August 10, 2020, Comment off

Applying Lessons Learned From the 2008 Recession as we Lead Employees Through COVID-19 and Beyond

Five months into the pandemic and we have seen many changes and shifts. Our businesses and employees are experiencing disruption, panic, and unpredictability as we adjust to this new and ever-changing landscape. As leaders and managers, we are probably experiencing most, if not all, of these same feelings. How can we be present to the emotions while keeping our employees motivated and meeting productivity goals with so much uncertainty?

Lessons Learned

This isn’t the first pandemic or recession and it won’t be the last. We do know that there is always a recovery. In a 1948 speech by Winston Churchill, this multi-dimensional leader paraphrased a previous statement from philosopher George Santayana. Churchill said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This article isn’t about doom and gloom, but it is a compilation of what strong leaders did right during a crisis.

Julie Bawden-Davis, a writer, author and speaker, offers these suggestions for today’s company leaders:

  1. Trust Your Instincts – While this pandemic wasn’t in the game plan, seasoned leaders can draw on past experiences and rely on their instincts to lead.
  2. Exude Calm – Bring order and structure to an otherwise out-of-control situation.
  3. Reassure Your Employees and Give Them Hope – Instill hope and be realistic to reassure employees and keep them focused.
  4. Focus on the Future or Resurrect Projects on the Back Burner – Restore projects on the back burner and/or strategize future projects, if possible. Review and revise company goals set at the beginning of the year and alter them as necessary to still achieve them.
  5. Face Reality and Be Transparent – Every business has been impacted by COVID-19. Keep employees plugged in by keeping communication lines open, providing regular status updates and sharing impacts to the organization as soon as you are certain those impacts will affect the employees.

Rick Bisio, an author and franchise coach, expressed these opinions in a recent Entrepreneur magazine article based on the lessons learned from the recession that spanned December 2007 to June 2009:

  1. Strengthen Your Operating Systems – A key factor for businesses that survived the recession is they had a strong operating system and the right people in place who understood the financials and goals and could effectively implement them.
  2. Always Be Prepared –Never get complacent and fail to think about the future. Always be prepared for what’s coming next, anticipate your next moves, and have a contingency plan. Read or reread Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese for a great example of how to anticipate and react to change.
  3. Seize the Opportunity – Strong leaders look at situations as opportunities. Maybe there is less competition or more available employees. Position yourselves for greater success in the future.

To summarize, engaging in open conversations, setting clear expectations, and helping people cope with uncertainty will help your employees better orient through the crisis and regain some sense of control. These lessons and suggestions work particularly well if employee engagement was already high before the pandemic and employees feel their need for wellbeing is respected by their company. If not, review your employee engagement programs to see what you can implement right now.

Rick Bisio sums it up the best. “We don’t know everything about the future except it will be different, but it will also improve.”