As we face up to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, leaders need to discover their own resilience and inspire their employees to follow suit, write David Sluss and Edward Powley for Harvard Business Review.
The strengths we display now will be invaluable when we emerge from the pandemic facing a future that could look very different to the one we planned.
Sluss and Powley, professors of management and organisational behaviour, say we should strive to build up the morale and tenacity of our teams, albeit at a safe distance as they work remotely.
Their technique centres on employees as individuals, focusing on their strength, their attitude and their outlook.
1) Assess each team member’s likely resilience. How confident are they in their skills? How business-like are they? What is their home situation? You might have perceptions of this already, but a crisis can change the picture.
Ask how they feel about working from home, how they will plan their days and whether they have personal obligations that will pressurise them. To show you care about them as fellow human beings, not simply employees:
- Take the load off someone who is, for example, caring for at-risk relatives, by redistributing work to others.
- If someone is wobbly about their abilities, confirm your belief in them as a member of the team and stress that errors are learning opportunities.
- Check everyone has all they need at home to do their work.
- Suggest time-management routines and check in frequently to check they are coping.
- Watch out for highly resilient team members who could burn out from panicked overworking.
2) Keep talking. Holding regular one-to one guided conversations yourself is difficult if you have a large team. Encourage members to talk to each other about problems and tactics for coping. Pair people up and ask them to schedule video chats into their working week.
3) Be realistic. Reduce fear of the future by helping employees to face potentially uncomfortable facts. Ask specific questions about certain scenarios:
- How would they feel about working at home for an extended period of time?
- What could you do to make that a less alarming prospect?
- Which colleague could best offer them the support they need?
“There is power in reminding them they’re not alone, and in building a network of support during adversity,” say Sluss and Powley.
4) Focus on learning. Unfamiliar situations offer opportunities to expand our knowledge and discover new strengths. To take advantage of these opportunities:
- Encourage employees to develop skills that could bring long-lasting learning for themselves and the organisation.
- Look out for those who excel in a particular area – avoiding distraction, for example – and ask them to teach their method virtually to other team members.
- Schedule a universal daily meeting to encourage connection and highlight what is working and what isn’t.
Negotiating a crisis is when resilience is really put to the test. Adopting the right strategies now should not only hold your organisation in good stead for a swift post-COVID-19 recovery, but you could also emerge with a team that is personally and collectively stronger than ever.