I don’t have to tell you that these are unsettling times for all of us.  Many businesses have been turned on their heads.  Our lifestyles are drastically altered by social distancing, and mental health problems are manifesting in predictable ways: uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear of what may happen, as well as what may not happen.  The twin assaults on our health and our financial independence are having noticeable effects.  Many of us are not sleeping well; we are eating too much, and are consuming record amounts of alcohol.  Self-medication is a new national pastime. 

During times like these, we need to take care of ourselves, and each other.  One successful strategy involves working from the inside out, starting with our needs, and then reaching out to those closest to us. Beyond friends and family, those of us in management have another responsibility – our employees.  So what do they need that we can give them?

There are several things we can do for our employees to help them stabilize during such unprecedented upheaval.  And they will not cost you anything.

A vision for the future

You may not have a clear picture of how things will go, but having a plan for moving forward can be reassuring.   Your planning may yield several possible scenarios.  Anticipating these outcomes will allow you to build models that have the best chance of success.  Communicating those plans to your staff will give them one of the things they most need right now: hope. We can deal with what we know.  We can plan and build if we have an identifiable goal.

What if things don’t go according to plan?  Flexibility and resilience are the keys to survival, in business and personally.  Rigidity will lead to failure.  The ability to shift gears during the game can mean the difference between success and watching it all slip away.  Engage your employees in this process.  Ask their opinions about how to respond to changing conditions, and in developing new ways of doing things. 

Clear and constant communication

This is more important now than ever.  Remember one of the primary lessons from the last article – what employees don’t know as fact, they make up with fantasy, and it is usually negative.  You want your team focusing on progress and delivering services, not devolving into a fear-filled rumor mill.  There is another reason that communication is so important now.  Many of us have had to adapt to working from home, or working in a drastically different workplace compared to how it existed just a few months ago.  With processes changing, and new systems for delivering services falling into place, constant, clear communication is the only way to ensure that these changes are correctly implemented and generating the results expected.  Now that more of our communication is remote instead of face to face, checking for clarity and quality is a primary task.  We must lay out the collaborative goals, our new (or existing) priorities, and expectations for how and why we do what we do.  Having a short feedback loop means we can coach our way to success. 

Knowing you care about them

If you played sports in school, or were part of any organized activity – band, theater, dance, service clubs, etc. – you know the difference between a leader or coach who cares about you and one who only cares about the outcome.  Leaders who get the best and most consistent results from their staff are those viewed by their employees as genuinely caring.  Showing that you care about your employees’ lives when things are good can be easier; however, doing the same things such as celebrating life’s milestones and accomplishments when things are bad is crucial.  I will give you everything I have to accomplish our team goals if I think you care about and believe in me.  If I think you don’t, I am probably just collecting a check.

Make sure that your employees have what they need – the resources to do their jobs correctly (including protective equipment and supplies), the training to do it right, the confidence that there is a plan for the future, and the knowledge that you will do everything in your power to keep the ship upright and moving forward.

Accountability and Integrity

If we want employees who are willing to take responsibility for themselves, their work and their families, they need us to be their examples.  Do we pitch in and roll up our sleeves?  Are we expecting more of our staff than we are willing to do?  Do we share the credit for each victory along the way, especially now?  Do we have the best intentions behind our actions?  Am I always looking out for the greater good and not just my personal success?  If we cannot act with integrity and accountability, we have given up the right to expect our employees to do so.  Trust me, they can tell if we are genuine, or just trying to appear to be.  False integrity and accountability is worse than having none in our employees’ eyes.

Being sensitive to your employees’ needs and fears during this time will pay huge dividends down the road.  We are laying the foundation for the future.

Will you be the leader your employees remember as the one worth following through this crisis, or the one they blame for the tragic results? 

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