There are signs that Ontario may have reached the peak of its COVID-19 outbreak. We’re not out of the woods yet, but businesses are beginning to hope that a gradual re-emergence could be on the horizon. What will that mean for your business? Will your actions today have protected your company’s, and indeed your personal, reputation?
Kitchener-Waterloo is built on its reputation for driving innovation, developing top talent, supporting startups, as well as its ability to incubate and grow global companies. With several organizations in the region named to the 2020 Narwhal list (an annual ranking of private Canadian tech companies by their ability to become world-class firms), KW is clearly a leading player in the country’s business future. Yet as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, the success of any business will hinge on how its leaders operated throughout this challenging time.
Long after we put this pandemic behind us, employees, customers and partners will remember how you treated them. In order for you to successfully navigate the transition, your stakeholders need to see that you have been compassionate, empathetic and real throughout the crisis. So don’t wait; the time to start is now. To really thrive in our emerging world, here are some critical things leaders need to do.
Leaders need to inspire
I strongly believe that a leader’s role is to inspire their people. And I don’t mean pumping people up through triumphant speeches; I mean inspiring through action. Galen Weston Jr. is a great example. He and his executives are on the front lines, helping to stock shelves and direct store traffic. That’s how you show you understand what your teams are going through. As we attempt to find a new business-as-usual, think about what actions you could take to help your people transition.
Leaders need to listen and get personal
As we gradually start bringing our economy back to life, it’s going to be increasingly important to really listen to your people. Hold virtual coffee meetings, conduct surveys, or ask people to send in comments (anonymously if they prefer). Without hearing directly from your teams, you can’t know how they’re feeling. Maybe they have lingering anxiety about coming back to work; maybe they have suggestions about how things could change in the future. Use their feedback to formulate new ways of operating.
Also, this is a great time to nurture personal relationships. In this strange temporary state we’ve been in for the last month and a half, many teams have been getting to know each other better than ever before. We’re seeing into each other’s homes, meeting one another’s children and pets, adding funny backgrounds to our zoom calls – showing sides of our personalities we might never have revealed otherwise. These personal moments have been a silver lining in a tough situation, and I encourage you to find ways to nurture these new connections into the future.
Leaders need to encourage health and fun
Traditional leaders have left the lighter stuff to others. But tomorrow’s leader will need to show a personal commitment to helping their teams stay healthy and have fun. Share tips from trusted sources on using food, exercise, and sleep to help protect immunity. Make sure your teams know that family needs and self-care are at the top of the priority list. Acknowledge their current realities – maybe they’re helping their kids with schoolwork or caring for aging parents – and encourage them to take the time for healthy habits. Even when kids go back to school and we resume our lives outside the home, build in an expectation that your people will take time for themselves. And find ways to have fun, both now and into the future. Host team contests, challenges and events (virtual and, one day, in person) to nurture that team feeling. Yes, it might be hard to focus on these things – as a leader of a high-growth IT company or an advanced manufacturing firm, you surely just want to get back to driving business growth an business as usual – but this is the future of work, and we all need to embrace it.
Leaders need to protect customer and partner relationships
This crisis has likely forced you to adjust how you do things. Look beyond the pandemic: are there other ways to improve your processes to better serve customers? Can you harness today’s efficiencies to improve your long-term interactions with vendors and partners? Those necessary adjustments could become tomorrow’s lasting changes that will make it easier for customers and partners to do business with you.
And the best way you can do to nurture these relationships? Continue having open, honest conversations. How you treat customers and partners now will have a lasting impact on their desire to work with you. You’re building a reputation today that will take you far into the future.
Leaders need to be human
Above all, employees, customers and partners respond to leaders who show their humanity. Your reputation is being built now, based on how you operate during this crisis. Let’s do away with the corporate speak, the over-produced messages, and the leaders who hold themselves apart. The business world needs leaders who are willing to have the tough conversations, openly and candidly. Tell your stakeholders how much you appreciate them – then tell them again. Admit when you don’t know something. Be vulnerable. Be yourself.
By embracing this new approach to leadership communications, Kitchener-Waterloo businesses will emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient and better able to step into the new world, whatever that looks like.