By Keith Kitani, CEO GuideSpark
The COVID-19 crisis has thrown our lives, our work and our society into a tailspin. But after a massive overnight transition to remote work and a solid six weeks or so in relative lockdown, businesses are starting to think about the future.
Unfortunately, there are far more questions than answers. Can we salvage our goals? How can we pivot to survive? What does this “new normal” that everyone keeps talking about even look like? Should we evolve our business model post-pandemic?
In the face of this uncertainty, business agility is more critical than ever. The plan you had for the year? Throw that right out the window. But all is not lost. By shifting our approach to goal setting, success metrics, performance measurement, and internal communication, it is possible to plot a successful path forward. Here’s how:
- Update to realistic goals. Expect every business metric or stat about 2020 to have a giant asterisk next to it. At least a fourth (if not more) of the year is completely out of the norm. That means it’s impossible to stick to your original goals. But those goals aren’t life or death. Change the goals. Get real about what things might look like going forward and brainstorm multiple scenarios. Trying to stick to the original plan will virtually guarantee failure at this point, and the last thing you want to do right now is demoralize your employees with audacious goals that are impossible to meet.
- Emphasize the “why.” The pandemic has shown companies and their employees just how quickly they can change when the need is urgent. Just a few months ago, we were talking about digital transformation like it was a long-term strategy. And yet, some projects got done practically overnight.
The pandemic provided an obvious “why” and a clear motivation to change and adapt quickly. With future changes, the “why” might be less clear, but the good news is, we now have a mindset for change. Everyone understands that things will be different, so explaining the “why” will be important going forward. as goals, policies and the way you do business evolve.
- Personalize communications. Employees are craving some amount of certainty in a world that’s anything but. And, in order to achieve whatever goals you set, consistent, constant communication from their employer is exactly the kind of reassurance they need right now. But this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Everyone is coming at this “new normal” from an entirely different place influenced by both their role within the organization and their family/work from home situation.
That means employee communications must be personalized based on employee journeys, to inform, educate and reinforce the message for where they are in the journey right now. And it must also evolve as the situation changes and they move forward in the journey. It’s also critical to choose channels that speak to the employee journey and can cut through the noise of other information competing for their time and attention. Finally, measuring communication effectiveness and iterating both the message and delivery as needed are key.
- Leverage managers as front-line change agents. Managers are critical for helping your employees achieve their goals under normal circumstances, but especially during uncertain times. Not only are they vital to coaching, providing support, and identifying gaps and filling them, they’re a key link in the effective communication chain.
Not only is a one-size-fits-all approach NOT going to work, but those personalized messages can’t come from the top down. Managers are the conduit for change and personalizing communications to meet their teams’ needs. They understand the mission of their team as well as each individual’s unique situation. Managers can interpret how plans and policies apply to their people and communicate the overall corporate message in a way that relates to and resonates with workers on the front lines.
- Cultivate culture. We know that an engaging culture is critical for achieving business goals, but managing culture in a time of uncertainty is extremely challenging, especially when the traditional norms and behaviors that you’ve relied on are gone. Right now, you have employees who are working at home, perhaps with a roommate or partner sitting next to them, and some with children whom they’re simultaneously trying to home school. But, what if one of them has a child with ADHD? Or is also caring for an ailing parent? Being empathetic to their situation is critical. Not only has our business been impacted, but our personal lives as well, and no matter how we try to set boundaries or “balance” the two, they’re still inextricably linked.
That means setting a culture of expectations that makes sense for the situation. For example, make it a rule that everyone on a video call must use the video, so that you can see one another for a better connection. Create Slack channels for typical watercooler-style conversations where people can have non-business interactions, talk about their challenges and share solutions. Create employee stories through videos or video interviews to share insight into who they are as individuals. All of these can help teams feel more connected and driven toward the same goals.
We all know that staying in our comfort zones can be stagnating and that leaning into what’s hard and uncomfortable is where growth happens. Although no one could have imagined a challenge of this scale and magnitude, what we learn from it and how we move forward is what’s most important.
Now that companies and employees know how fast we can change, it’s a great opportunity to relook at the way we do business. Setting reasonable goals and flexible plans are critical and instilling a change mindset into the culture will be key to attaining them.