There is so much information about Covid19 coming from so many sources. There is very little about managing through such an unprecedented time of turmoil. Whether you are a CEO/Owner, Executive or Manager, your team members look to you for guidance.
Every situation is unique in so many ways. There is no magic formula. For most businesses, revenue has dried up. Expenses continue. The duration of disruption is unknown. And the recovery rate is uncertain.
How does one manage in such circumstances, whether it is an organization, a department or a team?
The core principles for the best practices of change management still apply.
In normal times, when there is a change, the executive and managers can expect resistance. In normal times, the desired organizational outcome is known, and we manage a change process to get there.
The big difference now, in these days of Covid-19, is that the executive and managers do not know the organizational outcome. Instead of trying to introduce dissonance, we are all living in a state of dissonance.
Communication is Key
There is a temptation for us to wait until we know more before we communicate. We feel that our employees will want answers, and we want to find answers before communicating. But the opposite is true. People are looking for answers, true. But in the absence of answers, knowing your thoughts, and even your own areas of uncertainty, will help people.
In this communication, transparency is key. In large change projects I have managed, we use the mantra with employees:
“We will tell you what we know, we will tell you what we don’t know,
and we will tell you more as soon as we know.”
In times of uncertainty, this is even more important. Without information, speculation abounds, and this can lead to rumours which are harmful to the team. Being transparent early, even without all the facts, is better than more complete information that is late.
Remember the 5 Requirements
All managers, no matter what level of the organization, have Five Requirements that must be fulfilled to be effective. They apply, perhaps in different ways, but they are more important than ever.
If you are like me, your plan that was perfectly valid a month ago is out the window. In time of uncertainty, having a plan is more important than ever. Because of the nature of the pandemic, the plan will be shorter than usual. What are your one, two and three month options? What can you decide that is in your control? Your plan may have a lot of ‘if then’ statements, but even that will give you more clarity for short term decision-making. The crisis will pass – so the challenge is how to position yourself and your team to take off running when you can.
What is the value-added work that only you can do? Make sure you set enough time aside to focus on these initiatives. What is the value-added work that only your immediate subordinates can do? Do they realize this is work they must do? Have you been clear in delegating? Are you sure they are focused on it?
At this time more than ever you need to set context for your team. If you are the head of the organization, the context must be set for your team and for the organization as a whole. What is the same? What is different? How do we act in the interim phase? If working from home – what does that mean? If you are an essential service, how do employees protect themselves? And what is the role of managers in assuring this?
Delegation is all about setting clear outcome expectations for each of your team members. This clarity should include expectations of quality, quantity, timeliness and the resources available. Whatever you had in place even a few weeks ago has probably changed. Those things you expected to have completed by the end of the quarter, or the end of the year are not likely to happen. As a result, you have work to do as a manager to reset these expectations.
This is a step often missed by heads of organizations. It is often assumed that your team members know what they need to do. They do in a sense, and certainly do not need as much direction as front line employees. But do not forget that they are driven by the filter of the department for which they are accountable. What is best for Operations, or Sales, or Finance is not necessarily what is best for the whole organization. As the head of the organization, only you have the context to set the priorities that are the best for the organization overall.
Feedback loops are more important than every before. Whatever you decide to do in the short term, it is the people that are doing the work that will know best how to initiate the change. Accurate information is critical, and managers rely on it to do their job well. Be sure you access and leverage that information that is within your organization. Remember that each manager has four feedback loops that must be established and maintained: with each team member, with the team as a whole, with peers in the organization, and with the community.
Preparing for the Bounce Back
We all need to be positive. As a management consultant I provide methods, tools and counsel to my clients. My business is also impacted for the same reasons as most businesses. I am also a spouse, a father, a grandparent and friend of many wonderful people. I am worried, as I am sure you are. Let’s temper these fears by focusing on those things we can control. There may be uncertainty about the length of the crisis, and the nature of the recovery, but we know it is coming. So, let’s be ready.
My insights on that?
Ironically, the best way to ensure that you are agile as a company is to have the right structure in place. Have you got the best organization design for where you are headed? Do you have the right people in the right roles? Are your team members properly equipped? Have they been delegated appropriate work so you can focus on your own added-value work? Do you have a system for ensuring bench strength? Do you have a common language for delegating and collaborating?
Here is a short article and video on the key elements that need to be in place for top performing organizations. Think about what you can do now so your organization will be ready to bounce back when the opportunity presents itself.