6 Focus Areas for Leaders in COVID-19 Times
In these challenging times when every day one hears about companies shutting down, pay cuts and the COVID-19 crisis only deepening; all the eyes are on the leadership of the organisation. While the whole world struggles to overcome this crisis, it is the leader who is expected to answer some tough questions. Realistically, the stakeholders are many, options few and situation dim. It is indeed one of the most difficult positions to be in.
But life was never meant to be fair, isn’t it? After all only tough times bring out the best in any person and leaders are no different. As someone very famously has said, tough times don’t last but tough people do. Are you ready to make it to the other side of COVID-19 feeling you made a difference?
Employees will soon be coming back to work after more than two months. The office etiquette will have to change, the way we have been working from home so far will have to be factored in, and we all have to adjust to a new normal. At the crux of it all is employee satisfaction, because we are all aware of the fact that happy employees work harder, longer, and are more in alignment with the company.
So now that most of the fire-fighting is done, decisions made, one-downs are managing the show; what should the leaders focus on? Let’s dive right in.
A company’s vision and values are and will always be crucial no matter its size. A vision has to be well thought out and spell out the course of action for at least 5-10 years ahead, tackling long-term challenges and goals. And it’s time re-visit the vision because the next 5 – 10 years will be nothing like what we anticipated at the start of 2020.
Often one looks at the company vision at the beginning and while it is always there, it is not central to our everyday work. It is lost amid current affairs, new ideas, new goals or new team. Also, a vision is not the same as a goal, and should not be confused for the other. A vision is a clear direction where you see your company going in the future, and goals are set with targets to achieve this vision. It’s okay to have a vision that you can’t be 100% sure you’ll succeed, but it must be at least likely for the organisation to accomplish it.
Often companies assume that only one of the two is necessary. One without the other is like a half-baked cake, neither can be eaten nor is there room to recook it. A clear vision shows a serious employee that they can also grow with the company.
Action point: It is an ideal time to relook at the company’s vision. COVID-19 may have changed the scenario altogether. It’s almost like a fresh start. So, create a vision board along with your key employees. Visualisation is a great exercise to approach your goals creatively, with a big-picture mindset. When you visualise your ideal business or your biggest income goals, you are most certainly priming your mind to achieve them.
2. Performance management:
Pardon my poor correlation, but I sure feel it makes it easy to understand that remote working is like having a long-distance relationship. For one, it is way more demanding. Also before you read ahead, clearly note that performance management is not about the performance appraisal. The performance appraisal system or process is only one of the aspects of performance management that help you assess the performance.
In simple terms, performance management is doing what it takes to ensure every team member can perform at their best. Some employees may need hand-holding, some may need perks, some may need motivation, some may need purpose, some may need appreciation; in current times, some may need more time to cope, some may need hardware, some may need emotional support, I think you get the drift.
In my experience as a consultant, I have come across many team leaders who struggle with performance management despite having the team in close quarters. Even research has proved that 8 out of 10 employees feel their managers are not able to give them the support that they need. Surely in current times, such an issue will be at its peak.
It is not a surprise then that every organisation is seeing a drastic tip in productivity. If you continue without updating, you may never see the real picture.
Action point: Identify your new KPIs (key performance indicators). Chances are you may need to measure completely different aspects to those that you measured a few months ago. When the parameters change, ways to enable performance management may undergo a drastic change and the ways to measure these parameters will also need to change.
3. Training and development:
The first thing to do when designing a training programme is to not think about training. But rather, think of the goals the company is trying to achieve. Too often training programs are developed without a business goal in mind, and are destined to fail. Many companies’ approach to training is very symptomatic (address the current problem only) versus analytical (what do we need to become in the future) keeping a long-range in mind. If a training programme does not directly impact a company’s business need, it should not be developed.
In the current time, there is a lot of talk around employee training. If the workforce is idle, let them undergo training. But is that the right approach? 2 months into the lockdown and I feel it would be a haste decision. Why? For instance, a company spends hours training employees on improving product knowledge, but is the product going to be the same? Wouldn’t they have to retrain should the product change (which it most likely will)? Another example is training related to basic skills, the question to ask however is – will these skills be applied in the same context?
Does this mean training and development need to be put on the sideline? No, not at all! The need of the hours is to be able to look into the future and ascertain how will the context change for your employees and therefore, what skill upgrade or enhancement will they need. Needless to say, you will also need to re-assess your employees’ skills to develop a programme that is customised to give you the desired output.
Action point: Rework your organisations’ skill matrix. When the business context changes a lot of other changes come along with it. Rope in your team leaders and work on various angles, assess your preparedness to deliver high performance in the new context. Identify the gaps and create a road map to fill these gaps within a fixed timeline.
4. Employee engagement:
It is important to rebuild the confidence of employees and promote positive workplace culture. Positive does not mean it has to be all fun and games. In these COVID times, it has to be realistic. True employee engagement will mean letting employees communicate their feelings openly. Some may want answers, some may be upset about colleagues who lost their jobs and still some may be unable to cope up with the uncertainty. Letting employees express and showing them that you care would mean a lot to them right now and that’s when they are likely to feel truly engaged. Productivity may take a temporary dip but it will pick up and be stronger and stable than before.
When employees feel they are heard they are more likely to listen and put in extra efforts into what they are doing. Most organisations tend to be transactional and focus on deadlines and getting work done instead of focusing on the level of employee engagement in their organisation and that’s where they fail.
One engaged employee can contribute a lot more to organisational productivity than ten disengaged employees. Good employee engagement helps retain talent and increase productivity. An engaged employee also tends to provide better customer service.
Action point: Besides a strong vision, engage employees in goal setting and planning, see if they would like to take on some new role, responsibilities, trust them, provide constructive feedback, hold them accountable and pat them on the back for stepping up! Chances are, most of them will begin to take ownership.
5. Work culture:
Workplace culture is the shared values, belief systems, attitudes that people in a workplace share. This is shaped by several things including an employee’s upbringing, social and cultural context. In the current situation, there will be a huge upheaval here, and companies will be thrown off track. With trends points towards remote working, work culture will need to be redefined.
Day to day interactions between employees and team leaders will shape the way the culture of your organisation evolves during the current times of crisis. Leaders are custodians of culture. If you let a communication slip or if you let a case be handled badly, it will leave a dent and show its effect in the form of bad culture.
I can’t stress enough about how a positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce. Job satisfaction, collaboration, and work performance are all enhanced. And, most importantly, a positive work environment reduces stress in employees.
Action point: Foster better communication and collaboration, lesser hierarchy and bureaucracy, and making the workplace inclusive. As a leader, you need to encourage bottom-up communication to get the pulse of your organisation.
What could be more vital to a company’s long-term health than the choice and cultivation of its future leaders?
Charting a succession plan and a leadership development programme is important. These have to be flexible, and not rigid towards just high-potential employees. They also need to be oriented towards the development of the company. For example, many employees who would otherwise not be seen as performers in the office set-up are stepping up their game in these uncertain times. These have to be factored in.
Here, it helps to get down to basics and define the company’s long-term leadership needs. A leader’s current focus needs to be picking up and then maintaining growth and pace. The employees you pick for the programme need to be continuously evaluated, through mentoring and shadowing. Avoid tunnel visioning and make sure you have a bunch of people to rely on. Also, along with leadership training focus on retention of promising employees.
Leadership will define whether the company will get back on track soon or not. It is what will make all the difference. Therefore leaders need to focus on improving the company’s health.
Action point: Use this time to create a succession plan. A new way of work will be demanding on the leadership team and ensuring that there are capable employees who can step in to ease the burden will be ideal for times to come. Investing in leadership development should be at the top of the list.
The thing that sets successful companies apart is the most obvious – that things just seem to get done. That’s because people get things done. It is therefore critical for leaders to focus on employees during these challenging times. Ultimately, it is employees who will help you get your things in order once again.
At Yellow Spark, we conduct leadership training to rekindle the leadership spark, and to ensure better organisational productivity. To know more write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.