How to Lead Through Crisis, Unprecedented Changes, and Covid-19:

Keep Employee Engagement Up with Integrity, Kindness, Empathy, and Control

After a heated debate about school re-openings, a congressman wrote on his social media page: “During Covid-19, there are no good decisions, just less terrible ones.”

Most managers can relate to this. Even the best managers are scrambling to confront the daily changes that have affected organizations because of the pandemic. Production lines have halted. Entire swathes of the economy have come to a standstill. With so much out of everyone’s control right now, strong leadership is essential to keep employees and customers engaged with organizations.

General Martin E. Dempsey writes, “Here’s the thing. Earthquakes leave an uneasy feeling that we can’t control everything. But we can control a lot of things. We can control our personal behavior, our willingness to learn, our concern for others, our honesty, our character. Start with those.”

How can organizations and managers lead through crisis? What does that look like?

1. Lead with integrity. A leader’s words, actions, methodologies and decisions create the company’s culture. During the last several months, leaders have been making decisions based on limited information, scrambling to keep their organizations afloat. It’s not only the decisions they make that matter but taking responsibility for those decisions – bad ones, less terrible ones, along with the good ones. Now, more than ever, leaders need to hold themselves accountable to their superiors and staff.

2. Be empathetic. Many organizations have had to cut employees’ hours, lay them off, or, sadly, close. Compassion and kindness go a long way, and that begins with clear and consistent messaging, not sugarcoating problems. Laying someone off should never be done in an e-mail. (Yes, we have to write this because … ugh). Instead, take the time to call each collaborator. As a leader, you’re going to have to absorb the sadness, anger, and disappointment. That’s your job. There is no Band-Aid approach to a crisis. Moreover, many layoffs might take place virtually, which doesn’t allow for employees to say “Good-bye” to co-workers. Offer assistance without over-committing. Recognize that this is really, really hard.

3. Communicate with employees. Uncertainty and unpredictability create emotional and physical illnesses. If your employees are worried, daily, that they are going to lose their jobs, production will slump even more. Communicate the reality of the organization with them. Assure them (if you can) that no layoffs are happening in the next month. Be honest about the financial health of the organization. And get back to work.

4. Innovate, innovate, innovate. There’s a joke floating around the business world. “Who led the digital transformation of your organization? 1. The Ceo 2. The CTO 3. Covid-19” Initially, during the Covid-19 crisis, leaders were in survival mode. Now, it’s time to thrive. The best leadership has shifted from survival to innovation, working to create new business models, opportunities, and revenue streams. Keep your teams relevant and employed.

5. Build community. Workplace relations are a key piece of employee engagement. Remote is the new way of business, but remote work can also lead to a sense of disconnection. No. This is not an invitation to meeting-itis. But connecting with collaborators, meeting with them, and being available are key to building your community and keeping collaborators engaged.

6. Build confidence. A psychologically safe workplace is one in which teams and leaders can discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly openly and kindly. Right now, leaders don’t need “Yes, men” but those who are willing to point out inconsistencies and problems. Right now, if your collaborators aren’t sharing problems, this is a big red flag.

7. Use the tools of engagement. Juggling everything from financial statements to the emotional and physical well-being of your employees is taxing. Here are some incredible, free tools and employee survey products to get honest, anonymous feedback.
a. Covid-19 Team Assessment
b. The Free, Online Suggestion Box
c. And the Covid-19 Organization Check-in is a quick survey to see how your organization is doing and can be administered organization-wide or within certain departments. Contact us for more information.

UN Deputy-Secretary-General says, “The number one thing is to focus on is employees and customers.” Regarding employees, he says, “Keep them well, keep them employed and keep them mentally healthy.”

How are you going to do that? With great leadership.

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