The coronavirus outbreak has sparked a huge conversation around leadership. Government agencies are a focal point – but leadership is being tested at every level, in every organisation, from small businesses to global corporations. Many teams have been forced to suspend operations, and many of those who continue to operate have been decentralised.
As employees adapt to new ways of working, anxieties around the long-term health of the organisation (and the state of the world in general) can negatively affect morale and performance. Managers don’t have all the answers – but they do have a chance demonstrate capable leadership.
The best place to start – the foundation of a good crisis-management strategy – is open, clear, honest communication.
To that end, here are seven steps managers can take to strengthen their communication efforts during COVID-19.
1. Strengthen your voice by leaning on experts
Any effective crisis strategy begins by separating charged emotions from facts and data. Everyone has their own ideas around the crisis, and these ideas are often fuelled by 24-hour news coverage and the onslaught of social media. Instead of playing into the hype, managers should aim for a calming, unifying tone that instils optimism and level-headed determination.
2. Show that your business is prepared
Even if your business continuity plan isn’t a blueprint for dealing with the current crisis, it must contain elements that do apply. By highlighting relevant sections of an existing plan, and communicating this information to your employees, you can support the psychological and emotional needs of the organisation:
- It demonstrates forethought, competence, and continuity during a chaotic moment
- It shows concern for the well-being of your workplace and your community
- It reduces the need for leaders to speak and act extemporaneously
3. Build community in the workplace
Building a strong sense of community is an important driver of mental wellness and organisational success – but for now, our everyday experience of work has changed. If we’re going to build community during coronavirus, we have to get creative in the digital world. Our communications should lean on facts and preparedness plans, yes – but we should also acknowledge the human toll a crisis. Three suggestions:
Issue a morning message from the CEO
Establish times when employees can virtually convene
Highlight existing resources and remind employees to support one another
4. Solicit feedback
How can employees be productive if they don’t feel secure at work and at home? Even though the company can’t address all of the human challenges its employees are facing, its managers can and should be carefully tuned into those challenges.
5. Bend (or change) the rules
The impulse to charge relentlessly forward – to follow the rules without making exceptions – is not always going to serve managers well during COVID-19. It might make sense to bend or change established rules for a number of reasons (e.g. to address tangible health requirements, or show support for people’s emotional needs). To lead effectively during this crisis is to show your willingness to work with people. Be an advocate for your team – they will remember it long after the crisis has ended.
6. Be transparent about your decisions
Now more than ever, trust is an important currency. In order to build it, managers need to show direct examples of managerial competence. The best way to do this? Document your decision-making. Ask people in your organisation to be ambassadors by channelling information upstream and down. Be prepared to answer questions and explain your choices. If we take a “wizard behind the curtain” approach in the age of coronavirus, trust will start to erode and performance will suffer.
7. Emphasise passion over persuasion
Keep in mind that employees are human beings – outside of work, they have families and lives that are deeply important to them. By showing empathy and dedication to the whole person, managers can improve solidarity and optimism in the workforce. Good leadership – especially during a crisis – is not one-dimensional.
What managers do today will have far-reaching effects
It doesn’t matter if you’re the manager of a small company or the CEO of a multi-national corporation: What you do in the early phases of COVID-19 will have ripple effects that outlast the virus itself. Your employees, customers, partners, regulators, and community are waiting for great leadership. If you lead with equal parts humanity and technical skill – and with a strong commitment to communication – you will deliver where it counts.