As case numbers start to decline and there is political talk of the UK coming out of the peak of Covid-19, it is clear we will soon be starting to think about coming out of lockdown. And whilst other countries across Europe and the rest of the world, start to emerge at different rates, the challenges for business leaders continue to change on a daily basis.
Moving from acceptance into adjustment, industries are starting to consider when and how they can operate through the various steps of lockdown easing. During this time, the pressures on leaders to support customers and employees in the right way will not diminish.
As a leader in any organisation, people are relying on you to make the right decisions and lead them through circumstances never experienced before. So, what are the key considerations for leading organisations through the remainder, and then out of lockdown, and beyond?
A leader’s role is to make the best possible decisions for their organisation, customers and employees, which requires genuine clarity of vision. Some of these decisions will be truly courageous and exciting, for example entry into new markets and product developments. Other choices will be just as challenging but far less positive, such as furloughing staff or making redundancies. Leaders will absolutely need to make these decisions with both a clear head and a clear conscious. Whatever the outcome, customers and employees will be looking to leaders for confidence in the decision making and a clarity of voice.
Moving out of lockdown will undoubtedly be slow and phased. During this time, leaders will need to give consideration to customer retention, cashflow management, infrastructure management and how to deliver products and services in challenging environments, through potentially different channels to market. They need to be prepared not to hang onto yesterday’s truths and give thought to every scenario, including the unthinkable.
Leaders need to be able to find ways to cut to what counts. Time is a more precious commodity than ever, so understanding what the urgent and important decisions are is critical. Recognising that these are not one and the same and that often the important gets overlooked for the urgent, will also ensure the right decisions get addressed. Creating a hierarchy of needs to focus these decisions and deprioritise others will reduce the likelihood of decision fatigue, which in itself risks clouding one’s judgement. Being sure to check all sources of information for relevancy and accuracy whilst remaining ethical at all times are essential behaviours when making choices that affect the business, its employees and customers. The check twice, act once approach ensures, even if people don’t always like or agree with the choices made (and there will sometimes be casualties), there is clarity around how and why this was the case.
Leaders will continue to be responsible for ensuring their organisations can respond in a flexible and agile way for some time to come, as we adjust to the new normal. Whilst agile techniques have a role in this, it is more about making sure everyone is clear on their short term role, keeping the plan simple and adaptive, and learning and adjusting fast. This means piloting, trialling and be prepared to switch direction if something isn’t working. Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to be honest if they make the wrong choice. After all, they are human, but the best leaders recognise this, admit the mistake and respond and adapt fast.
Behaving in this way requires leaders to consider “what experience and skills do I have and have around me”. There will be value in learning from past experiences in both their professional and the organisation’s past, which initially might not seem relatable. In addition, the leaders that respond best will assess the skills and experience of those around them, recognising who can support and lead in their own way.
It’s a tall ask of leaders who need to address the needs of their customers and their employees. For customers it is worth considering a communication road map, so they can distinguish messages from the rest of the tsunami of information. Communicating about the choices and decisions the organisation has made in an appropriate, calm and confident manner will build trust.
For employees, a leader needs to be a visionary, moving people forward. Coming clean that you might not always know what is happening or the next step, allows a leader to be honest and human, but bringing a vision provides reassurance that there is an end goal in sight, even if, over the coming months, the path to get there might not always be clear.
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