Earlier in March, I had a different blog post written. But since then, the world has rapidly shifted due to the coronavirus pandemic. My clients have been asking me for guidance in adjusting to this new world order, marked by radical change and deep uncertainty. The framework I have most appreciated is from RHR International and has four parts: Inform, Connect, Guide, and Unite. Here is my take on their framework, to make it most relevant to today’s challenges.
Inform. Organizations are doing their best to respond, strategize, and make decisions, even in the face of great unknowns. However, in the absence of information, it is human nature to fill in the blanks ourselves, which can lead to stories and assumptions that increase our stress levels. Be honest with your employees, and don’t wait. There may be information you are not at liberty to share. But share what you can, when you can. Tell your employees what you know as well as what you don’t know. For the latter, is there something you can say about how your company is striving for clarity, such as contingency planning? And when you will share those outcomes? Good leaders foster trust and honesty, and communication enables both.
Connect. When we are stressed, we release a hormone, oxytocin, that prompts us to reach out to others for support. Social support in turn improves our mental and physical health. The best leaders are empathetic, and they understand that people are anxious and scared and need connection. Determine what sorts of connection your team needs. Set up specific times, and use video conferencing to maintain face-to-face interaction. They may want to connect with each other in a group setting, and they may want to share their concerns with you one-on-one. Or some combination, or something else altogether. If you aren’t sure, ask them. But give them the means to connect with you and others.
Guide. When your team is experiencing disruption, provide clear guidance. Many organizations are suddenly working remotely. Set clear expectations for things like work hours and communication frequency and method. Consider the “new normal” many people are experiencing such as makeshift, not-so-private home offices and balancing work obligations and child care. If your availability is changing, let your team know. If your business had a sudden shift in priorities, logistics, or operations, what impacts does this have on your team? Does this change or add to their roles, responsibilities, or tasking? What else has changed in your work patterns, and what guidance do your employees need as a result?
Unite. One of my favorite quotes is from leadership guru John Kotter, who said, “No one yet has figured out how to manage people effectively into battle; they must be led.” Leaders create a vision for where people are headed and unite their people behind that vision. Especially in times of uncertainty, leaders must remind their employees of their common purpose and inspire them to move forward. Remind your team of the big picture they support and shared goals, even if those have shifted. Empathize; let your team know you understand what they are thinking and feeling. Ask yourself: What does my team need to hear from me, that is truthful and sincere, that will help them stay confident and motivated in this challenging time?
Now is the time to give your employees what they need – clarity in a time of uncertainty, empathy and support, and a sense of connection to move forward together. Now, more than ever, this is the time for leadership.