Leadership During a Crisis
Providing leadership during a crisis means it’s time to call in your “A-Team.” Business is not as usual and it won’t be for a while. It’s time for a new way of thinking. Be brave, lead the way, and (figuratively) blow things up when the moment calls for it.
By: Anthony D’Amore, Co-CEO
So here we are. Day 1,620 of quarantine.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, you assembled the crisis management team (CMT) and cracked open your trusted business continuity plan (which probably needs an update!). It was the first of many, many crisis leadership meetings to talk employee health and safety, the state of the business, and how to operate in the “new normal.”
But as governments slowly start to reopen their economies and ease social distancing restrictions, it’s time to shift the conversation. Employee health and safety remains a priority. But now, we must shine a spotlight on a “return to the office.”
Bring in the A-Team
The A-Team was made up of ex-special forces soldiers who came together to solve problems—which usually included some form of blowing things up.
Business is not as usual—and it won’t be for a long time. So, it’s time to call in your very own “A-Team.”
You might be thinking your established CMT will do, but you need a new way of looking at the future of your workplace. (And your CMT needs a breather.)
For context, I am an operations junky. I revel in setting the company’s business plan and defining our strategic priorities, executing against that strategy, and solving problems along the way. I also love numbers and their ability to provide insight into where we’ve been and also predict where we’re going.
At Ramp, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations and administrative functions of our business. But I’m a little like B. A. Baracus (a.k.a. Mr. T) from the television series The A-Team. Despite being tough and direct when it comes to our business, I care deeply about the people who are making our business work.
Blow things up (metaphorically)
Employee experience matters. You must—especially in a time of leading during a crisis—put employees at the center of every decision you make.
For many employees, the new status of “work from home” means working at home with all the distractions—homeschooling, barking dogs, a never-ending sink of dirty dishes and piles of unfolded laundry. You must consider how COVID-19 is impacting employees not only as it relates to work, but also as human beings. Their 9 to 5 also includes the responsibilities of teacher, chef, housekeeper and chief executive of their household.
This is exactly why you need to reach beyond the people currently serving on your CMT. You see, the CMT is (typically) comprised of the executive leadership team or their direct reports. The CMT has a big job.
They are making decisions on how to move forward in this “new normal.” Their goal is always to do what’s best for the company and its employees. But here’s the difference, their experience as an employee is far different than someone who is selling your products, providing customer service, or manning your IT service desk.
Leaders must understand the employee point of view as we forge into the next episode, “Return to the Office.” Because every employee brings a different experience, you need to assemble your A-Team using the people who are doing the work that makes your org tick—and give them permission to blow things up (figuratively of course!).
What do I mean by blow things up? With so much uncertainty as it relates to the pandemic and the economy, you have to think differently. You must examine every aspect of your business—the ways of working, research and development, customer success and brand reputation—and pivot.
Enlisting employees outside of the crisis leadership and management teams will give you a fresh perspective and fuel creativity. Innovation is no longer just about products, because right now, we need solutions at the most fundamental levels of our businesses.
By definition, innovate means to make changes, do something in a new way or to effect a change. This is what the A-Team can do for you.
Who should you recruit for your A-Team? It’s ultimately up to you, but it should reflect the makeup of your organization. Take into account different business units and geographies. But a word to the wise: Keep the group small—no more than 10 members—so they can be effective.
Also include individuals from your human resources, workplace, IT and communications teams. Together, these teams are responsible for bringing to life the type of employee experience you want to create. (Side note, working across functions also will forge new relationships, create greater understanding and respect for one another, and break down silos for years to come.)
In addition, appoint an executive sponsor. Pick someone who is also a part of the CMT and interacts with the company’s leadership on a regular basis. The sponsor’s role is to provide guidance, remove barriers, and serve as a conduit between the CMT and the A-Team.
Before you bring the A-Team together for the first time to play their role in leading during the crisis, set a clear mission. Your work from home/return to the office strategy—what Ramp calls Workplace 2020—should be as unique as your organization. So, determine up front the problem(s) you’re asking them to solve.
Set the stage, then ask them to come up with a plan. Give them permission to pivot, innovate—and blow things up. But be transparent up front. Their plan will need to be stress tested against the company’s business objectives, budgets and take into account some of the business decisions you’ve already made at higher levels in the organization.
For example, you may have decided to assign certain groups of people to permanent work from home status. If that’s the case you’re not alone. A recent Gartner CFO survey found 74% of CFOs plan to shift at least 5% of on-site employees to permanent remote work positions.1
To help get you started, here are a few questions to help you and the A-Team create your Workplace 2020 plan.
- There is no doubt you’ve upped your cadence of communications. Moving forward, how frequently should leaders communicate to employees?
- What is missing from current communications? What’s resonating? What’s not?
- How do employees want to receive communication from the company?
- Is working from home working?
- What can the company provide to make it easier?
- Should employees continue working from home? Should it be optional?
- From the employee perspective, what key indicators should the company use to determine when it’s safe to return to the office?
- What can the company do to make them feel safe when employees return to the office?
- What are ways the company can help employees remain at a safe distance when they return to the office?
- What types of cleaning supplies and/or safety equipment should be available for employees when they return to the office?
- What is the company doing now to keep everyone connected and cared for?
- What could the company do more of? What should they do less of?
- What else should the company be doing?
- How can the company create a deeper connection with employees—regardless of location (working from home or working from the office)?
- What business tools are they currently using to get work done?
- What is working? What’s not working?
- Where ae the gaps? What business tools do you need to get your job done?
- What other ways can technology and/or IT support overall productivity?
In addition, ask the A-Team to determine the best way to measure success. As an operations guy, I like numbers. So, I’d start by surveying employees to help educate your Workplace 2020 strategy. Then, conduct pulse surveys or use an app like Smiley Digital to measure specific elements of employee experience and overall workplace happiness.
Keep in mind your front-line managers can also provide valuable insight into employee sentiment, so make it a regular practice to ask them. If you’re not having regular leadership meetings with your managers, now is the time to start. Your managers are crisis leadership in their own right, paramount to cascading and reinforcing important information to your employees.
For Crisis Leadership – Be like Mr. T
Be tough, yet caring. Put your employees at the center of every decision you make for the business—even when it’s hard. Show no fear when you talk about the plan with employees, but be as honest and as transparent as possible in explaining why certain decisions were made.
And if you haven’t thought about how to operate your business in the foreseeable future, it’s time to get a plan in place. Gather ideas and best practices from your peers. Ask for help if you need it—you’ll be surprised who will step up and share their knowledge and experience with you.
In fact, many industry giants have publicly announced how they will proceed in the coming months. We’ve also captured a few ideas from our customers in Workplace 2020: Preparing for a return to the office. In summary, we’ve heard a few common themes:
- The health and safety of employees is priority No. 1.
- As a result, social distancing will remain the norm. Gone are the days of gathering for meetings, town halls or trainings.
- Video is an essential business tool. It brings employees together without physically bringing them together.
I want to leave you with one last thought. It’s called a plan for a reason. Once you start executing against your plan, you might need to adjust if circumstances change. So, be like Mr. T. Be brave, lead the way, and (figuratively) blow things up when the moment calls for it.
1 Gartner CFO Survey Reveals 74% Intend to Shift Some Employees to Remote Work Permanently