How To Lead Your Business through Coronavirus

There has never been a more important time in modern history to show strong leadership

We are bombarded with so much information from every online source available, as well as all our business contacts and friends. As the founder of the Knowledge management movement, Karl-Erik Sveiby, once said “we are drowning in information and searching for knowledge.” Our people don’t know what to believe and which way to turn. They are looking for guidance, they are looking for inspiration, they are looking for leadership!

So, what do we do? What type of leadership is needed and are we capable of delivering it? Well, our businesses demand it, and they demand it now. The difference between strong leadership and inaction will now, more than ever, mean the difference between getting through this crisis and going under.

Here are ten things to focus on in the coming days and weeks ahead:

1. Communication

In Patrick Lencioni’s new book, The Motive, he says that one of the key roles of a leader is to be the CRO, the Chief Repeating Officer. You can see how much information people need in these times. In the UK, the Government are doing daily TV briefings for everyone. You need to be doing the same. You must set up a Coronavirus Action Group that meets daily and communicates, with the CEO and appropriate members of the top team as needed. Use WhatsApp or similar for regular updates and create short sharp videos or live streaming for your employees on what is going on. Recommend links to trusted sources only and limit it to a few only.

2. A Battle Plan

You need a Strategic Action Plan for the business that is communicated to everyone in Townhall meetings, by email and referred to constantly. It will of course be updated as the requirements of the business change.

3. Action, Bravery and Conviction (A,B,C)

People now want reassurance that they are going to get through this, and this must be coupled with honesty. It might be pay cuts across the board, some may lose their jobs, others put on unpaid leave. Fundamentally, it has to be about saving the business. Once the plan has been created (and of course this is going to change as all plans do) you need to show conviction and bravery. In one organisation I am talking to everyone in the business is taking a pay cut, from top to bottom, many will be asked to work fewer days, except for the leadership team, who have to see this through and will be working every hour necessary.

4. A Strong Vision of the Future

Whilst the current situation may be bleak, leaders must also show how we will get through this and emerge on the other side. You need to show how it will affect your vision for the future and how you will emerge from this able to keep going and get back on track. Where you can, keep some things going that have little or nothing to do with the Coronavirus. This will reassure people that you are still looking to the future and have plans beyond this current crisis.

5. Demonstrate the Relevance of your Values

Values have never been more important to businesses now and it’s your chance as leaders to reinforce them and make them very relevant. Look at them, what do they tell you? If they are about honesty and transparency then demonstrate that, if they are about Teamwork, then show that in action.

6. Clarity in Your Leadership Team

Your senior management team must really step up. Very regular meetings to get complete clarity and alignment about what you are doing. The regular messaging that goes out is critical. At the end of every meeting agree what the messaging is, who will say it, the tone you will use, the channels you will use. Everyone must be singing from the same hymn sheet!

People will take inspiration from you and how you are viewing the situation, how you are acting, what you are saying. You need to create a mentality that ‘we are all in this together.’

7. Care, Motivate & Engage

Through all this, you must show you care about your people, you might feel it, but you also must show it. Walk the corridors, ask people how they are feeling, keep in touch and find out how it’s affecting them. Know who has vulnerable families and find out how they are coping. Do what you can to help out. People will take inspiration from you and how you are viewing the situation, how you are acting, what you are saying. You need to create a mentality of ‘we are all in this together’, you need to recreate ‘The Dunkirk spirit’. Your employees are extraordinary people and if they see you and the leadership team throwing everything at getting through this, then they will want to do the same.

8. A Change Management Understanding & Approach

John Kotter’s 8 step change management process is very useful now.

i. Establish a sense of urgency. It is not so much that people don’t have this, it is more about getting everyone on the same page. People need to understand what exactly the company pressures are and how they can help. Don’t hold back.

ii. Create a guiding coalition. This is not only your Senior Leadership Team, but also your Coronavirus Action Group. Get people from different parts of your business to be on this group and then they will engage others in their parts of the business, not only with the right information, but also in the urgency and emotional buy-in.

iii. Develop a change vision. You have to show people you completely believe you’ll lead the business through this and what the business will look like when you emerge at the other side. Your long-term vision might be put back in timescale, by months or years, or it might be affected materially, however you will still have a long-term vision for the business, that shows people how much you believe in the future.

iv. Communicate for buy-in. See i. Above

v. Empower broad-based action. Your Departmental, Divisional and Team heads need to feel inspired and motivated by you and the top team to engage their people to deliver even more than before.

vi. Generate short-term wins. As you start to see green shoots and as customers start buying your goods and services again, communicate, communicate, communicate! You have to show people when you are starting to come out the other side.

vii. Never let up. One of Kotter’s mantras is that we have a tendency to celebrate success too quickly. Beware, that whilst you must talk about quick wins, don’t let people feel they can take their foot off the pedal too early.

viii. Finally, incorporate changes into the culture. When the dust is settling, what’s the new plan, what does business as usual now look like? This will require a whole new communication effort from you and the top team.

9. Creativity

What creative ideas have you had to take advantage of the situation? For example, there is a Gin distillery in Scotland now using their ethanol to make hand gel! What new things could you be doing in your business now for your customers or to get new customers?

10. A Cool Head

Somehow, through all the noise, you are the one who needs to keep a cool head. You must show that you are in control, that it can all be achieved, that nothing is impossible. Look after yourself and your team, build in down time, relax when you can, or you’ll be no use to anyone!

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