Feeling fear, uncertainty, and doubt? Wondering what to do next because of the fallout from the coronavirus? Trust me, you're not alone. Over the last few weeks, I've spoken with CEO's in over 30 countries to get their perspective on their companies, what they're doing. They're all concerned.
For many of you, your company is your main asset, representing years or decades of effort. Don't allow crisis situations like this to threaten your company's value.
Here are ten tips for surviving the crisis and hopefully have an even stronger company because of the shared experience you went through with your employees.
- First off, "When in doubt...lead!" In such situations, often all a leader can do is give assurances that we're going to be "ok." We'll deal with it together. Think of Winston Churchill's "We will fight" speech to pump up England during the war. He didn't give hard solutions, quick answers. Instead, he showed calm confidence, concern, and compassion. That's what you need to do. Lead. Reassure your people. You'll find a way together.
- Check your facts. Be careful who you listen to! The press always tries to scare us. They prey on our fears with headlines designed as clickbait for advertising - "end of the world stuff" Don't spend too much time listening to them. And there can be lots of "Chicken Littles" parroting those headlines around your office with "the sky is falling" rhetoric. We all have them in our companies; it's how they get attention. Tune them out.
- Take care of yourself, physically and emotionally. Both life and sports coaches these days tell us that to perform at our best, in any endeavor, we need to invest in quality sleep and regular exercise. I've heard plenty of "tough talk" about how we don't need it. Dead wrong. Commit time to get away from stress. In this situation, it's doubly important. First, your staff watches you. Don't be bedraggled and sleep-deprived. It sends a terrible message, and you will end up making bad decisions, creating more anxiety when you need to be calm and clear-headed for both your company…and your family, they need you now too. Don't forget them. Second, and more importantly, this is a virus, and a strong immune system is your best defense. Getting rest and exercise keeps your immune system strong.
- Have clear crisis policies, and enforce them! Have you sent memos on acceptable behavior and policies during this period? Such as staying away if you are coughing or sneezing, washing your hands, reducing unnecessary travel, having "at risk" personnel stay home, working virtually? Your staff wants and appreciates clear guidelines meant to keep them safe. Once you've set them, stick to them. Don't make exceptions because of things like inconvenience. This is a health crisis. We'll all be making sacrifices.
- Have crisis contingency plans. What if someone gets infected and has to be quarantined? What if a parent has to stay home because their children's school is closed? You need to think through these scenarios! Who will take supplies to a quarantined staffer? Do you have a moored liveaboard boat, motor home, or unused vacation home for them to use? Who's going to partner up with a parent to be sure their job gets done? This is the time to band together to see what's available and who can help.
- Plan to go virtual. In this crisis, almost every company will have to be managed virtually, to some degree. Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing just asked all employees who can stay home to do so. Governments are demanding that people go into quarantine for even the smallest concern. Often, they just don't have enough test kits! Running a virtual company isn't easy, it requires extra work and more communication! The trick is to have clear assignments, regular measurement, and feedback for your virtual teams, made up of HQ and remote staff. Sometimes communications are needed in the middle of the night. There's good technology out there to help - web and collaborative tools. I recommend that your communication be visual as often as possible. Seeing your teammates is more uplifting than just hearing their voices, especially if you are out there working alone.
- Triage your projects. You can't do everything when you are short-staffed, which most of you will be. So, figure out what is critical to keep momentum going and orders fulfilled. Everything else? Put it on the back burner! Get input and agreement on this, so someone doesn't feel like their project has been dumped. A big tip here: bring your people into the decision process. Let them know how you're dealing with the bigger problems.
- Manage your external relationships. It's easy to be too internally focused, allowing external communications to get sloppy with customers, suppliers, contractors, consultants, investors, etc. They have their own dramas and concerns now. Don't add to their anxiety. Let them know what you're doing to deal with the crisis, how it's progressing, and how you are handling contingencies. A tip here: call them! It's too complicated for an email, and it might be a bit emotional. Invest time in the personal connection, championing an attitude that "we will get through this together" helps. They might even ask for you to send them a copy of your crisis policy memo!
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! During stressful times, when there is fear, uncertainty, and doubt, it's extra important to communicate more than usual. Experience has shown that during transitions, like right after a merger, people tend to think the worst, worrying themselves into frenzy about job security, success, etc. The easiest way to deal with this is constant communication about what is happening and where you as a team are going. A tip here: if you don't already have it, start an all-hands meeting each week to get updates. Do a web conference, if needed. Have sub meetings by team or department. And keep them going.
- Watch for failing employees. Some people just can't work alone. Further, anxiety-ridden situations like this can tip over the employees who are already a bit emotional. Maybe they have a dependency or are glued to the news too much, which can also be poisoning. They are the first to feel hopeless. You and your managers should watch them carefully, communicate more, and have contingency plans, if they need to be given more space, time off, etc
Remember what grandmothers love to say, "this too shall pass."
It's true. This virus actually has a very low mortality rate, and governments are working hard to find a vaccine.
In the meantime, these steps will not only help you get through the crisis but also have a stronger company when it's over.
Remember, we're going through this together. Send us your own crisis management ideas, and we will feature them in our next monthly webcast. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.