“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."- African proverb
This famous saying equally stands true for a leader who has not faced a crisis in his/her professional journey. It is certain that a crisis brings out the truest form of a leader by throwing unexpected challenges at him/her. A true and polished leader knows how to come out of a crisis while keeping the values and vision of the organization and holding firm onto the employees. However, if I would have said just a month ago that there would be situations that no one has ever faced before, I would have been scoffed at!! Most of us bore the bravado of “been there, seen it” contempt for any difficult situation.
In addition to the unsurmountable losses of human lives, the ongoing crisis has not just distressed start-ups, but well-established businesses, questioning their very survival. Many organizations are staring into oblivion with the humongous economic impact of COVID-19. Even as my heart goes out to the Physicians, Health Workers, Police Personnel, Sanitary Workers, Delivery Staff, etc., I am absolutely certain that the innovation and resilience of citizens and employees will play a critical role in not just business recovery, but future growth post a crisis. Hence it becomes crucial for business and HR leaders together to establish a few things that can help employees and the organizations sail through these times effectively.
Communication is the key
Firstly, being able to understand and appreciate one's own vulnerabilities is important. If you don’t know your vulnerabilities, how do you overcome them? As the lockdown persists longer and the uncertainties of businesses start to face-off, the foremost concern of most employees will be of job security. Working remotely, as all of us are, they constantly question themselves; “am I being helpful and productive for my team”, “am I contributing the best I can”, “am I being informed completely about the business situation” “Is my job safe’ etc., It is the leader’s responsibility to address these asked and unasked questions through clear and consistent communication with the team. How bad or good the situation may be, if a constant connection is established with the employees, they feel motivated and valued. At IndiGo, we have tried to communicate with our employees regularly through a variety of media including our pulse program named 6E speaks.
Communication also means that leaders let employees know the financial impact the lockdown has had on their business. Employees need to know at least high-level information on some of these issues, so they are better prepared to support the company they work for.
Compassion and empathy – tools to first survive and later thrive
The most critical step during a crisis is to put your feet in your employees’ shoes and communicate from their perspective. It is important to manage your talent with compassionate empathy, understand their point of view, and empower them to be able to be the best version of themselves even during tough times. Leaders need to keep in mind that during this crisis situation, employees are not just working from home, but also managing household chores and their families due to lack of help. Leaders need to be flexible in timelines and timeframes for deliverables and discussions, which is easily manageable by the employees. For instance, if an employee is managing a child at home, refrain from keeping calls between 1-3 pm as they may be cooking and feeding the child. These simple considerations go a long way in building employee motivation and loyalty towards their leader and the organization.
Health and emotional wellbeing
The importance of mental health even during good times cannot be stressed enough. Health and safety of the employees and their families is of utmost importance, especially when there is a pandemic situation across the country. As employers, it is important to keep in mind that we achieve healthy business results through the relentless contribution of the employees. In dire situations, and with unexpected stress and workload, there may be an impact on mental and physical wellness. Hence, it should be a constant endeavor to keep everyone motivated, through appreciative messages and light-hearted candid conversations to ensure emotional wellness.
Feedback and crisis preparedness
I firmly believe that no leader knows all the answers. No one is a super-human! As I said earlier, it is okay to echo your vulnerabilities in front of your employees and take their feedback on certain situations. Leaders need to consistently listen for what is working and what can be improved in such unprecedented situations. There may be a fresh-out-of-college employee who has joined you and yet comes up with the most innovative solution to a particular challenge. This will not only help in making processes more seamless in the current situation but also throw new insights to ensure crisis preparedness for the future.
True leaders work hand-in-hand with their teams, supporting them in the hardest of situations, and winning the battle collectively. As Rudolph W. Giuliani, an American politician, attorney, and public speaker who served as the 107th Mayor of New York City, rightly says, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.”