As leaders, we were forced to face a harsh reality as the pandemic shut down businesses and disrupted lives this past March. There were, and still are, so many unknowns that have caused anxiety in our employees and leadership. I am fortunate to be CEO of an essential business during this pandemic and I wanted to share with you my six biggest lessons that have helped ease fears in my employees and provided my customers with complete confidence in our business operations.
1. Don’t run around with your hair on fire
I must admit, when I began to understand the full lethality and economic damage Covid-19 would cause, I was tempted to do just that. Thanks to a hyperactive media that gets paid to sensationalize the pandemic, I was certain my employees were feeling the same way. So, what did I do? I tried to portray a sense of calm in the organization. I did that by frequent all-employee communications to keep them informed on the state of the business. And just as important, I made sure all my employees were aware of the obvious and glaring inconsistencies in the reporting of the virus. Even now, every chance I get I let people know about alternative news sources to provide them with a balanced view of the pandemic.
2. Don’t let anyone else run around with their hair on fire either
It is very natural that some people will be more fearful of this crisis than others. Pay special attention to them. Offer them the company employee assistance plan to help them deal with their anxiety. Take them under your wing and counsel them. Don’t tell them their fears are unfounded. You want to acknowledge their fears and anxiety as natural, normal, and legitimate. Empathize with them, but don’t let them negatively impact the rest of the workforce.
3. Visibility is key
Leaders should always be visible and accessible. But it is critical in times of crisis. Remember, you have deep and extensive knowledge of the business and the market that the rank and file do not have. Your people want to know you are on top of the situation and that you have plan. Tell them what you know. More importantly, tell them what you don’t know.
I have always been one to walk the factory every now and again. I know every one of my employees. But since the pandemic, I have doubled my rounds and see people almost every day. Sometimes we talk about sports. Sometimes we talk about hobbies they have. Sometimes we talk about the business. I let the conversation go wherever they want. The point is to hang out with your people and be there for them.
4. Remind your customers your business is strong
Your customers will be concerned that you might go out of business. Don’t let them wonder about that because that might cause them to switch suppliers. I like to shoot video of me walking through the factory showing and telling them that we are open for business and ready to deliver. While I am at it during these videos, I plant the seed with customers my competitors might not survive.
5. Keep your Board of Directors informed
Don’t forget your board will also be very anxious during these times. After all, they do not see the day to day fluctuations in the business, while at the same time they see the headlines of businesses going belly up in droves. Normally, I meet with my Board four times a year. In this crisis, I provide monthly updates.
6. Your people will always remember how you treat them
Your employees always remember how you treat them. This is especially true in a crisis. During a crisis is when your people need you the most. Tensions and anxieties are high. Fears of the unknown run high. The last thing you need is for people to get sick over this and productivity to plummet. More importantly, when we come out of this pandemic, they will make choices as to where they want to work. If you have treated them badly, you couldn’t blame them if they leave. If you treated them badly, you don’t deserve to have them. In fact, if you treated them badly, you don’t deserve to be a leader.
If your business has not reopened yet, or if you are having trouble uniting your employees during this uncertain time, just remember clear communication, empathy, remaining calm, and visibility will help propel you through this pandemic.
ABOUT STEVE BLUE: With more than 40 years of management, executive, consulting, and speaking experience worldwide, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue (StevenLBlue.com) is a leading mid-market CEO and a globally-regarded business growth authority who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. He is the author of five books, including his latest “Metamorphosis: From Rust Belt To High Tech In A 21st Century World” and his best-seller “Mastering the Art of Success.” Follow Steve on Twitter @StevenLBlue.