3 Business Fundamentals To Help Teams Navigate This Crisis
These are truly unprecedented times. Entire nations have been placed on lockdown, spending pledges by governments to prop up their economies have broken records, while we as individuals have been ordered to stay home to save lives. The business environment has become polarised, with whole industries temporarily placed on hold, while others are struggling to cope with huge spikes in demand. Meanwhile the rest of us are left wondering which way to turn.
Whether you're trying to get on with business as usual from your sofa, are on furlough awaiting further news, or feel like you're straining to carry the burden of your company's financial future, we are paradoxically all in this situation together whilst living through our own unique experience.
Much has been written on leading in this time of crisis: namely supporting teams with the logistics of working remotely and encouraging a more empathetic approach to communicating with one another. In addition to these more practical considerations, I believe there's also an opportunity to step back and focus on three fundamental areas of business that will help support our teams through the uncertainty they face.
Re-Connect With Your Purpose
When life was 'normal' this may have been seen as a nice thing to have. Perhaps an exercise to do as part of a senior team on an away day (with potentially mixed degrees of lasting impact). Or maybe a rite of passage as you first start a company, assuming the work is then done forever.
Being bombarded by the rapidly changing news and government guidelines, along with our inherent desire to stay connected, we can suffer from information overload, lack of clarity and a diffused focus. A clear and compelling purpose, however, can be part of the solution.
In times of uncertainty, purpose becomes your compass. It helps you unite across your organisation, no matter how big you've become or how dispersed you may be. It captures the essence of why you do what you do, and why it (still) matters.
And when your teams are trapped in the middle of the 24/7 news cycle during a global pandemic, it can be easy to wonder 'What's the point?' when it comes to work. Simon Sinek's claim at "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" is arguably as relevant for employees as it is for customers. We need to buy into why our roles matter.
In some areas, this is abundantly clear. Everyone involved in health care is on the front line in the battle against COVID-19. Supermarkets are feeding the nation. Teachers are continuing to educate the next generation and provide childcare so that key workers with families can continue doing their jobs.
If your purpose and its current relevance is less obvious, now is the time to ask yourself the big questions so that you can share these clearly with your team. These can apply on an organisational, team or individual level.
Here are three questions to get you started:
How does what you do make a difference?
Why is this important, now?
What would it take for your people to feel connected to this purpose today?
Your purpose needs to be communicated in a way that can be kept front of mind. It should be a short, compelling message that gets to the heart of your 'why', not a paragraph long mission statement buried where no-one can find it.
2. Evaluate Your Priorities
Knowing your purpose allows you to hone in on your true priorities with a laser focus, avoiding wasted effort, feeling like you're standing still or reacting impulsively by adding more work without considering the impact on your teams.
First, you need to be clear on what's currently expected. Look at what was on the project plan for the year ahead and any extra initiatives that may have mushroomed since then - coronavirus related or not.
Consider how each activity will take you closer to achieving your purpose. What else could be missing, and what is no longer needed? Ranking your list of projects can provide a helpful visual, having the whole picture in one place and being able to quickly establish where the priorities should lie.
It's worth bearing in mind what can realistically be achieved with the resources available and the constraints you may be operating under. What skills will you need? How much will it cost and how long will it take? Commit to only what you can actually deliver and let the rest go (for now).
Working through this as a team means you're less likely to overlook any one ongoing task, while different perspectives on your shared purpose mean you can gain a deeper understanding on what really matters. You also gain collective commitment and your team are immediately clear on what to do once priorities have been decided because they've been part of the process.
When you feel stuck, remember, what has to happen in order to achieve your organisation's purpose? In particular:
What needs to start happening that wasn't required before?
What needs to stop happening to free up resources urgently needed elsewhere?
What needs to continue happening, because you were already on the right track?
Not everything we do needs to change, just because the world around us has.
3. Live Your Values
Last, but not least, is how your purpose and priorities are brought to life. Your company values are the 'how' to your priorities' 'what' and your purpose's 'why'. In the same way that purpose needs to be brought to life through action in what you choose to do, it needs to be aligned to your values as an organisation.
Depending on what these values are, this may also reinforce what you choose to prioritise. Burberry's decision to repurpose their trench coat factory into producing non-surgical masks and gowns allows them to protect communities, inspire customers and explore innovative ways of using their existing resources - tapping into all three of their core values.
Whether that means acting with integrity, doing the right thing by your teams and customers, or striving for innovation to find creative solutions and move forward with the tools you have, customers and employees alike are paying close attention to how organisations act now. Staying financially solvent is one thing; putting profit before people is unlikely to be well received in the long run.
Values don't need to be formally codified and plastered on office walls to exist - they are there whether you like it or not. Consistent or conflicting, they are the heart of your culture; how things really work within your business. Pay attention to what these are and if you don't like what you see, now is the time to put in the work to change them. Whatever existed before the crisis will only be amplified now, and remembered long after a new normal becomes embedded.
*This was originally published as a LinkedIn article on 8 April, 2020