Leading Through Tough Times

Jason Clark
April 22, 2020

This year is tough. It is incredible to think that only four months ago Australia was still coming to terms with the devastation of the bushfires. As Australia’s bushfire season officially closed on 31 March 2020, we were already experiencing the spread of COVID-19 around Australia with virus related deaths already reaching three quarters of the number of those caused by the bushfires and thousands infected and ill.

Running parallel to the health crisis, we have seen the implementation of various stages of social distancing strategies by federal and state governments aimed to slow the spread of the virus, but which has also had the devastating consequence of businesses having to reduce their activities or close, while also directing employees to work remotely, standing them down, or in some cases ending their employment altogether.

Not since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has Australia experienced such disruption to the way we work and live, and despite the impacts of the GFC, COVID-19 is expected and appears to be worse.

To be a good leader in a normal business sense means having a range of skills such as highly developed communication, empathy, innovation, strategic thinking and resilience, among other things. Reflecting on my own experience as a Director of Worklogic, I can say unequivocally that those skills are being pressure tested and, in some cases, learned; and in my view, any leader who is not feeling some pressure at the moment is not being authentic.

In our previous blogs, my colleagues Jodie Fox and Grevis Beard provided their sage advice to managers on how to transition their team to a remote working environment in a COVID-19 environment. But now that we have been leading our teams this way for about six weeks, what happens next as we wait for the curve to flatten and some form of normality to return to our lives and the economy?

1. Remember #weareinthistogether

Within the first few weeks of working remotely, you may have noticed that some of your team transitioned and are coping with working remotely better than others. While being inclusive at any time is important, it is even more now. Keeping the human factor at the front of mind and knowing who in your team is more vulnerable or disadvantaged is important so you can ensure you focus extra levels of support for those employees.

In short, we need to make our team feel safe. This might mean they are provided with more flexible leave arrangements, training in use of technology or more regular access to EAP. The support offered will match their circumstances, and while not all employees will need extra support, as they say in the United States Marines Corp: “Leave No One Behind”.

2. ‘Resistance is Futile’ – Adapt Now!

Note my slight adaptation of the Borg Collective motto there (shameless Star Trek quote) but in order to survive in this economy, your business needs to adapt.

Your team will be expecting you to be focusing on and planning for now and the future. Bring your team together and make them part of the journey. Get around a virtual table and drag out the butcher’s paper and start workshopping and leading a conversation about what new opportunities exist to improve or add to the services you offer. Leverage off the experience in the room because there is no expectation you will have all the answers, particularly when there is so much uncertainty around.

3. Having the Tough Conversations

Whether it is now or in the months to follow, there is a possibility you will need to restructure your workforce in some way. Hopefully that only means having the team working remotely; however, it might mean standing some down or in a worst case scenario, making them redundant. I do not need to tell HR how tough these conversations can be, but for some leaders this might be the first time in their professional lives that they have had to have “the conversation”. As a guide, here are some things to consider:

  • Be transparent, succinct and specific about how the economic conditions have led to the stand down/redundancy. Ensure you are clear that this is not about their performance.
  • Be empathetic and compassionate but do not fall back on your own insecurities by making comments like “I hate doing this” or “this is difficult for me”.
  • Provide them support and information about what government resources might be available to them
  • Do not be a robot.

4. Look After You

Demeanour is contagious and if you are showing signs of anxiousness, your team may start to feel that way too. Positivity and being up-beat are key; however, if you do start to feel the weight of emotion and stress, take a step back, refocus, breathe and regroup. Contact mentors, peer groups or other leaders/managers you know and find out how they are coping and what strategies they are using to navigate through this crisis.

About Jason Clark

Jason Clark is a Worklogic Director. Jason has extensive experience as a workplace investigator, investigating a range of issues including fraud, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. He has also assisted numerous organisations develop strategies to minimise poor behaviour and encourage a positive workplace culture.

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