Without question, the Covid-19 pandemic has created unimagined levels of chaos for each of us to live with in our business and personal lives. Now with states and countries beginning to allow businesses to reopen, a new, different level of chaos is facing us. How will we handle the Chaos after the Chaos?
I had an interesting call with the President of a company the other day. He is in the process of reopening his company after being closed for 5 weeks due to the pandemic. Orders for the products the company makes have diminished significantly. When we talked he had just come out of a series of meetings with his managers planning the startup. What work is in process? What is the order backlog? Do they have material to build those products? How many and which employees do they call back? These are the questions that he normally has dealt with when they have had economic recessions that have dramatically affected his business in the past. And they are absolutely applicable again now.
But he also said he has new questions to ask and answer to determine the best path forward. Are our suppliers open? What are the procedures we will implement to keep our employees safe from the virus? Can we move equipment around to keep them at least 6 feet apart? How will they handle breaks and lunches? Do the employees they need want to come back? How does he not only assure the employees, but their families that he has created the right working environment under these circumstances? What if employees are not comfortable coming back? How do I make sure customers feel safe coming into my business? How will I react if employees want to continue to work from home? How do I keep the camaraderie in the company if some people work from home, but others must come in to the company to do their work?
He then made a very interesting comment about his approach. “I have always felt it is best to run straight at an issue until you break through vs waiting for someone else to tell you what to do next. I do not have all the answers but I am forging ahead and working with everyone to figure it out.” That really is the best way to move forward with this new chaos that is the result of the chaos we have all experienced due to Covid-19. He truly is Running to the new Chaos to figure it out. And just like First Responders, even though he does not know exactly what he will encounter, or what the exact answers are yet, he is running towards the problem, the emergency, the issue, to resolve it. He is running towards the chaos using his experience and knowledge to eventually find the answers, just like First Responders do.
There are many businesses reopening now. They are facing a new normal. They have to answer all the questions my friend was asking himself and likely others. But as these businesses reopen and deal with all of the questions for their business, I think the best path forward is the one my friend and First Responders utilize. Move forward with purpose, utilize your experience, and ask questions and listen to the answers to determine the best path forward.
When First Responders come on a scene, the victims are nervous, scared, not knowing what will happen next. As companies reopen, employees are going to have lots of different emotions and lots of questions. It is not going to be like calling them back from a “normal” layoff. How leadership teams handle the questions, emotions, and concerns that employees have is going to be even more critical today than before. Reassuring employees that the work environment is safe is and will be key. And that reassurance will likely have to be continually reinforced. You will need to assure your teams you are staying up to speed on the new thoughts and processes to keep them safe on an ongoing basis. Just as First Responders have to change processes and procedures, so will businesses.
I read an interesting article the other day from the Harvard Business Review entitled “Manage Uncertainty with Commander’s Intent”. It was written by Chad Storlie on November 3, 2010. And while that was almost 10 years ago, there was a great fundamental message about a tool/process the military uses to help the soldiers make split second decisions when chaos ensues. The “…Commander’s Intent is the description and definition of what a successful mission will look like.” It is written out and follows the typical 5W’s (who, what, when, where, and why) of how the mission should be executed. The Commander’s Intent describes how the Commander envisions the battlefield following the mission. The Commander recognizes the soldiers are going to encounter chaos and surprises, no matter how well briefed and trained they are. So my question now is, as a leader, do you give a really good quality CEO Intent? Do your people really understand what you want the competitive landscape to look like after the “mission” your people are on? How do you know they understand? Especially in these days of lean, flat, organizations, it is imperative that your people understand what the intent is and when they encounter chaos, they can rely on your CEO Intent to make sure they are making split second decisions that support your vision. It seems to me that no matter how well trained and intelligent your team is, using a CEO Intent statement/process that works for your company could be a really good tool to help your teams perform at a high level when chaos occurs.
As we all work to bring companies back on line, we need to think through how we are going to lead. This is a new world with new questions and issues. Perhaps using CEO Intent is a good tool to use to help your managers and employees make good decisions in dealing with the ramp up amid all the issues of dealing with Covid-19, or any business issue for that matter. I think this is a much more effective and efficient way to implement a leader’s vision, than waiting for the front line to come back and ask what to do next when something goes wrong. That is simply not an option in today’s highly accelerated work environment. I do think that just like my friend, running towards the problem and working with others to identify all the issues and then resolve them is key. And combining that approach with equipping your team to make decisions that support your vision should help them deliver more wins.
Recently, I saw another article in Reuters about how Deere and Caterpillar were able to keep their plants running during all of the shutdowns by implementing various procedures to keep employees safe. Deere implemented strict guidelines prescribed by the national health protection agency and the World Health Organization. They expanded benefits to support employees as well. They altered shift schedules. And they hired an industrial hygiene company to audit the sanitization efforts in their plants.
Both companies altered healthcare benefits in recognition of the issues facing employees. Lunch hours have been extended to assure to ensure social distancing. And Caterpillar offered a new benefit of time off for up to 10 weeks with 2/3 of their pay if employees now need to stay home for child care.
Both these companies ran to the chaos to support employees and thereby kept their plants operating. Not every company had the same experience as these two did. From my point of view, they were both aggressive in keeping the employees well being in mind and provided support for their needs, including options for child care.
The new normal is taking shape right now. None of us know for sure what it will be. But we have to be open to change and find an improved way forward. As business leaders that is one of our key roles anyway. People have been through so much change now. Business models are being challenged every day in ways no one thought of before. We have a dramatic catalyst for change now. How will we handle it? How will you Run to the Chaos After the Chaos?