When the going gets unpredictable, the ones who are change-agile get going!
The unprecedented situation that mankind is experiencing has left us unnerved and gasping for solutions. Not only is nature making us aware of the increasing relevance of staying safe, maintaining hygiene, investing in health and pausing a bit, but it is also compelling us to redraw personal and professional strategies at a scale never envisaged before.
In many instances, the very basic tenets of businesses are experiencing tremors of the highest order. The struggle to manage the COVID-19 crisis and to find quick-fix solutions on the one hand and ensure business continuity planning on the other has assumed prioritised focus for almost all the organisations.
Many coping mechanisms are being dissected at the strategy table, and a variety of responses are being explored.
Learnings from the 2008 recession have shown us that organisations which stayed connected with their customers during troubled times were able to rise much higher and faster as the economies started bouncing back. The responsibilities of employees in customer-facing functions, to this effect, need to be built in by the leadership teams. While it would be too soon and straitjacketed to adopt a single perspective, consumers and employees remain a common denominator for all such approaches.
While understanding consumer preferences in the new normal way remains a challenge, it is essential to follow a detailed approach on the employee front—an approach that involves continually and intensely a) speaking from the heart, b) connecting with employees, c) reassuring them that they are our first priority, d) reassuring them that the organisation cares for them, and e) telling them that we are listening with empathy.
A few measures that walk the talk on this precinct involve initiatives like putting protocols with ‘Safety First’ as the focus, which means proactively initiating work from home to minimise risk to employees and their families, taking extra caution, improving the speed of response, and ensuring collective responsibility toward each other. Other measures are investing and enabling technology that seamlessly connects people and teams, actively encouraging self-isolation for people even with an extended potential of contact with the infection, and, wherever possible, proactively ensuring employees, who are working away, are sent back to be with their families, within the government lockdown regulations, of course.
Hopefully, all companies have made COVID-19 SPOCS for each location to ensure focused, connected support with measures like a daily survey on the health and well-being to track employees’ safety and any emerging possible supportive action that may be required. Leaders at all levels have a challenging role to play now. They will have to establish contact with their respective teams, as well as ensure business continuity and personally connect at different levels. Communication has become paramount, with special emphasis on reassuring communication from top leaders of the organisation. Senior leadership focus is actively transcending towards People pillar along with managing business risks and scenario planning.
The HR function has the most important role to play, and in many cases, are informally and proactively connecting with employees and responding one-on-one to any concerns, sharing best engagement practices across locations, and working on guidelines for safety once regular operations resume. This time is also a great opportunity to lay special emphasis on self-driven learning and development through relevant courses, articles, webinars, and encouraging individual capability building and to give L&D a new vigour and dimension.
New situations also have their own set of revelations, like giving birth to informal channels and support systems within the organisation. People are sharing that at an individual level, some are learning to better connect with themselves, being aware of their own apprehensions and aspirations, and discovering their inner resources. At a professional level, some are exploring self-leadership, their approach towards inter-personal work-based relationships, and the balance between independence and collaboration, centred around organisational objectives.
There are some interesting insights too—the self-concept of being an ideal parent is being revisited, engaging kids has come up as a big challenge, the work-life accord has developed as a new learning curve (despite a set of work-from-home protocols and guidelines), and team leaders’ empathy towards their team and their individual reality as a potent dimension is also becoming visible.
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