through this crisis? Your answer must go beyond the obvious responses like implementing contingency plans and providing the tools to work in isolation. You must demonstrate strong leadership to your company during this time of uncertainty.
What does “leadership” mean in the midst of a crisis? You have to communicate, motivate, enable, keep the business on track, and plan for when COVID-19 is behind us.
- Communicate early and frequently with staff. CEOs and managers should be available by videoconference tools for a big part of their day to answer questions from their employees and proactively identify issues. Leaders need to communicate frequently and in a timely fashion, even though they might not have all the answers.
- Communicate with clients. Identify and focus on what’s important to them, help them when possible – you may have more time to do for them what you couldn’t in the past. This is not the time to market or sell aggressively.
- Be transparent and honest. This is the time to have transparent and honest communication, including saying “I do not know” to important questions like “how long this will take?” and “when will we downsize?” In times of uncertainty, employees value the truth even if it is frightening. Be ready to proactively handle questions such as: “what if this situation lasts for months?” and “will you cut staff?”
- Create a team to monitor, centralize, and disseminate information. Meet with them daily and agree on the same messages from you and your management. When it comes to healthcare issues, identify credible sources that you trust and stick to them for guidance for you and your employees.
Listen, Motivate, and Enable
- Learn what your staff needs to do their jobs remotely. Make sure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs, and that they don’t spend all their time worrying about how they can work. Do they have a suitable environment? Are they comfortable working on their own? Do what you can to assuage and address their concerns.
- Probe the mood of employees and identify their worries. Find ways to bring them together for group discussions and activities. Encourage extra activities to keep employees fully engaged. Make them fun and not work-related – for example, have a team webinar focused on your global employees’ favorite dishes.
- Motivate and give employees freedom to act. Bring creative and innovative solutions that fit this crisis situation – you will learn a lot and they will stay engaged. Adjust management styles and approaches as needed to the different employees and their new work environment.
- Develop a culture of kindness. Think about nice touches that you can do for remote staff. Try to understand employee’s anxieties as early and as much as you can. A personal call from a leader is irreplaceable in terms of making them feel part of the team and an essential part of the business.
Keep the Business on Track
Don’t focus so much on the crisis that you forget about your business and its future:
- Track your budgets and forecasts. Conduct daily reviews of the budget and your forecast. This will be hard to do in the next few days and weeks as your client base itself adjusts to the situation and may not be as responsive as you like.
- Review your portfolio of business. Identify verticals and products that are at risk. Find the ones where there is still demand and adjust your sales approach.
- Think about scenarios. Based on your ongoing business reviews of the budget and forecast, do some what-if analysis – plan not only for the best case, but for less desirable outcomes. Try to anticipate what lies ahead and identify potential course correction including potential cuts and reductions for those scenarios.
- Train your team. This is the time to train or retrain employees on how to be efficient working remotely. In addition to your regular employee development program, enlist them in your customer outreach program during the crisis. Teach them how to talk to clients and prospects with empathy - what to say first when they call or are contacted including how to write emails asking about their contact’s health and families first.
Keep Thinking about Tomorrow
Learn from this experience and get ready now for when the crisis ends:
- Talk to clients and prospects. Conduct one on one calls or organize webinars; they may have more time to review their initiatives and projects or share more of their pain points. You will probably have more time to advise and consult with them.
- Push new initiatives and projects. Review your wish list of things you couldn’t do before such as planning to enter a new geography, developing new products, segmenting the market, training your teams, redoing your website or technology program, identifying which accounts and sectors you will go after when the virus is finally beaten.
- Develop a solid risk management plan. Set up a team to develop stronger plans for the next crisis. That group can also analyze the impact of COVID-19 on operations, including the ability of your team to work from home – and possibly demands from some of them to continue working remotely in the future.
Listen to Your Team– and Address Their Concerns
Our LSP clients have been sending us a steady stream of questions about employment issues related to the coronavirus. It’s likely your employees are asking the same questions. As part of your leadership strategy, think about how you can address them creatively.
Issues Related to Working at Home
- Do your employees have family members that are sick or at risk? How can they manage both work and family?
- What if both spouses have to work from home and have children to watch? Which hours do they work? And if online schooling is done properly, could it become a drain on home bandwidth?
- Do your employees have the physical space to work from home? This may be a big issue for younger staff who don’t have a big apartment or might be renting a single room. Or are they just in a crowded house?
Issues Related to Employees’ Frame of Mind
- Do they worry more about their salaries and potential cuts rather than performing their work tasks?
- Are they getting psychologically down by staying home all day?
- Are they communicating among themselves without your company’s leaders being involved?
- Are they afraid of communicating with prospects and clients during the crisis and or finishing an initiative or task?
Stay safe and healthy!
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