Anyone who is honest with themselves will admit that leading a company and being the CEO isn’t easy during the best of times; these are not the best of times. What that means is that we have to be hyper vigilant, not only about how our companies are doing financially and strategically – but also about how our employees are doing.
And the road map for success isn’t always that obvious – there aren’t manuals for leading a company through a global pandemic. Rather, we are building the manual together and, hopefully, leaving a legacy of success for others to follow.
Here are a few thoughts, suggestions and strategies that can help all of us to successfully navigate this murky landscape as the waters rise, recede and appear to rise again.
Throw Away Past Guidebooks
It is human nature to cling to the familiar. Naturally, we all turn back to our own experiences, to things that have worked for us in the past and to what we do and know best. But these are unchartered territories and completely new norms. One of the best pieces of advice that I can offer, and that I’ve seen in my own navigation of the crisis with COVID-19, is to throw away your past CEO guidebook.
This doesn’t mean you are navigating blindly, and it doesn’t mean you can’t rely on the skills, background and expertise you’ve been building for decades. What it means, however, is that you must be flexible. You need to realize that the tactics you’ve employed to get through other crises simply may not work this time, and that your flexibility is the key to the company’s adaptability and, hopefully, to its success at the moment.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The COVID-19 landscape is trickier than many other situations because of the politically charged discourse around us. When a flood or hurricane happens, we all tend to agree about the basic course of action that needs to be taken and about how to get ourselves out of the crisis. Here, we have people coming from vastly different vantage points with greatly varied opinions about how to proceed. As the CEO, it’s essential to communicate to the management team, and to have them communicate down the chain, about the actions you are taking to keep people safe and to keep the business running.
Now, more than ever, while so many companies are working remotely (whether temporarily or permanently) it’s essential that employees hear weekly from their managers and periodically from higher management as well. They need to know that the captain is steering the ship and that the entire crew is in this pandemic together and navigating their way to calm seas as a unit.
Mental and Physical Health
Mental health has become a hot topic in the last number of years and, perhaps, a bit of a buzz phrase. But we aren’t just trying to cover our bases by talking about mental health; we are honestly concerned of this aspect of our employees’ lives. As CEOs we each need a strategy to approach the physical and mental health of our employees.
This can take place in many different ways. During COVID-19 many people have, ironically, been ignoring their physical health out of a fear of going to the doctor or to the hospital as needed. Encourage people to take sick days to get routine check-ups and to take care of their health. Add in a few mental health days to your HR calendar. These are days when people can take off without losing either a vacation day or a sick day; it’s a day to relax, rejuvenate and recharge.
Train the management team about mental health by having training days with psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professions. Your management team will then be better armed when checking in with employees to look for signs of unusual stress and to check-in on an emotional level with each employee.
Obviously, this is one of the main topics of concern for CEOs today. There is a trend around the world of having more people working from home. And as the pandemic ebbs and flows, the conversation around work locations can’t be ignored. It’s important to remember that what works for one company doesn’t always work for another.
However, it’s also vitally important to remember that you want happy, healthy and productive workers. Does this mean you should require everyone to return, in person, to the office? That you can continue working from home? Or that you should adapt a hybrid model? These are incredibly important, and incredibly difficult, questions.
While I certainly can’t answer these questions for every company, I can offer one piece of advice. Be consistent and methodical in your decision-making on this topic. One of the worst things we’ve seen recently around this topic is when CEOs of major companies have made declarations about returning to work, only to find their furious employees protesting and quitting over the decision. You need to really have your finger on the pulse of your employees and your needs. And, if you go with a hybrid or with a decision to have employees return to a physical space, the employees need to feel that there is a sound reason for doing so. The decision needs to be based on the belief that productivity is vastly improved when workers are together, and this reasoning needs to be conveyed to workers in a way that excites and encourages them to buy-in to the decision.
Remember the Customer is a Person Too
While we are navigating these murky waters with our own teams, we need to remember that our customers are doing so as well. Whoever our customers are, and wherever they live around the world, they are battling with the same issues, frustrations, fears and uncertainty. This shapes all of our interactions and needs to be taken into consideration in our business dealings.
While we are adjusting to working from home, or trying to discuss hybrid working, they are too. And while we are juggling COVID regulations in our communities, looking after those who are getting sick, and dealing with mental health considerations, they are as well. Our flexibility is paramount when interacting with our customers and realizing that their needs and functionality are changing during the pandemic, just as ours are. Bringing that sensitivity and insight into our interactions can make a world of difference in how customers view us and in our bottom line.
This might require some training days for the staff to allow facilitators to offer key ways that the salesforce can integrate more sensitivity into their sales pitches; or it might require some management training and brainstorming to consider ways the company can create flexibility and sensitivity in their interactions with customers.
Keep in mind as you navigate your own company and situation that you were hired as the CEO for a reason. Your skills and expertise are uniquely suited for the job at hand; and your life work and professional experience allow you to successfully navigate these unprecedented times. Of course, you need to make sure as you navigate the company’s path through the pandemic, that you are taking care of your own mental and physical wellbeing, and that of your family, as well. We are writing the rule book that may be used for years to come by other CEOs reflecting on these times. The responsibility is great – and we can rise to the task at hand and succeed.