Every leader I know is looking at each other saying, "What's next?" Our businesses are being thrust into a situation none of us could've possibly prepared for as COVID-19 spreads across the globe, and the ramifications of social distancing and isolation start to become more clear. This is a time we will all look back on for the next 10 or more years and ask ourselves, "Did we do the right thing? Did we protect our people? Did we protect our customers?" and I hope for everyone reading this that we look back upon this moment with pride in our hearts.
We have been called into service. The leader of today and tomorrow is the servant leader. The leader who can see above the noise and find a way to put themselves and their company in service for the good of all.
The impact of COVID-19 is just beginning, and the end is nowhere in sight. So what do we do? We respond. Here are some tips on how you can use triage techniques I deployed as an executive first responder to build resilience over the coming months.
Triage your priorities.
In the medical field to triage is "the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties," according to Dictionary.com. Our casualties will be projects that have to be placed on hold and employees who get laid off, due to shifting market conditions.
The first step in our response must be to triage what is in front of us. We need to create ratings for urgency that are clear, easy to deploy and help us determine what to proceed with now and what has to wait. Everything is up for grabs. Something that made complete sense last week may be completely nonsensical this week. As such, we'll need to check in on tasks and priorities at least once a week, if not twice.
Take a look at all company and department priorities, and begin to triage them into three buckets: right now, on the horizon, and on the backlog. While high, medium and low prioritization sounds good on the surface, it doesn't immediately communicate first, second and third. This is a time to simplify for the sake of efficiency and focus your energy, accordingly. If it isn't a "this-week activity," it isn't a "right-now activity." If it isn't a "next-week activity," it isn't an "on-the-horizon" activity. As leaders, we will need to get used to planning one week at a time for the unforeseeable future.
Increase direct communication.
If there were ever a time to communicate with all of our customers and all of our employees, this is it. And written communication won't cut it. Our managers are scheduling phone and video touch points with all of our employees once or twice a week. Our executives are scheduling weekly check-ins with our customers. The questions are simple: "Are you OK? Do you need anything? How can we help?" Answers are loaded into a document that we use to triage our responses.
This one-to-one touch is critical for us to understand what is actually happening inside of the minds of our employees and customers. Some will go through this event unphased. Others can emerge traumatized from the swiftness of decision-making and the impact it has on them. Servant leaders deploy compassion and empathy for their team and customers, especially during a time like this, and they communicate openly and authentically.
Deploy the crisis communications circle.
In medical response, there is a circle that is used to identify who we can "vent" to. The center of the circle is the person in crisis. I realized the first person in crisis was me! So I focused my time and energy to ensure that I had all of our needs met from basic needs to financial needs and even organizational needs. This is a put-your-mask-on-first moment.
We've been called into service. Showing up to the battlefield with holes in our armor means that we can't help those we are here to serve. And that brings us to the second ring of the circle: our family. It's pretty tough to focus on work if we're worried that someone in our family isn't safe. This is especially true for caregivers. Reach out and ask the three questions: "Are you OK? Do you need anything? How can I help?"
Once you've taken stock and your family is in good shape, it's time to move out to the next ring: our team. As we discussed before, reach out, check-in and ask the three questions. After that, we move into our friends and our local community. To be honest, that is about as far as we will be able to reach without distracting ourselves from our current mission, making sure your company survives COVID-19.
There's one key to deploying the crisis communications circle: There's no dumping. That means that you cannot dump your concerns, your anxiety or your fears to anyone outside of your circle. This is a time of radical self-reliance, and we must learn how to process and resolve these emotions. "Venting" isn't effective and usually makes matters worse. Instead, I take a deep breath, I meditate, I go for a long walk, and I exercise. I understand that these emotions are energy in motion, and my job is to move them through, not talk them through.
For all of us who have received the calling, I honor you. I see you. I support you. I serve you.