Published in, Forbes

By Stuart R. Levine

We are living in a new reality.  The global COVID-19 virus is redefining words like disruption, economic and personal survival.  Questions are now being raised in the United States about the ability for healthcare systems to respond to the population’s healthcare needs.  The challenges that are being raised every day to our supply chain and fundamental economic realities are creating historical stress.  

CEOs are faced with decisions to lay off large numbers of employees, not based upon enhancing shareholder value, but ensuring survival of their entities.  In addition, the remaining workforce is now operating in a new virtual reality that eliminates human connectivity with colleagues and customers.  Members of boards of directors must be included in direct communication from the CEO. This is a sharp distinction from the normal work of preparing for quarterly board meetings.  Board members reflect concerns that they hear from customers and other critical constituencies. CEOs would be well-served to reaffirm the confidence their boards have in them through important business updates every few weeks.  

Navigating in a world that is being disrupted by this pandemic requires incredible focus and discipline.   Leaders have a serious responsibility to engage their employee base through tight communications that remind people of their mission, their responsibilities to customers, and ultimately to themselves and their families.  It is the responsibility of leaders to engage their colleagues.  No one has a perfect manual or guidebook at this time. But effective leaders ensure that people feel that everyone is in this together trying to figure it out and that the best daily decisions are being made each day.  

The first fundamental requires you to focus on your own health and that of your family.  Risk mitigation now defines not exposing yourself to unnecessary contact with people, friends or family.  Very recently, after warning from city officials, I walked in the morning with my wife to get exercise, a group of spring breakers in Miami were packed tightly on a golf cart on their way to a charter boat, which had another 20 of their friends waiting for them.  My mind flashed to them returning to their homes, exposing their parents and grandparents to the virus.  Outrageous behavior carries consequences in this environment.  

Consider the following controllable variables.  Continue to exercise at home. Being present means reaching out telephonically or otherwise to clients and critical relationships to say hello.  Through this act you can share some human connectivity by inquiring as to their well-being which creates more positive energy for you both.  

Working from home (WFH) requires discipline.  Ensure that you can find a place to work in an environment that is productive.  Make sure to show up on time and be prepared for meetings and calls. Developing the skills to participate in a meaningful way will create leadership opportunities for you in the future.  Develop your meeting management skills with focused agendas and clear next steps. Cultures will now be measured by new virtual realities.  

Organizational strategy in a time of flux should be guided by mission, vision, and values. They provide accountability, inspiration, direction and ethical approach for leaders to strategically impact the organizations they serve.  Your vision captures the future aspirations of your organization.  Your mission defines your organization’s purpose. Even when employees are scattered, working from a distance or remotely, people take the company’s values home. The continuation of business and the implication of the strategic plan does not stop just because the physical office may be empty.  

Critical are your leadership actions. It is up to leadership to understand what’s needed by employees, customers and colleagues in a changed world.  Well-articulated, clear communication from CEOs and senior management is what’s needed now to create a common understanding of the current situation, a strategic view, and path forward.  It is essential to gain vital input from employees, customers and colleagues and develop a two-way rhythm of communication to ensure the current landscape will lead to an understanding of opportunities, risks and next steps. 

Fewer than half of all employees worldwide say they are engaged at work.  Leaders will now have an even more difficult task keeping people engaged.  Excellent leadership listens to employee concerns and responds to their questions.  Having the patience to listen and her what people are saying is a must whether it’s through surveys, conference calls or one-on one key conversations. Responding through actions and relevant communication is critical to increasing engagement. 

How do you reduce stress? One way is acknowledging the dignity of people.  The people refilling our grocery shelves or continuing to provide important services that impact quality of well-being and healthcare are putting themselves and their family at risk.  Appreciation can be easily expressed beyond six feet or in so many other ways through communication and actions that express courage, character and values. 

The world will be different when society emerges from this emergency. New ways of working together will accelerate change rendering the elimination of non-essential costs of doing business going forward. What can we do to ensure our continued participation and adding value in the workforce?  Continue to learn.  Last year, while attending a National Association of Corporate Director’s Summit, I heard a general who prepared the daily briefing books for President Obama.  What he shared is that at least 80% of what was in this sensitive book could be found by reading The Economist on a daily basis.  Based upon this, I purchased an online subscription which provides impactful and very current information that is not political in nature.   Learning will provide you with relevance and the connectivity to think about the future in a meaningful way and contribute.