Leading Your Culture Through The COVID-19 Crisis

If you’re like most of the CEOs in Southern California, you’ve been leading through the crisis of COVID-19 for approximately 6 weeks.  Everyone on your team, for better or for worse, transitioned to working remotely. Depending on your type of business and size, it’s likely that the first few weeks of the transition were quite hectic. You, your leadership team and employees were all wrestling with fear around this new virus and the impact it will have on everyone’s health, family, social life and the economy. 

Now you might be noticing most everyone who is homeschooling their children has found their rhythm and optimal daily routine. Anyone who is single and living alone has adapted to socializing with friends and family in a new virtual environment. Some of your employees are producing faster and are more productive, others are barely meeting deadlines. You’re likely looking at your Q2 goals and wondering if you should change your expectations or push forward. 

As CEO, there are four key areas where your leadership is required right now in order to foster a healthy company culture that drives performance. 

  1. Strong Leadership. Set the strategy and make sure your entire management team has what they need so they can support your employees. Meet with every manager for 30-45 minutes. Do skip level meetings and find the common themes. Needs are going to be different for each manager depending on their circumstance. Your job is to make sure they feel valued and empowered so they role model the same behavior for others. If a manager is struggling, step in immediately and co-create a short term solution. Employees need and deserve strong leadership, and your company won’t hit goals without empowered and productive employees. Questions to ask in your one-on-one:
    • What’s been good about working remotely the last month? What’s been hard?
    • If you were me, what changes would you make?
    • What support can I provide you during this time? What about your team?
    • Who is kicking butt in the company? Who do you admire?
    • What are we not doing that we should be doing?
    • Learning and growth require four things: new challenges, low ego, space to reflect/brainstorm, and feedback. How are these four going for you? Is there one you need more or less of?
  2. Humanized Communication. We are humans not robots. We all crave human interaction and connection. This means that every manager needs to schedule regular weekly (or bi-weekly) one-on-ones with their employees, host weekly department meetings, and pop-in to daily stand ups. Make sure there is at least one scheduled weekly all staff-meeting. In this meeting it is imperative that you talk about the business (goals, timelines, projections, etc.) and people related topics (working from home tips, guest speakers, Coronavirus impacts on team, etc).

  3. Clear Goals & Expectations. If you haven’t already, now is the time to set OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). You’ve most likely already communicated goals or metrics that the business needs, but may have skipped the next step of cascading and aligning goals throughout the rest of your organization. Each department needs to publicly articulate how they are going to support the business goal by creating SMART goals and key results. This way, every employee can be assigned projects and tasks that are aligned with the business. Employees will feel more empowered, valued and productive.

    Communicating your expectations during COVID-19 can be tricky. Work towards making sure your employees have the time and space they need for their mental and physical health and/or homeschooling their children. Make sure your management team knows what their employees’ needs are before setting goals. COVID-19 brought a lot of stress, anxiety and uncertainty into daily life. Pick goals that are attainable so you have something to celebrate as a team in the future. 

  4. Culture Committee. Company culture is the foundation of success and purpose for your employees. It anchors your strategy and creates a safe environment where individuals can do their best work. Creating a new culture or working to keep the one you’ve built is hard. It’s especially complicated right now with the spread of COVID-19 and moving to 100% remote work. 
  5. Your first step is to either hand select individuals or ask for volunteers to create a culture committee. This committee will own and lead company-wide culture initiatives. Schedule and meet with the committee for the first few meetings to share your ideas, expectations and gain momentum. It’s important for you to empower the committee and give honest feedback. If the committee is passionate about an idea that isn’t feasible, you need to say that clearly as soon as possible. If the committee works hard on an initiative that never had a real chance of being implemented, that’s a quick way to sink morale. Expectations such as timelines, resources, budget need to be clearly outlined at the beginning. I suggest starting by collecting data from your entire company by sending an employee culture survey. 

    Once the committee has analyzed the data they can begin to tackle the following topic areas: 

    • Mental health – The best question to ask is, how can we best support our employees right now? Should the company offer to pay for online workouts or classes for children? Would employees appreciate having a paid mental health day on a regular cadence?

    • Remote work – Do employees have the hardware and equipment, software and tool access that they need in order to be productive? Are functional teams able to cross-collaborate? How well are we communicating goals and timelines? Do our current employee recognition process and tools work now that we are 100% remote?

    • Growth & learning – There is an opportunity right now for everyone to learn more about themselves, create personal goals and work on building skills. You can support this in a few ways:
      • Create a leadership book club. Ask one of your best managers to lead it. 
      • Hire a few coaches to provide individual sessions.
      • Ask your leaders (or hire consultants) to offer remote trainings/workshops. 
      • Offer to pay for online courses. 
      • Start an internal mentorship program.
      • Start a leadership blog about how to tackle different topics

    • Events & fun – Team happy hours, company volunteering and team lunches don’t have to stop. Find passionate individuals and empower them to organize an event. Create and participate in weekly themes for the whole company to keep things light. Some of my favorite ideas are: wear your favorite hat, Hawaiian shirt Friday, bring your kid to work day, pajama day). 

If you’re like most CEOs, your team is watching you and craving your leadership now more than ever. The most important thing you can do as a leader during the COVID-19 crisis is to create a team around yourself that will support you, the mission, and goals of the company. Join a CEO group, hire a few advisors, get an executive coach, empower your leadership team, and get feedback.

Let’s talk! My consulting company partners with CEOs, their startups and their publicly-traded companies to align their mission, strategy, business operations, HR teams and culture. For more information, you can email hello@shannonflynn.co or visit www.shannonflynn.co

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