Flight or fight? COVID-19 brings out the best and worst in us
Unless you’re living in a remote island or desert, the COVID-19 pandemic is a life-changer. For all of us, our business models seem to have flipped overnight. As leaders, we suddenly find ourselves trying to navigate an unfamiliar terrain where control seems to have slipped from our hands (if in hindsight we ever really had it).
Our biggest challenge now is to continue to be viable or else many companies will not survive post-crisis. This rude awakening makes pivoting how we serve our customers the umbilical cord to our sustainability.
The new paradigm also balances on agility flavored by the nuance of the WFH (work-from-home) reality. Suddenly, internal culture has become THE thing to focus on and we are now forced to use an arsenal of team management skills that address it. Why start from inside? Because culture drives performance. Because the responsiveness and solidarity of our teams scattered across the globe (our team has people in in three continents) will ensure we are fit for the new journey.
In my quest to build team solidarity, I began to explore the range of practices we needed to embrace even more and the differences in some of these concepts. These include empathy, compassion, communication, engagement and collaboration.
Our first challenge in the lockdown was to express our care and support for our teams. How do we demonstrate empathy with colleagues facing daily worries such as access to medicine, food and taking care of kids and elder parents while also fearing what the future will bring? I am thinking of a couple of team members whose whole neighborhood has been closed off as part of the quarantine measures and the anxiety they must be experiencing. And how does empathy differ from compassion?
Modern psychology explains the difference between the two:
- Empathy is when you feel with someone in distress, and you express it, but you do nothing about it. An example is: I hear your pain. I am sorry about it.
- Compassion is when you take action to support someone in distress. An example is: I hear your pain. I’ve got you. Here is how I can help.
It becomes clear that in this stressful time, compassion is the glue that helps make the team whole. For us, part of our daily task is asking team members if they need anything and arranging to provide it whenever possible. Delivering basic food for some is one way, but a call just to say hi goes a long way too.
As our new unchartered journey continues, it’s important to also consider two other concepts: communication and engagement.
- Communication is, strictly speaking, a one-way exchange of a crafted message with the goal of controlling it. For example: your announcements to the team on policies is a message that is carefully crafted.
- Engagement is a two-way exchange where the goal is to explore, learn and connect team members. For example: engagement is inviting your team’s feedback and ideas on a new service or program.
Given that reimagination, problem solving, and nimbleness is our new lifeline, then team engagement facilitates these so that we can speedily execute new ideas. Engagement also empowers motivation, (which is externally built) so that team members are driven and proactive. You can hire people who are naturally enthusiastic (an internal trait they have), but motivation is only achieved by using engagement as a way of conducting business. One of the things we started is a weekly session where different team members spend 30 minutes sharing an insight of their choice followed by a discussion to encourage free thinking. Our first session was given by a young lady who volunteered to speak about how big and small companies have adapted to COVID-19, especially in terms of their customer service and marketing.
This all leads to the importance of encouraging team collaboration. Besides the use of software that enables engagement, collaboration is only successful when it has:
- A clear goal
- Maintains focus
- Constant rapport among the team
- Trust based on keeping promises and transparency
We’ve been using cloud-based solutions to collectively share and edit various text, spreadsheet and presentation documents so that work continues seamlessly. It came with a learning curve for some, but after of a month into the lockdown we have all become proficient. We schedule our social media communication using a calendar everyone has access to for example, so we stay on top of key external announcements and posts. Additionally, all of our tasks and assignments are planned, documented, and tracked in our project management solution to ensure that nothing is overlooked and that we have full insight into the status of tasks and the achievements and contributions of each of our colleagues.
So, returning to our need to pivot, if reorienting our business model and service offering is the mission, and right now it absolutely should be, then compassion is the fuel, and working with engagement and collaboration is the engine that drives us to new destinations. And this engine would not be built if the culture didn't embrace and share our vision and mission.