8 critical lessons leaders need to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis (and one that will surprise you)
In a matter of days, shutdowns and physical social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic led to a dramatic shift in consumer values and behavior. It heavily impacted businesses and interrupted our way of life.
Close to two months later, the landscape hasn’t changed much. Employees still worry about the security of their jobs while employers struggle to figure out how to appropriately navigate these unprecedented times. I have lived through something similar as a founder and CEO during the 2001 dot-com burst and the 2008 financial crisis. In both instances, the industry survived and eventually recovered, and I learned some valuable lessons about the resilience of companies during periods of economic downturns. These are the hard-won lessons we can take with us on the other side of this unpredictable period of volatile market conditions and tremendous change.
Use emotional intelligence
Instead of projecting arrogance, fear, or silence during this challenging time, leaders need to overcommunicate and keep employees informed on what they’re doing to support the organization and its people. They should use their skills of empathy and understanding; digging beyond the generic “How are you?” by asking more meaningful questions such as:
- How are you taking care of yourself?
- How can we help you feel productive?
- What will make you feel more engaged?
- What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?
People will be better equipped to handle change and transition better if there is a continuous, authentic, and transparent two-way dialogue.
Bet on the people who step up
In times of crisis, you find out who your real leaders are. Pay attention to those who aren’t in managerial roles who demonstrate they are committed and willing to go the extra mile, even if they aren’t asked to step up or it’s not in their job description. Those who are willing to carry extra weight and add value to a company in crisis will be remembered, even if the business can’t return the favor right now.
Build on the five Ps
No matter which industry you’re in, purchasing decisions may be slow during this time, even with a great team in place and a product with some market traction. Use this temporary pause to focus on making the five Ps of any investment (such as your company) better: People, Product, Progress, Passion, and Persistence. Brainstorm, strategize, and prepare for the day when people will have the confidence to make buying decisions again. The market will eventually rebound, and the need for more innovative and better service will drive demand. There will no doubt be dramatic business model innovation as companies and technology catch up to the new consumer psychology.
Authentically contribute to your community
Remember that we’re in this together. Figure out what your business can do to positively contribute to your community, as long as it’s authentic. Since Comparably is a workplace culture platform with expertise in employer branding and recruiting, we’re providing a host of free tools including employee insights, salary benchmarking, and branding/marketing software. I’m also hosting webinars with top industry leaders, whose businesses range from Zoom Video Communications and Qualtrics to Mattel and Chipotle; they share best practices on how they manage during times of crisis.
Don’t be afraid to adapt, pivot, or reshape your business
The best ideas and innovative product solutions often require creativity and listening. Tune in to the needs and wants of customers through online forums and focus groups, or to employees by asking what they would do if they ran the company. This is one of the biggest lessons Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson shared during our recent fireside chat. Under his leadership, Mattel redefined itself by launching the first gender-neutral Barbie as well as diverse dolls with different body types, skin tones, and hair, all intended to more closely reflect the world today. The iconic brand also converted part of its U.S. workforce to produce face shields and masks from Barbie and Fisher-Price material to help front-line healthcare workers in the pandemic. By supporting your community, you unite and strengthen your own company.
Focus on workplace culture
Now more than ever, people will look to see if company values are more than just lip service. Workplaces with the best culture will always have less trouble recruiting and retaining the best talent. Now’s the time to be even more transparent with current employees. Don’t shy away from how this crisis has changed your company culture, or if your workplace has long needed an overhaul. Find out how to positively impact employees during this crisis and do that thing immediately. Use this as an opportunity to realign your mission, vision, or values with employee happiness and morale.
Be flexible and open to new ways of working
In a recent conversation I had with Zoom Video Communications chief product officer Lynne Oldham, we discussed how the work-life balance was already in transition and how this latest crisis has served to rip off the Band-Aid. Some form of remote work may be here to stay, so it’s important to remain flexible and respect the new time constraints. Colleagues may not always be immediately reachable in the traditional 9-to-5 time frame as they were when they were in the office, due to homeschooling kids or caring for elderly family members. Setting boundaries and providing availability in advance is crucial for all involved.
Tap into the network of people who know you best
Ask your connection of friends, family, colleagues, and clients if they can give warm introductions to potential new business contacts. There are many people willing to support others during this time, more so than when waters were calmer. A great example of this is when Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith shared a story with me about a friend in his network who asked during the last economic crisis if he knew of any open tech positions. Ryan didn’t but instead gave his friend a free Qualtrics license to find a data-analyzing job. The friend successfully secured a job that way, then proceeded to buy a Qualtrics license for every company he worked for over the next few years. The lesson here is if you do what’s right, it may pay off 10x down the line.
When we will emerge from this current crisis is uncertain, but based on my experience one thing remains true. We all rely on leaders to thoughtfully navigate choppy waters with resolve and strength. The long-term implications of the restrictions caused by the pandemic may alter our mindset and fundamental values permanently. Why drive or fly to that business meeting when it worked so well on Zoom? With the unintended benefits of sheltering at home, such as reducing our global carbon footprint, it may be difficult to return to the old ways of doing things. For better or worse, the crisis has forced us to experience a slower-paced, family-focused life at the forefront of our “new normal.” And that’s the hidden lesson for us all as human beings. Some of the new ways might be better after all.
Jason Nazar is the cofounder and CEO of Comparably.
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