by Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive at HRM Recruitment
A week after I set up HRM in 1992, An Post went on strike. The banks went on strike. Within a year, two of the largest technology employers, Digital Equipment Corporation and Prime Computer, closed their doors. The following year Wang Computers in Limerick shut down. Most of these names will mean nothing to young leaders in Ireland today and it was a time before email and electronic payments. HRM began in an era of crisis and since then has endured the dotcom bubble bursting, the post Celtic Tiger banking collapse and now the Corona Virus.
This latter test may prove for all of us to be the most tricky to navigate yet, underscored as it is by a growing economic challenge. However, it also forces businesses to think fast and flexibly. It demands that we look at new ways of meeting customer needs and are innovative in how we deliver service experiences for those customers, and how we support culture for employees. Firms like ours and perhaps yours too, who have moved to fully remote operations, must work to ensure employees feel engaged and connected to their colleagues and that their mental and physical wellbeing is looked after. Isolation is necessary but difficult for highly social beings.
Communication is important in every working day, but during a crisis it becomes the single most important leadership act. Senior teams will deliver carefully crafted messages company wide, but in larger organisations particularly, relationships are closest between early to mid-level leaders and their reports. It is these leaders that are the true communication channels in firms during a crisis. How these leaders are feeling at any given point, colours the organisations narrative to the rest of the business. Their confidence will exude, their worries will amplify. Here we offer five messages to share with less experienced leaders during what is likely to be the first real crisis through which they will have had to manage people and operational effectiveness:
1. This crisis will end
None of us know exactly how the course of this period will run, the only commitment we can make with certainty is that it will come to an end.
2. Never waste a good crisis
These times and challenges are the true Mother of innovativeness. Encourage them to use the time to understand process jams and create new ways of delivering. Ensure they engage others in their teams to speak up about changes that can be made to improve experiences. Remote working often brings great clarity to people.
3. Measure what matters
When team members are working from home the rules change. There are inevitable distractions and challenges facing them. Coach your new leaders to accept and make friends with this fact. Ensure they have set realistic output goals and are driving the achievement of these, rather than obsessing with behaviours. Measure the level of communication they have with their team and the wellness actions they take to support them.
4. Make good memories
How your new leaders respond in a crisis, will be remembered by them, and by you, long after the crisis is forgotten. Ensure they know this. Tell them that as new leaders it is normal for them to feel insecure and be uncomfortable with ambiguity, that this is their learning wall. Experienced leaders know that learning to deal with insecurity and cope with ambiguous futures, are the cornerstone of leadership development and maturing.
5. Keep stepping up
As a crisis rolls out, it needs leaders who get out in front of the challenges and who think about contingencies for the inevitable escalation or unexpected curve balls that will come their way. Ensure that they search hard for the facts of a situation and make fast but strong decisions based on those facts.
This pandemic will be a testing time for employees at all levels in our organisations for several reasons. A few will be confronted by personal loss, others may experience illness and some will endure economic hardship. The leaders that these employees will remember and choose to get behind in the future when all this has passed, are those that remain calm, show compassion, take control and demonstrate care for their reports and colleagues.