Connection and Resilience through COVID-19

This virus is disrupting our lives in every corner of the world and in every way possible. For many people, they’re being called to work above and beyond – healthcare professionals, teachers, parents, service and delivery workers and so on. These folks are the true heroes, and I hope what we currently deem as “essential” work becomes ingrained in us as meaningful work going forward. We have an opportunity to redefine success and redesign capital systems that reward what is truly valuable and meaningful work, social businesses included.

As for us “non-essential” workers, just as the volcano that erupted outside of Manila earlier this year disrupted life for a few weeks, the ground is moving beneath us and our foundations are being shaken. Whether your social business is responding quickly and pivoting or slowing down to re-balance, a lot of our “normal” or “business as usual” is being called into question. Either way, tough and unexpected times like these tend to reveal both the best in us and the cracks in our systems where we can take this opportunity to do better.

The sudden need for social distancing and remote work means we’re all connecting online a lot more than usual. As someone who has worked remotely and lived far from my closest loved ones for awhile now, this is the ultimate silver lining in everything that’s going on. But if your organization wasn’t already embracing remote or flexible work, chances are, you may not have the right elements – culture, HR, tools and processes – to easily copy-paste into a new normal.

This time to connect is also forcing us to look inwards – not only individually and collectively, but also at the organizational level. Depending on your industry and level of disruption, teams are having to reconnect with their north star and shift how they continue to navigate there, as well as root down deeply into their values to make certain tough but necessary business decisions. While most of us have never managed a team through times like this before, conversations I’ve had with friends who are running social businesses, combined with my own reading, research, and experience building resilient and meaningful workplaces brings me back to these four important organizational principles.

  1. Connection to Purpose – when we’re operating out of fear or reacting to what we cannot control, we can lose sight of our purpose (our why) and make decisions that don’t align with our vision and values. If your team is hustling to make ends meet, they can easily lose sight of the big picture. It can be helpful to reinforce your vision and reason for being for your team, and it’s equally important to listen to what’s keeping them motivated right now. Once you’re on the same page, highlight those values that are especially critical to operate with during this time, and then revisit your goals and strategic objectives together to identify where your business model might need to adapt in order to stay afloat.
  2. Strategic & Cultural Alignment – if you’ve had to slow down or pivot, chances are, the roles and responsibilities of most team members have also shifted overnight. Every function from sales and marketing to supply chain to even IT and finance are affected, either operating in survival/crisis mode and/or innovating quickly. If your organization doesn’t have the culture, tools and processes to be agile and remote, individuals will struggle to figure out their place in this new normal. Don’t take this for granted. Set a clear short-term direction for the organization without losing sight of what happens when this period ends, and create the internal structures that everyone needs to learn to operate within. Make sure people always know what their top priorities are and what they’re accountable for.
  3. Radical Transparency – as things change quickly, expectations need to be made super clear now more than ever, and in every direction along the org chart. Check-in more often than usual, make sure clarity and mutual understanding are always achieved via every communication channel, and don’t forget to ask for what you need. Transparency from top management is also key – be radically honest about how the business is doing and what trade-offs need to be made, not just with your team but with your customers, partners and other stakeholders. Cash flow will be a major issue that affects key decisions early on, so sort this out fast so you know your options, and bring your people into the conversation. The more informed everyone is, the more prepared and empowered they’ll be when it comes time to mobilizing in a certain direction.
  4. Collective Growth – tough decisions will inevitably need to be made, and employees will likely need to be asked to make sacrifices for the long-term viability of the company. Regardless of the scenario, maintain positive ties with those who have contributed to the success of your organization in the past so that you’ll be able to rebound when we come out of this crisis. We will only survive this by working together and taking care of each other (even if it results in some short-term loss), so make your team, customers and community feel like a continued part of the organization’s growth and its struggles. Be intentional, and follow through with ways to make this connection tangible.

A lot of this will hopefully serve as a reminder and refocus for many organizations, but for others, it may require a new way of thinking and working. You may need to have out-of-the-box strategic conversations that quickly lead to short-term plans with new reporting and accountability mechanisms that integrate into your existing business model. You may want to develop more agile teams and workstreams as a current and future way of operating, as well as adaptable organizational systems to ensure your people feel supported and confident in their roles as we continue to navigate through uncertainty.

When you’re reacting quickly to market and environmental forces changing around you, you will undoubtedly be drawn to focus on how your business is going to survive, innovate and/or help others in greater need. Most likely, you’ll be asking a lot from your team as they make their own sacrifices and deal with their own set of new challenges. In moments of great flux, your organization’s resilience will be greater than the sum of its individual parts, so don’t forget to take care of the team and community that will get your company through this period together.

Now more than ever, I feel called to return to my own purpose and offerings that led me to create CPC in the first place. If I can be of any support during this time by offering advice and a brief pause, by rolling up my sleeves to help your team through any part of this transition, and/or by connecting you with other resources, I’d love to hear from you.

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