Leading Through & Beyond COVID-19; Best Practices for an Unprecedented Time

According to Robinson Resource Group, employees want to know that leadership supports them in these times of crisis. Workers want to know that beyond managing the company their leaders care about them and understand what they are experiencing. For bosses, this is a time lean on the opinions and decisions of others. 

June 29, 2020 – Leaders may automatically default to the bottom line and focus on the financial damage that COVID-19 is causing—and for good reason. But many employees place greater emphasis and importance on the support they are receiving from leadership, according to a new report from Robinson Resource Group.

“People need to know that even though their leader is employed to manage and run the business, he or she is also a human being—someone who cares for them and understands what they are going through,” the report said.

“As a leader, you must lead from the front, exhibiting the values and behaviors you expect from your team.” Leading from the front, however, doesn’t mean being isolated. “For many leaders, one of the hardest things to do is to rely on the opinions and decisions of other people,” Robinson Resource Group said. “But that’s exactly what needs to be done in times of crisis, especially when the cause of the crisis is outside of your area of expertise.”

The search firm said that leaders need to be agile, not only in changing plans and work schedules, but also in their own leadership style. “It is also very likely that different leadership styles will be needed as the year progresses through different stages,” the report said. “Right now, for instance, an affiliative and participative style of leadership, where decisions are made through consensus and based on relationships, may be best. Later, assuming that the virus runs its course, a pacesetting, ‘runs fast and keep up’ style or more directive ‘Here’s what we need to do to make up for lost time’ approach may be in order.”

Communicate Explicitly and Transparently

Robinson Resource Group also said that leaders should communicate with stakeholders during a crisis. “Experts say executives must communicate quickly and clearly to be in front of potential issues rather than having to counter misinformation,” the firm said. “Communications should be tailored to each stakeholder constituency based on their unique concerns. Communicating with employees about what protocols the organization is putting in place to keep them safe should always be first. With partners and vendors, you may need to establish a project team to monitor the situation and relay updates.”

Related: The COVID-19 Impact on Executive Search

Leaders need to be authentic and transparent, said Robinson Resource Group. People are obviously nervous about implications of the virus, and it’s essential to keep them engaged, informed, and safe. “This is the time for human resources and management to show a supportive and steady hand,” said the report. “We don’t want to be proactively alarmist, but managers should be prepared to support employees’ concerns individually, as needs may vary widely. Sometimes that means admitting your fear to stakeholders, and other times it means admitting that you don’t know something. Communications should always include ‘Here’s what we know, and here’s what we need to find out.’”

Keep Priorities in Check

Robinson Resource Group said that right now the focus should be on keeping employees and their families safe and free from contagion. “Making people feel safe and taken care of will help leaders get the workforce focused on preserving operations as best as possible as the outbreak spreads,” the firm said. “This is also an opportunity for leaders to assess whether they can realistically achieve objectives on the timetables they’ve established. You can use this as a time to reset expectations internally and externally.”

Develop Organized Remote Work Strategies

In many countries, with schools and factories closed, employees are working outside of the office. Remote work is increasingly a fact of life around the world, and experts are saying that COVID-19 is yet another reason why firms should invest in allowing workers to be able to productively work remotely.

Executive search firm Robinson Resource Group has appointed Erin Donovan as a vice president and search consultant. She has over 15 years of talent management experience that includes work both at executive search firms and in-house units for Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Donovan has held progressive roles, working closely with visionary leaders to build high-performing teams domestically as well as internationally. Search assignments cross most functional areas including ecommerce & digital, marketing, sales, operations, supply chain, technology, human resources, legal, finance, general management, and the C-suite.

“If firms don’t have strong collaboration tools now, then they need to secure and implement them,” said Robinson Resource Group. “Working remotely is not a panacea, of course. Research shows that productivity can decrease in the short term when workers go remote. For leaders, more people working from home more often, if not exclusively, creates a level of risk if the team isn’t proactively managed. Many employees thrive in physical environments with face-to-face collaboration. The abrupt change can easily impact their engagement and leave them feeling unequipped to properly do their jobs. With that in mind, leaders need to be in daily, frequent contact with remote employees.” One suggestion is to require that participants turn on their cameras or use FaceTime and/or Skype type methods to maintain that feeling of camaraderie.

Related: Pandemic’s Lingering Effect on Recruiters: Client Activity Down, Interim Hiring Up

The vacant offices caused by remote work could also bring up another dilemma: how to best keep an organization’s property and networks safe and secure. The Robinson Resource Group said that leaders need “to increase vigilance at their organization’s security operations center, monitoring abnormal behavior since more employees will be mobile. Now is also the time to be extra cautious with emails and spear-phishing attempts using COVID-19 themes.”

Engage Your Workers

Leaders already struggle with engagement; surveys have shown that fewer than half of employees worldwide say they are highly engaged at work. That task is even tougher now as COVID-19 has employees not working in their usual spots or, worse, temporarily not working at all. “Soliciting feedback through pulse surveys can give leaders information about what employees’ concerns are, and what actions need to be taken to be most helpful to resolve those concerns,” Robinson Resource Group said. “Just as critical, it is important to ensure that employees are energized once the crisis has passed. Gathering employee feedback about what would be most helpful to them as life returns to normal will ensure that leaders and managers focus on actions that will have the greatest impact.”

Business Agility Critical to Post-Pandemic Workforce, Economic Recovery
Human capital leaders are playing a critical role in their companies’ survival and growth during this time of crisis, according to the latest Talent Trends report by Randstad Sourceright. These days, HR and procurement leaders are meeting needs like safely operating in a pandemic, preparing their business for new waves or a sudden spike of the virus, and more.

There are three keys to effective surveys: listen to employees, act on the feedback they provide, and most importantly, communicate back the message “We hear you, and here’s what we’ve done based on your feedback.”

Lead Through and Beyond the Virus

Before COVID-19 appeared, many leaders were recognizing the power of prioritizing “purpose movement” issues over maximizing profits at their organizations. Robinson Resource Group said that explicitly stating a company’s purpose, and then having the organization revolve around that purpose, has been shown to increase employee engagement and, in some cases, increase profitability.

“One of the main questions critics have about the purpose movement is whether organizations will abandon their principles when the bottom line is at stake,” the report said. “But the best leaders can turn short-term tragedy that hurts their organizations into a sense of shared purpose that betters both their businesses and their communities in the long term.”

So what does this all mean? “Indeed, the coronavirus may help to identify the next generation of great companies and exceptional leaders,” the Robinson Resource Group report said. “There will be people who see the connections between COVID-19 and opportunities to contribute to society while simultaneously providing business value. And whether you are in a position to impact the country, your community, your business, or only a small group of employees, now is the time to act. If we all do our part to support those we can affect, then together, we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”

Related: Companies Planning Big Comeback Post-Pandemic Crisis

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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