Everything is the same until it is not

The global coronavirus pandemic has transformed our daily lives, from transitioning into working from home to the way we communicate.

Everything is the same until it is not

The global coronavirus pandemic has transformed our daily lives, from transitioning into working from home to the way we communicate. We have all had to face extraordinary challenges in both work and play, but what can we take away from it in order to make ourselves better leaders?

Challenges are part of life. They can take the form of human roadblocks (we have all met someone!) or difficult times. Some people and businesses will, unfortunately, inevitably crumble. But some will come out stronger. The winners, they’ll be the ones who currently see the world as a land of opportunity. They’re the ones who look at the same threats and challenges as everyone else, and see opportunity. Their glass is half full.

Here are the four areas that they’ll be focussing on to reap the greatest rewards. They have worked for me in past downturns, and they’ll be even more effective in this one.

People power

As I waxed lyrical last month, your people are your biggest asset. Hiring brilliant people means that brilliant things are possible. Now is the time to get them truly on board, to get them as excited about the coming months as they ever could be. Letting them put their heads down now will cost dearly. Give someone the chance to blame matters beyond their control for poor performance, and they’ll take it every time. So now, ensure they see the land ahead as one of opportunity only. There’s lot of scorched earth out there and it needs sowing with diligence, persistence and patience. Your people, they’re going to create a bumper crop, courtesy of the past drought.

Motivating everyone? You are their motivation. Your belief and enthusiasm, let everyone catch it. That’s your positive virus. That’s your energy that they’ll adopt. Under no circumstances is this the time to share tales of woe, hardship or impending doom. If you think the sky’s going to fall in, your team will too and it surely will.

Yes, there’s a P&L for you to worry about. But that’s just good practice. It’s a maintenance job. And empowering those same people who are driving the business to focus on creating efficiencies at the same time, they’ll step up to the mark. Everyone loves responsibility and opportunities to shine. The virus has changed the landscape forever. It’s reset. From here on, whilst staff hunt for growth, they do it with an eye on the profit. They’re accountable.

Listen up

This is crucial. It is a consistent must-do throughout, whether that’s with your management team, employees, suppliers, customers, or your local community. And it has to be authentic, honest and frequent.

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardem has been heralded as offering up a masterclass on how to handle a crisis. As a leader she has demonstrated an understanding and empathy from cutting her pay during this crisis to consoling mourners of the Christchurch mass shooting last year. And she also has shown a steely determination, tightening gun laws and setting the bar at eliminating coronavirus, rather than just controlling it. And she has delivered this messaging, clearly and without either sugar-coating or over-dramatising.

The art of communication is one of those topics that tops the thought piece top ten but it, and its component parts are crucial. Think of the definition. Communication is giving, receiving or exchanging ideas, information, signals or messages to enable individuals or groups to seek information, give information or to express emotions.

So, listening is just as important, if not more so, than speaking. This applies to your people (as above) and also to your customers. In times of crisis, your customer’s needs and required solutions are changing on weekly basis. Ask yourself, how can you provide the valued resource to assist them?

As a business, at the start of lockdown in the UK, our people asked our clients how we could help. And we listened. And we offered the results to everyone in the UK. The result was Moneypenny offering its digital switchboard service for free to help companies who are unable to be in the office, maintaining a professional service and directing calls efficiently wherever staff may be working from. It allowed businesses to focus on their business and how they could in turn adapt and assist their own clients. Cost to Moneypenny? £0. Value to clients? Unmeasurable.  

From the moment you recognised the challenge and assessed the impact with your team, talking straight and getting their buy-in, to communicating with your stakeholders and clients, a crisis is not the time for beautiful looking messages, fluffed up to the nines, it is about listening, understanding and delivering solutions – be direct, specific and clear.

Never underestimate yourself

Look at what is possible. At the start of these ‘unprecedented times’ we hadn’t considered that the whole Moneypenny business was capable of being run on a daily basis from various remote locations across the country. But it is. Largely thanks to the culture that we had in place. Some quick thinking and evolving to the situation and, as far as our clients are concerned, it is business as usual. The virus gave the Tech department an opportunity to show off, and they took it. They worked all the hours, sleeping at desks, breaking things, fixing things. Doing what great tech people do. And they did it because they were empowered. No one asked them. They knew they held the future of one of the fastest growing companies in the land in their hands, but that company had only ever operated from fixed locations in the US and the UK. Nearly 1,000 staff had to be as productive at home as they were in the office. And they had less than 7 days to do it.

And they’ve done it again for our clients. Off their own backs they’ve churned out Covid 19 checking bots for our property clients. Brilliant. They seem to be able to do anything at the moment.

Companies across Europe are adapting, changing their business models and surviving the crisis. Look to them for some inspiration. It doesn’t matter what industry they are in, there are lessons to be learned. From Christian Dior Perfumes switching production to hand sanitiser or Barbour producing scrubs for the NHS to McLaren and Dyson offering expertise, staff and factory space. It is brilliant people and brilliant things again.

Invest in technology

If nothing else, touchless is going to be everything moving forwards. And technology has really shown its value in connecting people and businesses in this crisis. As we return to some kind of normal, people are going to stay wary, it’s human nature. So, prepare for this, whether that is investing in effective, secure ordering or partnering with a third party in order to deliver your business. Prepare your business and your team and embrace the new normal.

In conclusion, I am going to defer to the great Steve Jobs who stated “Management is about persuading people to do things that they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” And, as we recover from a global pandemic, there’s no better time to see this in action.

Ed Reeves
Ed Reeves

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