As the initial shock of COVID-19 has passed and reality kicks in, many businesses and leaders have been left exposed. In sectors not affected as deeply as others, the great forward-thinking companies have quickly adapted and stood their ground, while companies who perhaps didn’t invest in their processes; who were resistant to change; who took leadership for granted, have been left like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
The unfamiliar territory has left leaders lost as they struggle to understand what they should to give their attention to. Most leaders are dealing with more challenges they are used to, however, here are 6 critical things every leader should be thinking about:
1. Be the swan
In my early days, an old boss of mine described leadership as being like a swan. He continued to explain; when you see a swan, it looks peaceful as it glides across the water. What you don’t see, is the swan’s legs moving very quickly underneath. There’s no doubt there will be some firefighting as you’re figuring out how to keep your operations going during these times. However, whilst it’s important to be transparent, it’s also vital to shield your team from the day to day technical issues (unless it involves them of course). You don’t want to cause any unnecessary concern for your team members in a period where anxiety and stress levels are elevated due to uncertainty.
2. Know the worst case
Did you go back to the drawing board and work out a COVID-19 contingency plan? A rather daunting exercise but crucial to be aware of the worst-case scenario a nationwide lockdown could have on your business over a period of at least 6 months. Yes, you would need to know the worst possible outcome because knowing the worst-case scenario will help assess major risks, making it clearer where to invest time, money, and resources. When it comes to current expenses, assess the essential, non-essential, committed and non-committed costs. It’s also important to work out the best-case and medium-case scenarios so you can track where you are over time. Knowing where you are will give you much more confidence in taking calculated risks to expand your operations. Once the end of the lockdown comes in sight, it will be time to revise your budget for the year.
3. Be human
There’s no better time to be human than now. We’re all in the same boat and as a leader, it’s just as important to open about your experiences (good and bad), during the current the COVID-19 as a reminder to your people, that it’s completely normal to perhaps not be feeling 100%. There’s nothing wrong for a leader to show vulnerability, in fact, there’s everything humanly right about it. Just make sure it’s balanced with sharing the positive plans and steps the business is taking to overcome some of the challenges. Being real is a powerful currency in any situation, but be constructive about it
4. Engage with your employees
When leading a team remotely, it’s important to maintain high levels of engagement. Everyone is experiencing uncertainty, and confidence is low amongst many. As a leader, it's important to re-install confidence and provide certainty by giving regular updates on what is happening behind the scenes. If you’re aware of facts that give confidence about the positioning of your business or department during these times, make sure you share it with the business. The main thing here is to keep managing expectations, as long as you don’t over promise and under deliver.
In a remote-working situation, employees need to feel supported, trusted and empowered. Panda Internationals’ already engaging culture made it easy for us to shift into remote working. To keep the engagement levels high, apart from our daily we team set-ups, we hold open virtual coffee breaks twice daily where employees can choose to join and have a chat about anything work or non-work related. Keeping the engagement levels high helps everyone to feel part of the team while being physically apart. If you want to take it to the next level (as we did), you can also send out an anonymous survey to the business to get valuable feedback that will enable the leadership team to adjust. We use a tool called ‘Lattice’ to do this.
5. Optimise your processes now!
Whilst business isn’t business as usual, we’re presented with a great opportunity to invest time in reviewing and optimising our processes. What processes were slowing you down? Whilst the situation we’re in isn’t ideal, it would have highlighted weaknesses (and strengths) in many businesses. For example, many high-street stores would be feeling the pain of having not invested in their online presence pre-COVID-19. For many businesses, using outdated tools and technologies made it difficult for them to switch to remote working and in many cases, it becomes a logistical nightmare. So, what needs to be upgraded?
This is the perfect time to start thinking about what your business needs to stay ahead of the game in a normal market. Most companies in Life Sciences were already losing the war for talent because of basic things such as not paying attention to their employer brand or just having sloppy recruitment processes. So, what do you need to fix to prepare yourself for the bounce back? As forward-thinking businesses are using this time as an opportunity to come back leaner, make sure that you’re not being pushed back further when business returns to normal.
6. Adapt to the situation
If you’re holding back making decisions due to the financial stability of the company then that’s justifiable. On the other hand, if you’re holding back because it means you need to do something outside the norm like interviewing and onboarding a candidate for your business remotely, then just be aware you’re pushing your business back months behind post-lockdown. If you take into consideration the time it takes to source top talent, along with the interview process and notice period, then add the time it takes to onboard someone and to get up to scratch in your business, it will take at as much as 12 months from now before you start to experience the ROI of your new hires. Depending on what your company goals are, you may want to think twice before delaying processes. Also, keep in mind, a lot of businesses are in a situation where they’re not hiring, so there’s less competition for top talent.