No companies are going to emerge from this crisis unscathed.

Companies will fall into one of two camps: they’ll either emerge from this crisis successfully, with excellent leadership and cohesive teams, or they’ll be weaker, lost, and perhaps won’t survive at all. 

My heart goes out to the many companies that are struggling due to the circumstances- restaurants and the travel industry come to mind, along with many microbusinesses in the gig economy. But then there are the companies that are struggling because of leadership and/or lack of clarity. These are companies that were struggling “in secret” before the crisis. Perhaps it hadn’t yet impacted revenue, but the team dysfunction was there. If you haven’t been taking action to pivot yet, you’ll likely end up in this second group.

If you’re a leader of a company that’s struggling to pivot, or simply struggling with how to effectively lead your newly remote team, take heart. It’s not too late to emerge from this crisis successfully. Here are some suggestions:

How to Emerge from this Crisis Successfully:

  1. Focus on HOW more than WHAT. Successful companies lead with their values and mission. While it may be tempting to go for the quick fix and step over company values during the pandemic, it would be a dire mistake. How do you want to be remembered on the other side of this crisis? If you don’t currently have company values that are alive in your employees, ask yourself this question*: “What’s our idea worth rallying around?” What do you want to be known for in the coming years? When there’s no roadmap for surviving these times, your values and mission can provide a welcome compass.
  2. People first. In VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous) times, taking care of your people first is a recipe for success. Leaders go first. Have a town hall meeting on Zoom and share how you’re doing personally. Is it tough trying to work with kids underfoot? Does your dog manage to bark in the middle of every.single.meeting? Are you enjoying your new commute to the home office? Then invite other shares. If you have a large team, prep your senior leaders in advance and have a couple of them go next. Then open the floor to hear from others. This little bit of humanity will go a long way. Especially if your team is newly remote, they may be feeling adrift. They may be getting saddle sores from sitting in virtual meetings for hours on end. Ask them how they’re doing. Be prepared to listen empathetically.
  3. Don’t underestimate the emotional toll this is taking. Virtually everyone is experiencing at least a little trauma response. Clients and colleagues report that it’s difficult to focus. People are experiencing anxiety, loneliness, and overwhelm. A report last week indicated that people in the Bay Area are drinking 42% more than usual. A survey last week found that nearly one in five people are experiencing significant amounts of stress. That’s double the number of people who responded to the survey last year, when we weren’t in a global crisis. There are plenty of free and low cost tools that can help manage stress.
  4. Create clarity. Once you’ve identified the idea you want to rally around, create a short list of key priorities- no more than five. These are objectives that the team will work on each week. They should be SMART- specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Relevant is probably the most important word here. What matters NOW with the work your company does? Communicate your priorities early and often. If you start to feel like a broken record, you might be communicating them enough. These priorities will act as guidewires in mountaineering. They’ll be something team members can hold onto when the going gets tough. 
  5. Re-imagine meetings. Clients are complaining about being stuck at their desk for hours on end in meetings. In this new remote reality, we can do better. Last week I wrote that Seth Godin wrote a short manifesto on March 18th that offers a comprehensive look at the future of online interactions. Patrick Lencioni (5 Behaviors of Dysfunctional Teams) weighed in today as well. He strongly advocated getting rid of what he called “meeting stew” and what we call “kitchen sink meetings” where you surface and try to fix multiple problems in one meeting. He suggested 3 types of meetings instead:
    1. A morning stand up where everyone checks in briefly about how they’re doing.
    2. Weekly tactical meetings to check on status of the key priorities. You can use a red-yellow-green system to rate progress on each one.
    3. Regular strategic meetings where the relevant team rolls up their sleeves to solve ONE problem. Think of these as co-working times. You can ask questions and bounce ideas off each other in between working on your piece of the puzzle.

*The core idea behind Motto branding agency’s work is to find your brand’s Big Idea: the Idea Worth Rallying Around.

Despite how stressful these times are, remember that you are at choice. You get to choose how you respond to what’s coming your way. Choose wisely, friends. And cut yourself some slack when you don’t. We’re all making mistakes in these uncharted territories.