As the Nation begins to reopen for business, many Organizations are discovering business as usual is simply not an option. The threat of a COVID-19 epidemic restart is very real and the safety of both employees and customers is on the mind of every CEO/Owner. In addition, there are a number of new local, state and federal guidelines that need to be understood and adhered with. Simply speaking, life after the initial COVID-19 epidemic will not, and should not, look like it did before. Things must change.
The problem with change though is it is disruptive. It forces Organizations to move from the familiar to a new approach. It creates uncertainty that can hurt productivity. Some of your employees will have doubt, worries about job security and if they will be able to reliably execute the change being asked of them. Some will embrace the change, but others might resist it. Some may simply be angry and feel the old way of operating was just fine.
Leadership in the best of times is important to business success. But, during periods of unprecedented change effective leadership is absolutely critical. Without it, the gossip mills will be churning, backstabbing behavior will increase, your authority may be challenged and some employees will elect to quit out of panic.
However, as a business leader you can have a positive impact on leading your Organization through the change needed to responsibly reopen for business by doing these 5 things.
Envision the future. It is important you identify the processes and conditions requiring change in your Organization. Be careful to delineate between those made necessary by the COVID-19 crisis and those you believe are simply good for business. To keep things simple, you should consider postponing changes not related to the COVID-19 crisis. Such changes can be reconsidered after you have successfully reopened your business and have your P&L on more solid footing.
Enroll your employees in the vision. It is important employees understand what the changes are and why the changes are necessary. You are asking them to alter their behavior. As we saw with social distancing, people will readily adopt new behaviors if they understand what is expected and why. But, contrast social distancing where both the what and why were clearly articulated with the wearing of masks. The request to wear masks was overly complicated because the reason why was never clearly explained and why kept shifting.
Energize your employees by explaining how the new approach will help deliver the Organization mission and help them be more successful. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit your Organization’s reason for being. It is important for employees to feel they are part of a team delivering a valued product/service. Don’t assume your employees will make the connection between the changes being made and the Organization’s ability to deliver results. Clearly connect the dots for them. And, when something is a governmental mandate make certain that is well understood.
Enable the change through appropriate resourcing and training. You can’t expect people to behave differently without either. Take the time to do the training. In some cases it won’t require a lot of training, but in other cases it might. Investing time up front to ensure employees have the knowledge and confidence to complete the tasks you want done in the right way will pay out on the back end. It is also a perfect time to thank furloughed employees for coming back to work and to reestablish team camaraderie. Failure to do this leadership step will lead to confusion and fuel employee uncertainty about the direction you are taking them.
Execute and measure the plan including check steps to quickly identify unforeseen issues and to make plan adjustments. The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented for most of us. It is virtually impossible to have a foolproof change plan. Expect hiccups along the way and put a process in place to identify and resolve them both early and quickly. Your employees don’t expect perfection in planning. They just want to be confident if something is wrong it will be addressed.
These 5 leadership steps will help you successfully and responsibly reopen your business. Conceptually they are pretty easy. Practically though you will find each a challenge that tests your leadership skill set. Don’t be discouraged, and don’t over complicate things. Now more than ever you are the key between Organizational success and failure. Many will make it, some will not. Be one of those leaders who make it.