The world is in the midst of a crisis, and there is little we can do to immediately change that. All we can do is try to cope with the situation as best we can. But how should organizations tackle the challenges they are currently facing? How can you make sure that your business not only survives this crisis, but also that you emerge from it in a better position when normality returns?
I talk to lots of business people, including entrepreneurs in my own social circles. I hear a lot of stories. Everyone is responding to the current situation differently: Many are panicking, while others are managing to remain relatively calm. And some are working with their employees to take a more creative approach.
Pizza Al Fresco
In my own city, too, I've seen people dealing with the crisis in lots of different ways.My regular coffee shop has closed its doors; it wasn't selling any coffee but the bills kept coming in, so keeping the business running no longer made financial sense. It didn't take long for the owner to crunch the numbers and reach this conclusion — but I fear this could be a missed opportunity.
The pizzeria on the corner of my street took a different approach. It has a thriving delivery service, and there are more orders for collection than ever before. Through the open windows, music can be heard playing inside the restaurant. There's a queue of locals waiting outside the door, chatting to one another while observing social distancing rules. People passing by wonder what all the fuss is about, and join the queue to get their own slice of the action. When they've collected their pizzas, many people remain to enjoy the evening sun, often savoring a glass of the prosecco that they've just bought from the pizzeria.
When this crisis is over, customers will still remember this feeling. With such positive associations, there's a high chance that they'll return. This pizzeria is doing things right.
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Keep Your Chin Up
Of course, there will be companies that have absolutely no other option than to cease trading. They might not have enough cash in the bank, or sufficient time or creativity to work out how they can adapt — and that is very sad.
But I hope that your organization is among those that can afford to operate with less profit, no profit, or even at a loss for this period. And that it can continue to pay employees' wages, with government support where needed.
You must keep your chin up for your team and stay connected. And if you want to get your business back up and running quickly once the crisis is over, you need to lay the foundations for your flying start right now. This can be a fun, exciting and motivating time — both for you and for your employees.
How to stay connected when working remotely? An Attractive Goal
Your task now is not only to make sure that your employees can work—as far as their home situation permits—but also to ensure that they actually want to work for you and your organization. You need to make sure that they don't gradually become distanced from your business while working remotely.
The most powerful way to stay connected is to involve them, and get them thinking about how you can still embrace your mission during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
And unlike my regular coffee haunt, that mission is not simply to turn a profit. Take a leaf out of the pizzeria's book and think about ensuring that as many people as possible can enjoy the great products that you make for them — just in a different way right now.
What Is Your Raison D’Être?
Formulating a clear mission is usually something that happens right at the top of an organization, and it is now more important than ever that management steps up to the plate. Now is not a time for disorganized, back-and-forth debate. Your mission is about the raison d'être of your business. It's your answer to the question: "If your company didn't already exist, what would be the reasons for setting it up?" Of course, you should already know what your response will be. But if you haven't yet worked it out and put it into words, now is the time.
Virtually all organizations create added value in society — otherwise, you wouldn't exist.
In the pre-corona age, I often met with company directors and I always asked them what their social mission was. It surprised me that they were often unsure how to answer. Once I asked them to think about why they would set up their organization if it didn't already exist and what they had to contribute to the world, and once they started to talk about these things, I saw the penny drop.
It feels good to know that you have a raison d'être and that you contribute something to society.
Staying connected, more Important Than Ever Before
This is also true for employees. Employees want to make a contribution to your organization; they want to play their part. And they want to help deliver on a mission that has an impact on the wider world.
If you give them this opportunity, by being clear about what your mission is, it will have a powerful motivating effect. The impact will be even greater if you get them involved in thinking about how your organization can deliver on its societal mission both now and in our future, socially distanced economy.
This is why your core message is so critical, and why it is now more important than ever before that managers regularly communicate the organization's mission to their teams.
Get Creative and Work Together to Get Your Business Back Off the Ground
In these uncertain times, the trick is to find new ways to deliver on your mission — ideally working hand in hand with your employees. Your goal is not to succumb to pessimism like the coffee shop, but to live by your mission like my local pizzeria.
During this period, ask your employees for ideas as to how you can fulfill your mission. Requesting their creative input now means that you are giving them a chance to be seen and to be heard, and to make a contribution. By working together to shape your organization's future, you are offering hope and forging trust and connection —things that we could all do with a little more of right now.
Over a month has already passed since everything changed and all your plans were suddenly thrown up into the air. It's now time to make new plans to take you into the future. This process might inject new flow into your organization; you might discover some new opportunities that you can explore once the crisis has passed. Or maybe you'll find a way to help get us out of the crisis.
Whatever path you take, you'll immediately start to see the rewards: You will be creating a positive environment for your employees and enabling your organization to stay connected.
How far ahead should you plan? Which phases of your organization's future do you primarily need to think about? The answers to these questions depend to some extent on the mood in your organization and how busy your employees and teams are at this moment in time.
If some of your employees or teams still do not know or understand what they can do or what their role is during this crisis, how they can keep feeling connected at work—if their work has largely ceased to exist, for example—then I would focus on the coming weeks and months. I would ask my employees to come up with specific ideas as to how we can best deliver on our mission during this crisis.
Are your employees, teams, or parts of your organization still fully operational or focusing on the future? Are they busy enough to feel connected to one another and to the company? Or are they perhaps working to get on top of a backlog that had built up? These teams should either be left in peace or asked to think about the near future solely in terms of their own work. This approach encourages these groups to prepare for a world that will slowly be emerging from lockdown.
Of course, you can also use a mix of these approaches — with some teams working on operational objectives, dealing with backlogs and future developments while others that have been left with less work to do use this time to embark on a more creative path.
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Grab Attention - and Keep It
An appealing mission can really inspire employees. So ask them these questions: What can we do that is in line with our mission? What action can we take right now? What about in the near future? And when all of this is over? But before you do this, make sure that the mission is fully formed and crystal clear.
Ask all these questions one by one. Above all, don't make the process too complicated. Look at each phase individually, and keep each one as short as possible. The further ahead into the future you look, the less action-based the suggestions will be.
With this in mind - especially if a large proportion of your employees have seen their workload curtailed - focus on what you can do right now, or in the very near future.
Collect As Many Ideas As You Can
After sharing your mission with the team again, you can send questions to your employees to get them thinking and to generate as many ideas as possible. Then put a team together to choose between three and five of the best ideas. You could also ask teams that have found themselves short of work to hold an online brainstorming session to generate ideas, and then to select their top three.
But how do you know when you've hit on a good idea? Ideas are good if they strike the right balance between the interests of the organization, society and your employees.
If an idea brings benefits for the company, keeps employees working together and connected, and supports your mission and image, then you have, by definition, stumbled upon a great business case. And even if an idea doesn't produce any immediate benefits but will support your success in the future, it's still a good idea. The key is always balance.
Get the Motor Running
Working together with employees to find ways to deliver on your mission will only work out if you stick to a few key rules.
Set out clear frameworks (around the business case, for example) and manage expectations. Create a setting in which employees can speak freely and work on the basis that your employees are intrinsically motivated and will participate willingly.
If you want to explore an idea further or implement something that has come up, do so with the employees that the idea will benefit the most. Ask yourself who benefits from this plan and how? Who would enjoy exploring or implementing this idea?
What We're Doing
I'm very interested in finding out how this process works out for you.
At Effectory, our mission is to improve the world of work. We want to give employees within organizations a voice, so that organizations can use this feedback to make positive changes from the inside out.
During this coronavirus crisis, we have set ourselves the goal of helping more of our customers understand the power of continuous listening, and the magic that is created when you take your employees seriously and put their ideas into practice.
One of the main ways we are doing this is by offering our COVID-19 workforce pulse check to organizations. These scans give you an insight into staff morale, and enable you to see whether employees can work productively and where the opportunities lie for your business. Our customers are using these scans on a weekly basis, and we're doing them within our own organization too; we immediately identified a number of areas where we can take action.
The pulse checks carried out on Effectory employees highlighted areas where people were still having issues with network connectivity or applications that weren't working properly remotely, and where employees were finding it difficult to work from home because their children were not able to go to school or daycare. We rectified the network problems and reassured the parents: We won't all be able to work at our full capacity in circumstances like these.
We also host a weekly webinar on Thursdays, covering good leadership and optimizing performance in times of crisis. The webinar is open to everyone.
Prepare for Tomorrow Today
If you take action now to translate your mission into new plans, based on the ideas generated by your employees, you'll create the right conditions for you and your team to get back to business swiftly and smoothly in the near future.
You'll also be making sure that people stay connected, by getting employees behind a single, shared mission. This will give them both a sense of personal pride and pride in the organization, and their motivation will increase as a result.
Live by your mission — it's more important now than ever before!
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