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A human focus for current times

It is during these crazy times that organisations are presented with the biggest challenge: to show who they are and what they stand for. As we live this time of uncertainty organisations more than ever are at the heart of people’s livelihood and mental health. Therefore, are a target for media attention which can have either a massive positive effect on their employer brand or a destructive one.

The top 3 things that are in everyone’s mind is “what does this mean for me?”, “how will I pay my bills?” and for leaders, “how can I lead when I don’t even know what we are really facing?”.  Tough times indeed.

Every challenge is an opportunity though so please do take a moment to breathe and acknowledge that this is a temporary situation. So what should the focus be right now? If you ask me it is centred in these 3 things:

  • Humanity
  • Integrity
  • Honesty

I want to take you back to the beginning of this pandemic, how did your organization react?  Did it look for ways to support people? Did it look for ways to ensure their employees where their 1st concern? It’s been really interesting living this abroad at the moment. I came to visit my parents just before all the lockdowns started happening so haven’t been able to go back home to London. This gave me a unique perspective as I got to see how organisations here (in Mexico) reacted. A small story leaked to the press about a big corporation saying they were sending employees home for 3 months without pay, it was a massive blow to the brand. I have a friend who used to work there so I asked, apparently the press got it wrong, it was one of many measures pre-lockdown that they were offering staff who didn’t feel secure about travelling to work and couldn’t work from home.  Even if this was before the official lockdown the measure of not paying staff for 3 months wasn’t perceived as human, which meant this organization took a blow to their employer brand.

During tough times we always see how much organisations really believe in their values. Many corporate values include that their people are first. Again, it was also interesting seeing a family member dealing with high level directives in their organisation to look for solutions as leaders initially thought “why don’t we copy x and get rid of x% of people”.  I saw them fight tooth and nail and ask their team for solutions to ensure no one lost their job. They went back and offered to cut bonuses for the year and have 0 redundancies which took the leadership team by surprise but really got them thinking about different approaches. It really reminded me of that old story with Volkswagen ages ago, when they were looking to close one of their plants, but instead of making a unilateral decision they asked their staff and every single one decided to take a pay cut as long as there were 0 redundancies. We must continue walking the talk during these times and putting our values in the centre of our decisions. When hard ones have to be made why not consult with everyone, their ideas may surprise you.

To end, honesty. This one is vital! Things for most organization remain to a certain extent uncertain, unknown and plans are probably looking very different to what they were in January. Will some organisations have to make really tough decisions to survive? Yes. Will some organisations still be completely in the “we don’t know what to do” stage? Yes. In both of these circumstances the most important thing is to be honest with your people. Let them know you don’t know, be vulnerable and put yourself in their shoes if you have to deliver bad news, treat everyone like you’d like to be treated and even if they end up having to leave, they will know how much it hurt to make that decision. Make sure any redundancy packages also reflect that. Think if anyone is to lose their job today, it may take them 3 months to find something while things clear up, always think, what if that was me?

A book recommendation to end, Leading Out Loud by Terry Pearce. I find it very helpful in regard to how to really be able to manage change from a vulnerable and human approach.

*All companies referred to have been kept anonymous to protect these

Cinthya Quijano, Director of Change Differently Ltd
Twitter: @sustainableOD, LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/cinquijano

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