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Corona virus! Who knows what to do now?

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

“If a leader doesn’t speak up when there is a crisis, people will listen to whomever steps up to the mike” (Michael J Fox)

The decision to cancel major sporting events, around the world, during the 2020 global Covid-19 crisis must have been difficult for those in charge.

Being an effective critical thinker and a strategic decision maker are vital skills for leaders – especially during a crisis.

Some crisis impact the life’s of you, your team or the broader community, like Covid-19. Others, like a company merger, might impact the psychological wellbeing of you, your team and your stakeholders.

Regardless of the type of crisis or its size, positive leadership is about ensuring you create a means for the business to survive and a psychological safety net for your people.

The crisis management framework

The crisis management framework and practical leadership steps we discuss in this episode, ‘positive leadership in a crisis,’ are our own. They have been developed from business experience, team leadership and several evidence-based models of: crisis management, organisational psychology and positive psychology research.

The crisis management framework has 2 planning topics and 3 management areas:

1. Continuity planning

2. Contingency planning

3. Risk management

4. Resilience management

5. Communication management

Two planning topics

To provide positive leadership in a crisis there are two main topics you need to address, plan & action immediately: continuity for the business and contingency plans.

1. Business continuity planning

Brainstorming a list of ways to ensure business continuity is quick, simple and easy to organise at short notice. You may choose to involve your team. If your team are not involved in the brainstorm, advise when it is occurring, ask for any ideas they would like you to put forward and report back to them as soon as the brainstormed business continuity list is produced.

The continuity list is divided into three sections: 1. keep doing 2. start doing and 3. stop doing. E.g. start working from home, stop Friday lunch BBQ and keep taking client phone calls.

2. Contingency planning

Drawn from the brainstorm list above, the list of contingency actions lets the team members know what actions are being considered, if tasks they are currently doing cease to get the desired results.

Having the contingency items visually displayed, for all to see, allows team members to become familiar with possible future actions and makes taking action on a contingency plan much quicker and less hassle as subconsciously team members have already started preparing for the possibility of taking these actions courtesy of the daily visual reminder. I have seen visual displays in crisis planning rooms where dynamic data screens are used to show the objective, decisions, actions, statistics and other data. These types of visual tools also help people stay rational when planning and deciding.

The research suggests you make a list of pros and cons to help with your decision making and some also suggest you add consequences and place risk weightings on them.

In a crisis there is an 80% rule, you will only ever have 80% of the information you need.

During a crisis things change quickly and leaders need to accept they will be making daily decisions and changing the decisions often - as new or more reliable information becomes available.

3. Risk management

Focusing on solutions is a key feature of positive leadership, however, a defense strategy is equally as important as focusing on solutions and opportunities during a crisis.

List and assign people to manage the risks.

4. Resilience management

Leaders are tasked with producing results and ensuring their teams, and the people in them are coping.

During a crisis this remains true. To ensure your people are remaining calm and not becoming overwhelmed, you can create an environment where positive practical thinking is encouraged. Leaders need to role model rational conversation, logical, innovative and creative thinking and demonstrate how to positively respond to ‘fear mongering' and ‘fake news’.

Positive steps a leader can take to create an environment conducive to psychological safety and business survival during a crisis include:

Create a culture of open mindedness

Focus (reward) the team energies on what they can do. Minimise talk on what they cannot control.

Ramp up frequency of communications

It is your job to help people critically assess information and move through the crisis within a net of psychological safety. There is a plethora of technology available for teams to use in communications. Mix it up, use different channels and tailor your messages for specific audiences e.g. individuals, small teams, divisions or the whole company.

Be alert to - and listen to - their concerns

Observe signs of distress/anxiety and address these privately.

Schedule regular crisis status meetings

Maintain a focus on purposeful projects

Resource, monitor and guide the completion of projects. Keep sight of the bigger picture, the team objectives and goals. The crisis is temporary – your team is not.

Proactively inject ‘fun’ and also monitor/create team member recharge time and downtime

Run some competitions, e.g. funny quote of the day, Dad jokes, wooden leader videos, buddy challenges or share stories of ‘what I did last night/weekend/on day off’.

Be innovative, creative or even transformational

Revisit how you do things – prepare for better times e.g. clean equipment, make repairs, re-skill, train, up-skill, improve efficiencies, take opportunities to transform products, services and processes or do the things that you’ve been too busy to do.

5. Communication management

Use technology for visuals and team communication applications.

Address the whole team on the crisis, the impact on the business, current thoughts from the leadership team and the plan moving forward.

Give factual, concise yet thorough information. Dispel false information with a list of FAQ’s and myth busting points, this will help stop the spread of fake news. Speak calmly, factually and advise the big picture plan.

Provide ways and means for people to ask questions, have their concerns addressed and get the current ‘state of impact’ and business direction.

Schedule some meetings specifically for crisis discussion AND continue to hold your regular team meetings – no crisis discussion at these regular meetings, this will keep the team focused on the purposeful projects and help clam anxieties

Consider buddies so social contact is maintained during any periods of forced isolation. Encourage team members to contact each other. Make it a positive experience for them, give it a name. Maybe call it “You’ve got a friend in me.” If teams are working remotely or from home – ensure they are checking in with each other – run the ‘I’m OK campaign’ across your business.

Personally check in with your team members/direct reports (via facetime, skype, zoom) on a regular basis - make it visual. Follow up any points with email or internal social media.– this is not the minutes of a meeting, it is more casual and can be tailored to raise team spirits, reward individuals or reassure the team you are excited by and value their plans and achievements.

Send video messages to the team to acknowledge your appreciation of their efforts, results, ideas, cooperative and collaborative behaviours. Ask them if they believe any of these behaviours could be useful for the team to adopt on a more permanent basis moving forward.

For leaders to step up to the mike and lead people through a crisis they will also need to keep an open and flexible mind, be optimistic and rational and maintain their own sense of confidence and calm.

The best leaders among us develop their people to take responsibility and make solutions happen…… before, during and after a crisis.

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