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Four keys to leading a COVID-19 comeback

There is an old saying that the only constant in life is change and that has never been more true than the disruption that has been felt around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Things we all took for granted – such as our health and safety, socializing with friends and family and even fully stocked supermarket shelves – seem like a distant memory. We’re all struggling to come to grips with the new normal.

Equally impacted has been business. From small, family-owned businesses to major chains and corporations, you would be hard-pressed to find any that have enjoyed the status quo.

While it’s natural to feel apprehensive about what the future holds, we’ve always been a glass-half-full type of change leadership firm. Instead of dwelling on challenges, we focus on identifying opportunities and believe the sky is the limit for companies that place their most valuable asset – people – first.

While no one can predict when life will return to more normal conditions, we are confident that organizations that focus on the following four key elements have an improved chance of success in the future.

Review/refresh your playbook

One thing that we’ve discovered during the COVID-19 outbreak is that businesses that are flexible and able to pivot quickly have achieved the most success. This includes companies that have been able to transition their staff to working remotely.

While this is partly due to past investments in technology and training, it also relates to culture as they realized people appreciate perks outside of financial incentives.

A recent Gallup brief noted that the number of companies offering remote work has increased three-fold between 1996 and 2016, and it has become an excellent strategy in retaining and attracting talent with 54% of office workers indicating they would leave their jobs for one that offered flexible work arrangements.

For companies that have been hesitant or resistant to implementing work from home options, now is the time to revisit this approach. It’s vital, though, that this is done in a very careful manner – with appropriate training and a discussion about policies and procedures – to set staff up for success.

It’s also an excellent time for senior leaders to review their business continuity plans as lack of proper risk management – along with sufficient resources and funding – were also key reasons why many companies were unprepared to deal with the jarring circumstances that have occurred over the past two months.

Keep staff engaged

With the shift to remote workforces or temporary layoffs or furloughs, one of the biggest challenges for organizations is to stay connected to their employees in a meaningful way.

It may be old school, but frequent email updates directly from senior leaders remain an excellent form of communication. Details about short-term operational plans, celebrating little victories or milestones, and providing guidance on how operations will resume when normal conditions return are all of value.

At a team or divisional level, organizing regular virtual meetings are an excellent way to supplement updates from senior leaders along with sharing project updates that normally would have been covered in huddles or team meetings.

The good news is that great strides have been made in recent years through the development of collaborative online tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom. CNBC and sites such as LinkedIn have shared how teams have even used themes such as a virtual coffee chat or happy hour to maintain collaboration and camaraderie.

Many of the tools also have polling features that can be used to get the pulse of staff and identify what is working and what isn’t. This can be valuable in the future if you decide to expand your remote work arrangement.

Invest in mental health

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve discovered that mental health requires a higher priority – by both business and government.

We’ve heard about the range of emotions staff are feeling from anxiety to stress to a sense of isolation – some of which have been compounded by the quick shift to work-from-home operations.

This can be addressed in different ways, such as the collaborative tools we mentioned earlier or by developing or enhancing an employee assistance program.

Training and coaching is another great option to help build resiliency and agility. Over the past decade, we’ve guided many senior leaders through our Agility Engine, which uses a step-by-step method for building an organization’s muscle for change.

The key is to make mental health a priority, and it all begins at the top. Senior leaders need to include mental health in their company’s strategic plan and also encourage the government to help fund programs that can benefit the communities we work and live in.

Exercise patience

Unlike a blackout, snowstorm or even past pandemic such as SARS, the wild card with COVID-19 has been trying to estimate the severity and duration of this outbreak.

When various government leaders determine it’s safe for businesses to resume normal operations, it will be necessary for senior leaders to proceed with caution as employees will require varying levels of support based on their personal situation. This could include accommodations related to child or elder care or schooling.

Some employees may also require more time than others to transition back to an office environment and may even express initial concerns about the health and safety of the work environment.

Our advice is that you work with human resources to ensure all concerns are closely monitored and can be addressed through regular communications to staff.

Closing comments

Without a doubt, we are navigating uncharted waters. It’s impacted the normal routines that we took for granted as a business, and also as a family.

In working with several companies over these past few weeks, we’ve tried to act as a calming force, highlighting several change management strategies and tactics that have yielded successful outcomes in the past.

While no one can predict what the future holds, we’re confident that the single biggest asset of any company – people – will be up to the challenge.

Do you need help in guiding your company through these challenging times? We’re here for you. Email us at to discuss your scenario.

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