I was just asked this question from a guy I have never met on LinkedIn. And, while I took the time to respond, I knew that the answer to this question is far too layered, far too intricate, and far too organization-specific to be able to be answered adequately. I knew I couldn't give an effective answer that would fit every situation and I knew I probably wouldn't give this person the answer they were looking for,. There were just too many variables that were unknown. So, I decided to dig in on a micro level, and really think about the clients that I work with and here's what I came up with:
Companies need to lean into their flexibility and agility, more than ever before. I truly think that innovation is the name of the game right now. When the market crashed in ‘08, people were frozen, from my perspective. People held onto what they’d always done; I was one of them, refusing to pivot. What I see with the Co-Vi Crisis is entirely different; there’s a faster reflex, a different willingness to shift, an optimistic reaction that is inspiring AND effective. Businesses all around me are leaning into technology, variations of what they already do, potentially even forced into a new box. There seems to be a willingness to jump into the new box, which is incredibly inspiring. We are seeing ingenuity and innovation happen right before our eyes, at lightening speed. We are also seeing CHARITY, which is huge. Many of the big guys are stepping up to help the little guys... just as we would all hope to see.
From the consumer perspective, connecting with customers quickly and reasonably is obviously important. Every company I’ve ever been connected to has emailed me with their preparedness plan in the last 5 days. But, it’s more than just the emails. This time, I’m noticing a different level of compassion and empathy that I don’t recall experiencing in ‘08... or even ‘01. I’m appreciating this flexibility and proactivity that I’m seeing play out in organizational time changes, better coordination of processes, and a reassuring and consistent communication process. While I realize that we’ve never been “here” before, it’s almost as if we have been. Companies shifted to telecommuting, web hosting, and online workspaces overnight. Their disaster recovery and contingency teams nailed it.
One area that I’ve been particularly concerned about is in how the employees will fare through this. In my opinion, it’s most important thing for companies to take care of their employees, above everything else. Everything. They are going to be overloaded with misinformation, confusion, kids at home, systems that are changing, cabin fever, quarantines, personal fears, and possibly illness for themselves or someone they care about. Companies have spoken about flexibility and employee-centric programs for years... and now they’ll be tested. Will they provide the personal safety and professional wellness that these employees need? Will they hire online coaches and open dialogue around the pain points that are causing fear and disruption? Will they provide live, online training resources for people to feel as if they are both cared for and still being valued and developed? The rubber is going to meet the road. I hope they get this right.
With all that I’ve been impressed with, in terms of the corporate agility, I am most concerned that these great leaders don’t leave the health and well-being of their people behind. If we learned anything from 2001 and 2008 around employee development and wellness, it is that the people and their well-being is paramount and cannot be placed behind corporate profits. Because these leaders spent so much time cutting training and development and panicking over their bottom line, their employees were pushed beyond their limits. Then, after both events, our national employee base hit a tipping point and we had more leaves of absence hitting the US work force than we could afford as a nation. This truly happened and made the cover of magazines. We can't do this again.
So, my main point:
It has to be people above profits if they’re going to fare well through this event.
Tell your people you value them and care about their lives. Coordinate online coaching for people to insure that feel like they're being cared for. Have online webinars so that your people will continue to be developed professionally. Don't drop the ball, this time.
I believe that we've all learned a lot from the past and we are going to get it right, this time.