As many countries and U.S. states begin to re-open, companies are moving from crisis management to planning for their new reality. In making this pivot, they are faced with many critical challenges including how their boards and executive leadership can best navigate these unchartered waters to emerge stronger in terms of talent management and workforce engagement.
In my experience, I offer two critical realities for consideration.
#1: Unprecedented crisis drives new dynamics for Boards and their executive leadership.
While all crises are unique, the current pandemic feels particularly monumental, with critically heightened health fears and anxieties deeply affecting virtually all populations while simultaneously wreaking havoc on global business communities. Boards will need to fully leverage all past learnings plus all of their creativity and humanity to successfully navigate this crisis. Within their organizations, three key people-related dynamics to be addressed are:
Succession – Viability of your talent pool starts at the top. What happens when your C-Suite executives contract COVID-19, or any other significant illness? Who is their successor and are they able to seamlessly step in at a moment’s notice? What if this happens at the Board level? Succession plans have never been more critical, not only for the Board and the C-Suite, but for at least 2-3 levels down.
Company Culture – Directors and executive management must come together and fight to keep company culture alive. Leaders who exhibit behavior aligned with the company’s stated culture and values will provide employees with a sense of stability and safety while simultaneously building trust. As employees experience a strong company culture expressed through an empathetic leadership team, they will become more committed and cohesive as they work to combat the impacts of the crisis. Questions to ask: What is the “pulse” of the workforce and how is leadership tracking and addressing? What tools are being deployed to better manage remote teams while keeping them feeling connected? What is being done to ensure the timely and consistent application of new policies and procedures and how is this being communicated throughout the organization?
Communication - Instilling trust and confidence at all levels of the organization has never been more important. Communication should be transparent and frequent. One company started hosting an all-company-all-hands call every 2 weeks via video so employees could see body language while hearing the message. Another company leveraged two-way communication by encouraging employees to ask hard questions while leaders responded with as much detail and transparency as possible. Conversely, leaders asked questions of employees, focusing on listening and understanding. And strengthened communication also applies at the Board level. What communication changes have you observed between management and the Board? Are you receiving more regular and timely updates? Are you being asked for more input through the crisis? Is leadership being more transparent?
#2: Workforce engagement will be very different coming out of the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic workforce engagement was generally healthy with good compensation, job security, and job training & development. Mid-pandemic, everything is in disarray as even the most basic foundational elements are now in question. Reminiscent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological and safety needs setting the basic foundation, leadership must now reach deep to address even the most basic concerns and essential needs of its workforce.
Health & Safety – The most critical issue for boards and leadership is the personal and professional safety of company employees. They have lost jobs, transitioned to new jobs, been required to stay at home, wear protective gear, and perform continual sanitization procedures - all driving emotional reactions to the loss of safe ground. Your leadership team should be proactively and aggressively addressing these issues. Ask about new policies, procedures, and training to address recently adopted developments in the work environment including cleaning, distance measures, temperature checks, masks, and requests for travel details. Make sure you have full visibility to detailed metrics regarding the impacts on employee health and safety while employees have access to trusted and reliable information about the virus.
Financial Security - Employees are likely to be experiencing significant financial stress that has either come as a result of this health crisis or has worsened because of it. While you can’t fix individual problems, what can you impact? One company implemented a fund where leaders and employees can donate a portion of their pay, and employees with need can apply for some relief through the fund. What plans are your leadership team considering that strengthen the financial security of their talent pool?
Engaging a Remote Workforce – For many businesses, working from home has become part of a new post-pandemic normal. How sustainable is this model for your business? Encourage leadership to acknowledge virtual work implications and the “whole person,” being open to examining, modifying, and creating policies that demonstrate care for team members’ well-being. Study how best to mitigate cyber security risks and data privacy breaches that can result from a remote workforce. Consider extended work-from-home policies, enhanced Employee Assistance Programs for stress management and anxiety, and topical wellness updates.
Trust – As trust is the bedrock for engagement, you have to say what you mean and consider carefully the impact of every decision and every choice you make. Employees need to be confident that you have their best interests in mind with complete transparency. Think about it this way: You are asking employees to share very personal information – where they have traveled, who they have been in contact with that might be sick, how they feel, taking their temperature before allowing them in the building, teaching proper hand washing procedures. In exchange, it’s reasonable for them to expect a greater level of transparency from their leadership team. Ensure leadership is sharing current business realities and changes, trusting that employees will be able to digest it and react appropriately.
Successfully engaging, developing, and inspiring organizations during this time of uncertainty presents significant and unprecedented new challenges. Boards must work even closer with their executive leadership to ensure the new needs of the workforce are being met in such a way that instills the trust, confidence, and optimism necessary to engage and inspire the organization to courageously embrace the company’s post-pandemic future.
ECC Executive Partners are proven C-Suite executives who provide specialized, confidential mentor and advisory support for C-Suite executives and executive candidates. If you or your organization are looking to enhance leadership, drive business results, and accelerate success, we’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.
Ann Vezina is an ECC Executive Partner based in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Prior to ECC, Ann was a seasoned executive with over 30 years of experience in IT services, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), company integration, and global expansion. She currently serves as a Board Director for SYNNEX Corporation where she was also appointed to the Company’s Audit Committee. She has also served as part of a CEO Advisory Team for Equian LLC, prior to its purchase by United Healthcare. Ann received her BS in Business Administration from Central Michigan University.