Why does this matter : In the evolving COVID-19 situation, the CEO words were genuine, authoritative, informative and calming….. yes, and in a normal world, they might have been. But these are far from normal times. And yet, still, they were! ………

I recently attended an event that exposed me to an assortment of emotions. I was not only educated by the experience but, felt inspired, amused, moved – and ultimately energized!  Thanks to an – open and transparent – CEO address to staff.  You know how these can be!

That too, coming during an evolving COVID-19 situation, the CEOs’ words were not only genuine, authoritative, informative and calming….. yes, …… and in a normal world, they might have been. But these are far from normal times. And yet, the CEO’s words gave an authentic chyme!

As I began to reflect on the speech, it reminded me of an email, I recently received – from yet another CEO :

Hey Peter, what is your take on the current …….. COVID-19 situation …… and its implication on human resources. I read your blog post on #myCOVID-19Response. It was super helpful. Do you have any guidance or examples on how to best structure our human resources response …….?

In a previous post, I shared with a colleague how many moons ago, on a railway station platform, I had met a man whom to date, continues to influence how I make key decisions – and more recently, #myCOVID-19response.

Spurred by the earlier CEO’s request, and now reflecting on this CEO address, I’d like to deep dive into a specific element of a human resources response by many organizations today, why it matters and what it entails.

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It is sad when the default position for an organization in these times is to terminate employees. Tough times reveal our true colors. Why not work together to find solutions to keep staff on hand for this temporary situation, staff going on leave, considering a three-day work-week, reducing salary by x%, management taking a salary cut, etc. Present staff with a choice to stay even on a reduced remuneration, why are these not options for some?

Really! Some organizations have continued to be extraordinary, as indeed this CEO confirmed in their speech. There are chief executives across sectors who can consider cutting their pay – even to zero – as part of their strategy to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor is giving up his salary for the rest of the year, (March 18, 2020, to Jan. 7, 2021) to help struggling employees amid the pandemic. In Kenya, the President and Deputy etc have taken a salary cut. Why don’t many leaders think like this? Reminds me how Lee Iaccoca, to save Chrysler Motors now part of Fiat won a place in business history by accepting a symbolic salary of $1 for a year in 1980.

Of course, it’s “business”, and for some, if an organization is unprofitable there will be termination and layoffs, and yet how employers treat their people during this crisis, is going to impact their brand for years to come. This is a sure promise.

A company gets judged on how it treats people in difficult times. It’s easy to be good when times are good. No?

Show employees you genuinely care. Any effort the organization is putting to keep their staff will go a long way in sustaining the organizational culture and brand. Sadly, some leaders don’t even care, nor do they wish to care, because they think caring is detrimental to the bottom line these days. A rough patch is a true test of an organization’s values and culture, AND MORE SO for those who say they “value people” or ” put people first”.

As a leader, everyone is looking up to you. Do everything you can to fight for your staff, and if you must let them go, then dip into your arsenal of emotional intelligence and empathy for your choicest tool-kit during the termination process.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou.

While “This too shall pass”, even C-19 too shall pass, even as some organizations have been laying off great employees out of panic. They soon might realize that they need these people immediately when things get back to normal. And this is no threat! Such organizations (and their leaders) are just focusing on the short-term. Reactionary management is not strategic leadership. One thing they are not thinking of, when the situation normalizes – and growth rebound – like it sure will, they may join a funnel of failure finding it harder to retain loyal staff or attract top talent. And if I was in the job market, an interview question I would ask would be, “how did your organization handle the pandemic?”

It’s weeks, hardly even 1: 2 : 3 months, let alone with only a partial lockdown, and yet, some have triggered the conversation on employee layoff. Thankfully this CEO in their address played way-above this league. Consider the long-term impacts. Layoffs are a short-term answer, it harms the organization’s long-term value. Research shows that organizations that lay off employees experience a:

  • 20% decline in job performance from the remaining employees
  • 36% decline in organizational commitment
  • 41% decline in job satisfaction
  • 31% increase in voluntary turnover the following year

Supposing your Crisis Management Strategy is just to throw people under the bus, and the lucky ones overboard, when the going gets tough, you could be in for a rude awakening – when things normalize. When you have to reconstruct the team. How does that impact restart costs, risks (and time)? Cost-cutting by cutting your main pipeline may not be such a smart idea. You could be losing intellectual resources and at a bigger risk of not maintaining a competitive advantage.

Even as you reflect on your crisis management strategy, this age-old adage from my village may come in handy: “employees are the branches of a tree that makes the organization grow.” They are your best brand ambassadors. Loyalty is a two-way street. Don’t treat your people only as the means to an end. Demonstrate that you value people and in return, you will for sure earn their loyalty.

Of course, that is, if you, like the CEO in their speech demonstrated by placing a premium on employee loyalty – old school you think?

Well, start scrambling together your PLAN-AHEAD TEAM, to get ahead of the next stage of this crisis. This dedicated effort, by your team of ring-fenced high-potential employees, located “next door” to the CEO, ought to prepare you for the new normal that will emerge in the post-viral era: the “next normal” ,,,,,,,

The next few weeks and months will shape the future of your company—and possibly, your industry – Time will tell, yet again!

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