Refocusing Leadership and Communication During the Ongoing Coronavirus Crisis

With no relief in sight from the pandemic, organizations must pay attention to galvanizing their workforces, keep preparing for and reacting to the spread of COVID-19, and boost efforts to engage with and protect team members and families, says a new report from executive search firm Caldwell. The study includes a checklist to help meet the challenges ahead. Let’s take a closer look.

September 9, 2020 – While the scientific community had hoped the heat and humidity of the summer months might limit the spread and severity of the coronavirus, we are seeing that community spread continues to be a problem in many states and dense urban landscapes. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that the world is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic and that action is needed to curb the spread.

Based on what we’re seeing, there is little reason to believe the virus will stall out in this quarter or the final one of the year. Rather, it is more likely to gather steam and spread on an exponential basis as we move into the fall and winter, says a new report from Caldwell’s president and CEO John Wallace and managing partner Jay Millen. Every model has essentially been wrong, predictions change every 24 hours, and we’re seeing responses ranging from sheer panic to total apathy.

“As a result, it is incumbent on leaders — especially in our business and not-for-profit communities — to think carefully about the steps needed to galvanize their organizations, continue preparing for and reacting to rapid change in the spread of COVID-19, and redouble their efforts to engage with and protect their team members and families in the months ahead,” the Caldwell report said.

Best Practices

Caldwell offered some critical “checklist” issues to review and capabilities to examine to prepare for the next several months to potentially well into 2021, pending the development of therapeutics and vaccines to combat the virus:

  1. Remote working: Traditionally office-based employees who are now working remotely are developing signs of emotional stress, “burnout,” and over-reach. Caldwell said to consider some of the following:
  • Check with your healthcare providers for mental health and employee support options and review your processes for evaluating health and safety for this part of your workforce.
  • Create routine check-ins with no agenda other than a “community” check-in if you aren’t already doing it at the small team or “natural group” level (i.e. department, geography, functional group).
  • Insist that team members understand the need for work/life balance when both their life and their work are at home and resource appropriately.

John Wallace is Caldwell’s president and CEO. He draws on 20 years of executive search direction experience to drive results based on objective measures, market intelligence, strategic planning initiatives, and clear targets for growth.Since becoming CEO in 2008, John has effected a strategic growth plan for the firm that has included launching operations in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, while quadrupling the firm’s annual revenue.

  • Consider alternate shift or moving hours for different teams or team members balancing child and elder care responsibilities.
  1. Field and manufacturing operations: Caldwell said that there are signs of waning vigilance in many work communities and a false sense of security where the virus has yet to spike. The search firm said to stay on guard and reinforce the following:
  • Safety protocols, social distancing on the job, and personal protective equipment maintenance/exchange are essential.
  • Social distancing at job site meetings and during shift changes is a must.
  • Temperature checks should be conducted at the beginning of each shift of work.

Related: COVID-19 and Its Impact on Human Capital

  • Interactions with vendors, customers, and government agency workers need to have the same (if not more restrictive) guidelines than with natural teams and crews.
  1. Stay in touch and find ways of creating positive momentum: “Battle Fatigue” may be setting in with your front line leaders and business unit leadership. Caldwell said to think of ways to add some positive messaging and potential fun into the cadence of communicating and leading:
  • Virtual coffee breaks or end-of-day mixers (delineating time to shut down).
  • Theme-based video/zoom meetings (specific customer profile and trivia, regional sports trivia, regional outdoor locations profiled).
  • Have a socially distanced outdoor meeting as/if possible in a park or athletic field.

Jay Millen is the managing partner of Caldwell’s CEO & board practice and leads the Charleston office team. Working with publicly-traded and privately-held companies, he assists clients in senior-level recruitment and in the development of board and CEO succession plans as well as industry specific leaders at all levels in the natural resources and manufacturing sectors.

  • Focus on the wins in the business, or above and beyond results from specific team members.
  1. Communicate early, often and always: Caldwell said that if you are asking yourself “Am I communicating enough?” or “Has it been too long since I reached out to Joe or Jane?” then the answer is yes, it has been too long:
  • Increasingly we are losing track of days and weeks since the “last” event if we aren’t formalizing it into our calendars, so put reminders in for critical team members and for overall communication to happen.
  • Listen more, talk less – ask open-ended questions such as “What are you seeing, or hearing?”
  • Rotate leadership of meetings and calls, This is an opportunity to turn everyone into a facilitator. Don’t put them on the spot; let them know their turn is coming and offer to help them get ready.
  • Attention spans and focus are challenging in these times. Remember the old adage: “Tell then what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.”
  1. About the board and investors: “They have been in the COVID-19 Time Warp as well,” the Caldwell report said. “If you have the CEO or senior leadership role in your business, make it a point to provide more frequent interaction by video or telephone. Consider creating opportunities for your leader team and high potential future leaders to engage with the board and investors with specific projects, business activities, or strategic updates.”

Related: How COVID-19 is Transforming Healthcare Recruitment

“We continue to face unprecedented volatility and uncertainty in our business and personal lives; much of which is out of our control,” said Mr. Wallace. “In this environment we have an obligation to be as empathetic as we can; humane in executing on difficult business challenges such as furloughs and curtailed work hours; and as thoughtful as possible in keeping the organization vigilant, responsive and prepared for what lies ahead.”

Impact on Recruiting

As the virus continues to evolve, it may be difficult to stay ahead of evolving leadership and staffing needs. “Changes in organizational structure, retirements and normal attrition will be magnified by the impact on the group’s ability to meet, assess, and select new executive and staff team members, as well as team members at all levels,” said Mr. Millen. “Onboarding is also proving to be more challenging as leaders and new team members try to understand the culture, business cadence and operating methodology from a remote or video-based platform.”

“At Caldwell, we have integrated some lessons learned and best practices into our initial recruiting process with our clients to create the best possible engagement within current COVID-19 constraints, as well as to provide useful insights into the onboarding process,” said Mr. Wallace. “Our modified efforts include socially distanced interviews, the extensive use of formal and informal interviewing via video conference and added ‘candidate touches’ from additional team members to provide as accurate an assessment as possible given physical interviewing limitations.”

“As you reflect on how to modify your assessment, selection and onboarding processes, the same concepts apply to communication: Communicate early, communicate often, and stay in contact with candidates more vigorously than during a normal selection and onboarding process,” Mr. Wallace said.

Related: The COVID-19 Impact on Executive Search

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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