In March, we were all sent into our storm shelters because Covid-19, a metaphorical hurricane, was coming straight at us. As we hunkered down to wait out the storm, socially distant from each other, we heard the winds howling, we watched the news, and we waited for the all-clear. Now it’s June, and for some, the all-clear has sounded - or at least the mostly-clear. People have left their shelters, many of them for great reasons (e.g. to fight for racial justice) and many of them for less-great reasons (e.g. because they got bored) - either way, they’re done with the storm. Indeed, The Atlantic published a great piece this week entitled, America Is Giving Up on the Pandemic, which explains that the storm is not done with us, and that a large spike in infections seems likely. The hurricane’s not over; we’re in its eye.
How will we react when the hurricane siren sounds again? Will we diligently and dejectedly return to our shelters, or will we stay out and hope for the best? Our best guess is that this time, most places in North America won’t be heading back into a full lockdown, but will instead double-down on measures to protect seniors and healthcare workers, restrict travel, offer personal safety guidelines, maintain best practices in stores and public places, amplify and leverage testing and tracking capabilities to try to maintain some semblance of control, and ride it out.
But who are we to guess? We are readers of these prognostications, just like you are.
Our question to you is this: if we’re in the metaphorical “eye of the hurricane” and worse weather is almost certainly coming, what’s your plan for this period? If you’ve only got a few weeks or months before Covid-19 is back upon us in full force, how will you spend this time to prepare for what’s ahead?
YOUR PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THIS ISN’T OVER
Trust and transparency have been premium leadership traits over the last few months. People have come to rely on their leaders for a clear and honest appraisal of how things are. If you believe the storm isn’t over, you need to tell people that and make it okay.
One way to do that is to reach out to them for help in building a plan for the next few months, and to make sure they’re planning themselves, within their business unit, their function, their project team, their customer accounts, and so on.
If you fail to do this, if you instead assure them this is over, only to be proven wrong in a few weeks, you will lose all the faith you’ve built, maybe even setting it back to pre-Covid-19 levels.
ASK THEM HOW THEY’LL WORK AND WHAT THEY NEED
Once you’ve had the conversation about what’s ahead and people are planning for the next period, ask them what they need to remain productive and healthy (mentally and physically). Where will they be working? How can you help optimize their situation? Do they have the support they need, and if not, should they put themselves in another place where they have it? Do they have the technology they need? What other resources can you give them?
By having these frank conversations now, you can head-off panicked discussions later, plan accordingly, and respond proactively to the anticipated needs. Even if the storm somehow passes without any further incident, the answers to these questions are the same ones you’ll be soliciting as you define your organization’s new normal for work.
BATTEN-DOWN THE OPERATIONAL HATCHES ONCE AGAIN
Now is not the time to take your eye off the ball when it comes to the nuts and bolts of what makes your organization function. When the pandemic put your operations to the test a few months ago, you quickly shored things up, learned a new way of operating, took emergency measures in terms of product and service development and delivery, and found ways to make things work.
Keep those emergency measures in place. Don’t try to revert back to “normal” too quickly. Things aren’t going back to normal, even after the storm passes, and they certainly aren’t going back to normal while we’re in the eye of the storm. Be ready. Make sure your organization is ready.
UNTIL THE COAST IS CLEAR, IT’S NOT TIME TO COAST
So many good practices and behaviors have emerged in the last few months. People have been more open to trying new things and making quick, high-consequence decisions. Bad processes have been rapidly put out to pasture. Trust and transparency and camaraderie and culture have thrived. The last few months have accelerated us into the next few years when it comes to technology, demographic shifts, the future of work, and so on.
It’s easy right now to feel self-satisfied - “We’ve weathered the storm and come out better for the experience” - and get complacent when it comes to all the good that has just started to take root. Don’t coast. Don’t become complacent. Keep your foot on the accelerator. Keep people busy and focused on securing the future that you now see. Not oppressively, but aggressively. If, in 1968, humankind wasn’t quite on the moon but was close, and we relieved the pressure to finish the job, we never would have gotten there.
Get there. Keep people focused on lofty goals, innovation, continued improvement, trust-building, and setting the course for the future. And don’t allow them to waver as the clouds darken once again.
SEE WHAT’S COMING AND BRAVELY LEAD THE WAY
Nobody wants more of the fear, uncertainty, and chaos we’ve already experienced. But we don’t get to choose whether or not there’s more to come. As a leader, you need to come to grips with the reality that while societies are opening up, we’re not through this yet. You can’t duck that truth, or shy away from your responsibility to lead people through it.
Warn your people. Warn your customers and your partners. Discuss this with them. Show them you’re planning for it, seek out their input, and assure them that this time you’re ready. Show them resolve and resilience, confidence and optimism. And back it up with action. That’s what they will need and what they will remember. Otherwise, the carefully built goodwill of the last few months will ring hollow when we’re right back in it and stumbling again like we didn’t see this coming.
The eye of the storm affords a brief opportunity to get ready. Don’t squander this time.
Original article posted on Forbes on June 15, 2020
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