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5 Lessons to Get Your Team through 2020, Reorgs and the Pandemic
“Your job is very personal”

How are we going to get through this? What will my job look like in six months? Everyone is asking themselves the same questions—independent contractors, CEOs, managers, recent grads, and me.

Leading teams

If you are helping to lead your team or company through this unprecedented time, it’s important you focus on people as much as your bottom line. Here are five pieces of advice from my experiences weathering the storm.

1. IT’S PERSONAL

Your job is very personal. It creates a sense of purpose, creates self-worth and helps define your identity. It gives you a sense of community and belonging. It stimulates your mind through problem solving and complex social interaction.

So, if you’re the one who has been left behind because you lost your job or were furloughed, hearing “we’re all in this together” doesn’t feel good. When making tough choices to cut jobs, take a minute to put yourself in the shoes of your employees. When you communicate your message avoid clichés.

When team members are let go, address survivor’s guilt. Coworkers are real people and it is okay to be sad. Remaining employees can feel a level of shame that they are able to keep their jobs. They also might feel that they’re next on the chopping block, so provide reassurance when possible.

In 2008 I had my dream job at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). The financial crisis hit and philanthropic funding disappeared overnight. JGI leadership did their very best to make the organizational changes, frankly, suck less. They actively communicated the changes they had to make, and why they made them. We knew furloughs and layoffs were part of the package.

I had immense survivor’s guilt watching my colleagues leave while I kept my job. They had families to support, they were smart and talented, and I grew close to many of them. Yet JGI leaders were able to say, “Yep, this sucks and I miss them too. Here is why we kept your role instead of others.”

2. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF

This is a personal situation for you, too.

Kellan Hays home office

It can feel unrealistic to pay attention to your own wellbeing when you have a job to do and when your team counts on you. But take a minute, or 10 or 60, to step away from your desk and recognize your disappointment or frustration. Where’s your motivation at in dealing with the crisis?

Personal reflection will alleviate stress and will also help make your communication more personal and authentic to your team.

Right now, even writing this article is a way to help me process my emotions and move forward in my work during the coronavirus crisis.

3. KEEP IT REAL—AVOID BLAME AND RUMORS

Blaming others is an easy solution when the going gets tough. Look at leaders today—some allow rumors to spread unchecked, which builds distrust and increases misinformation.

As an everyday employee, you would never think you’re going to be impacted by activist investors. That’s something you read about in the Wall Street Journal or watch in a movie starring Michael Douglas.

When I worked at Autodesk, our activist investors forced a guillotine-like 10% headcount cut. I was standing in an international airport (remember those?) when I turned on my phone and got the message about the cuts. You can imagine the knot in my stomach.

What our leadership did well was communicate directly about what happened and their ensuing plan. They said “this is business,” without pointing fingers at leaders or even really at the activist investors. There was only hope of mission, commitment to company strategy, and sadness for letting people go.

By keeping it real and being available for questions, Autodesk leaders helped get ahead of rumors as well. In a health crisis like we are in today, this is even more important.

Be willing to address your employees’ questions and make yourself available to speak with your staff.

4. LISTEN UP

You can’t keep it real and get ahead of misinformation if you’re not out listening to your people. Don’t just rely on reports, or your team to tell you what is going on and how people feel.

  • Get on the phone.
  • Hold focus groups.
  • Ask questions.
  • When answering questions, think outside of your corporate talking points.

Responding to the pandemic in your daily life is hard. From potential health concerns to new work environments, we have all had to adopt new behaviors.

At Good Nature Agro, our diverse community is hard at work today harvesting, selling, purchasing, and processing. It’s our busiest time of the year.

Yet our leaders are getting out to the field and having candid conversations with their teams. They are trying to listen to feedback about the issues caused by the coronavirus and hear farmers’ take on this year’s experience working with us. It’s a dynamic, changing environment to which we are all adapting. We are learning as we listen and as we go.

5. SAY TODAY WHAT YOU WILL MEAN TOMORROW

Take stock of what you are communicating. Launch initiatives or use language that will pull through to your post-crisis plan.

What you keep consistent defines your culture because it is repeated and reliable. If you send mixed messages, nothing gets through except for a culture of undependable leadership. This is with your employees and your customers.

For example, listening should be something you build into your company culture to get through the crisis, but it should remain for the long term. Build your new cadence of surveys, discussions, and open lines of communications today.

Right now at Good Nature Agro we are reiterating to all farmers and staff that we care about their health and wellbeing. You could think of this as cliché, but it’s not. It fits squarely into—and expands—our company-wide safety initiative launched in quarter four last year, which will continue to be a priority 18-plus months from now.

We also see an opportunity within our safety initiative.

We can increase our existing emphasis on things like digital payments and e-banking for increased safety compared to cash, which can transmit COVID-19 and be more susceptible to fraud. Digital tools can also help farmers’ financial health in the long term.

All of the examples of responses to crises are imperfect—it was hard to get through those times, and it is hard today.

Getting through 2020 is a marathon, not a sprint. It is personal to you and everyone around you. I hope we can all keep that in mind as we lead our teams through the miles ahead.

For more information about how leadership through crisis is personal, I recommend you check out: The Autonomy, Belonging and Competence (ABC) Framework by Kathleen O’Connor at London Business School.