Alignment with a large splash of humanity

This is a blog post I hadn’t intended writing. The world has changed almost overnight and we’re facing challenges that we never thought we’d face. That’s all pretty much stating the obvious. Let’s talk instead about how to move forward from here.

Managers and Executives, your people are looking to you for leadership, the kind of leadership that involves honesty and humility and courage. By no stretch of the imagination is it Business As Usual. Unlike recessions in the past, we don’t know how long the current situation is going to last. It might be a few weeks or a few months or even a few years.

The exceptional people you hired in your business are now feeling vulnerable and the one consistent message I’ve been hearing is that they want to help.

Now, more than ever before, is the time to reach out to the people and talk openly about the new business problems that need to be solved. It’s also a time to take a good look at your corporate vision and live up to it. The problems today may be completely different to those you faced a few weeks ago but you hired a team of problem-solvers and now is the time to use them. Here are some things we’d suggest trying:

Open the communication channels.

Leadership isn’t only for good times. Now is the time to make yourself available to answer questions, to alleviate concerns and just to be human and listen. This might involve a daily video conference with a town hall format, it might involve having more one-on-ones, it might be some other kind of call but given how much uncertainty there is, it is important for your team to know what’s going on. If you don’t, then unfortunately people will assume the worst. Now is when you really earn your salary.

Give people a chance to get used to the tooling required for remote working.

Your corporate infrastructure might have been designed with remote working in mind, in which case you’re lucky, or it may not. Even if it was designed with remote working in mind, it may have assumed that not everyone would be working remotely at the same time, that high internet speeds would be available from all employees’ homes and that people would have all the tools they need available to them. Throw these assumptions out the window. Sort out network capacity or if that’s not possible then look at more flexible arrangements so that not everyone is required to access your systems at the same time. It’s also worth considering having a team or teams available to offer additional technical support to make the process as frictionless as possible.

Change your expectations around productivity.

You have zero chance of sustaining the level of productivity you had a few weeks ago. That’s a fact. Working remotely takes a while to get used to, working remotely while having family around takes even longer to get used to. Will the world really end if you push out a delivery when you’d hoped to? I don’t think so especially as your customers will be dealing with similar issues.

Help your teams assess their workflows and give them the autonomy to throw out the “ceremonies” that no longer add value.

We get used to working in a certain way. Now is the time to “evolve” and I use that term quite literally; now is the time to react to changes in the environment in order to survive. If your team understands what their purpose is then they are the best placed to choose how to achieve it in the most direct manner possible.

Give your teams autonomy to select tools that are fit for purpose.

When we are collocated, it’s very easy to draw something on a whiteboard in order to convey a message. Getting messages across is now going to be more difficult, the value of written communication really depends on the skills of the person so now may be the time to allow teams to experiment with new collaboration tools and find out what suits them best. I’m not talking about a corporate rollout of a new tool with lots of bells and whistles, but rather something simple that works for the team.

Don’t assume that you have to make people redundant.

Sure you may have to reduce costs in order to make cash last longer. But again, you’ve hired intelligent people so be creative in how you go about it. If you need to make cash go further, talk to your teams to get their ideas. This is a time to be really honest with yourself and your employees. A few years ago, I worked in a company where we needed to save money. We had been through one round of redundancies and nobody within the team wanted a subsequent round. We talked it out with the team members and we made a decision to reduce our salaries by 10% and work a 9-day fortnight instead. This enabled us to keep everyone on board.

Make sure that your products still fit your customers.

Just as you’ve had to evolve your ways of working, so have your customers. Your products should still be helping your customers to do their jobs. If there are small tweaks that your team can make in order to make your products more usable for your customers, now is the time to implement them and to roll those changes out quickly. If you can support your customers in some other way (additional training videos, adding more information to a knowledge base etc) then this is the time to act on it.

Encourage projects that help the community.

We are all in this together. Your team wants to help so whether you allocate more time for people to work together on apps to help the greater community or whether your organisation changes its direction temporarily to help the community, you have the power to make a difference.

Whenever this crisis is over, what do we want people to say about us and how we do business? The steps we take right now will be remembered so let’s make them something that we can be proud of.