Nearly every business has been disrupted, in some way, by the pandemic.
On the positive side, the interruption of “business as usual” has provided the opportunity — and, in many cases, forced — business leaders to change everything, from the best markets and products to push or pursue, to the business models that support them.
However, under current conditions, it’s also easy for things to go a bit off kilter. All of these changes create an opportunity to drift from important fundamentals.
With that in mind, here are the five basic concepts that I have found most important in staying on track:
#1. People are led, not managed.
Leading means movement; movement requires direction. Unless you are a company of one, your business relies on multiple people pulling towards the same objective. But that’s not “managing.” As I have said before, managing is about process
Leadership, by contrast, contains two critical aspects: communicating a clear vision and making sure everyone knows their respective role in getting there.
The key is a clearly defined and communicated end goal
With the pandemic, it’s quite possible that the end goal has changed. If so, was that change deliberate and well thought out, or did it just happen? Either way, has sight of the end goal been lost due to pandemic distractions?
Often, I encounter these types of situations in restructuring assignments, situations which, in terms of impact, act as “mini-pandemics” within a given organization, effectively disrupting everything. In the blink of an eye, the end goal has changed from whatever it was previously to one focused on selling the business, paying creditors and remaining liquid throughout the sales process.
Under these conditions, if everyone isn’t rowing towards the new direction of a sale, the process takes longer, is messier, and may never be consummated. Leadership requires bringing everyone, together, to the same end point.
#2. The new direction must be well understood by all.
If the direction has changed, what people need to get done will likely change, too. That requires clear communication, and not just from the top down. The pandemic and the way in which your business has adjusted to it may have led to doubt and confusion about what needs doing. It’s important that people have the freedom to ask questions and gain clarity. (If the direction has not changed, people need to know that too.)
A few years ago, I was called into a crisis situation at a VOIP (“Voice Over IP”) Company. An unknown bidder had just won an auction to buy the company — employees had been expecting the CEO to win. A Federal Judge barred the CEO from the premises and four critical employees had just walked out the door. I was brought in as interim COO to run the company and close the sale.
For a variety of reasons, the employees had been told little. One of the first things I did was tell them that the company was indeed being sold and that we needed to continue to run the business and maintain service levels until we closed the sale.
Why did I say this so early on? Because the fastest way to reach a goal is to have the entire team working together to get there. “There” doesn’t have to be precisely defined, just sufficiently clear to know the general direction; the exact endpoint can be fine-tuned and communicated along the way.
#3. Employees must be empowered to do what is asked of them.
- There is a mutual understanding of the desired goal, objective or outcome.
- The charged person has the time to do it.
- The charged person has or has access to the resources that are needed.
- The organization understands that the charged person has authority to do what they are charged to do.
- The charged person knows what they can't do without proper permission or approvals.
During times of crisis or disruption, any (or all) of these things can go astray. So, revisit them.
Does the person really have the time to do what is needed, given all the consequences of the pandemic? Are home issues consuming an employee’s time? Are you relying too much and for too long on the “I can do it” people? Have new obstacles been created that block or slow people getting done what’s necessary?
#4. Everyone must be held accountable.
All of the above doesn’t matter if employees are not held accountable for what they have been asked to do. Typically, this occurs in some combination of weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reviews.
For example, when I was in the rent a car business consolidating five administrative offices into one, everyone, and I do mean everyone, had either quarterly or annual objectives. I reviewed progress against objectives of my direct reports quarterly; they did the same with their direct reports at least as often. Progress against objectives was one half of the performance review. Not only did this instill accountability, I got feedback regularly on changes needed to ensure success.
Has the pandemic disrupted your standard processes of accountability? Don’t let it. While the specific goals and objectives may have changed, accountability itself is as important as ever.
#5. Learn by wandering.
Thirty-five years ago, McKinsey consultant and co-author of In Search of Excellence
, Tom Peters, coined the term, “management by walking around.”
The concept — staying close to the employees and pulse of a business by walking around in an informal, unstructured way — was a common thread among high performing companies
Pre-pandemic, the biggest obstacle to this approach was time. Today, it’s more likely distance and the lack of people on site.
My advice? If employees are physically together, you need to be physically there from time to time, too. If they are not, find other ways to “be there.” This is more than a group Zoom call (that’s just a virtual meeting in the conference room). Try “walking around” alternatives, including unscheduled phone calls, quick, one-on-one texts and so forth. As long as you are doing this randomly, regularly, engaging with people and listening, you’ll realize many of the same offline benefits.
The Pandemic has brought about several changes and so your business has had to change, too. Check now if those changes have let your company drift from these important business fundamentals.
A periodic review of how your business is performing on these five key elements should take place, pandemic or not. If some of these are missing or being done inadequately, now is the time to make improvements.