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Connect and communicate: Leadership in the ‘new normal’

This week, we asked Jun Famatigan, a former bank president and our resource person on leadership, for his tips on how to lead and motivate our employees during a crisis. The following are his thoughts and recommendations.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting massive disruption in economic activity has forced companies of all stripes to take a hard look at their businesses and their way of doing things. Stra­tegies and well laid out plans are the first casualties of this histo­ric crisis and understandably so given the seismic shift in market realities.

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It has upended some basic practices and behaviors of management and workers on account of three forces—disorientation, the loss of control and extreme emotional disturbance. As a result, most companies are adopting new procedures and work arrangements adapted to the “new normal”—work from home, virtual meetings, limited colocation, the need to go lean and be agile, aggressive cost management, the pursuit of value in a difficult environment, etc.

It will not be easy for any workforce given that our nature is biased toward the familiar, the certain and the tried and tested. The cold reality, however, is that organizations will still have to execute correct strategies really well especially given the existential risks that have arisen.

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New questions will have to be answered: How must leaders respond? How do we effectively lead teams remotely? How do we keep the level of engagement high in a virtual work environment? How do we get people to embrace redefined jobs and expectations? So how should an organization respond to meet these unforeseen challenges? The two grave pitfalls in times of fast-evolving crises are poor decision-making and failure in execution. So what will make the difference? Leaders who possess a clarity of purpose and lead with empathy, and a workforce that is motivated and resilient.

Keep the following in mind:

A strong personal connection is everything. Showing empathy must be the starting point particularly since compassion goes out the window in stressful situations. People need help. Engage your team in candid discussions about what is driving their motivation up or down. Ask questions and listen. We all cope differently and one common mistake is to compare suffering. Employees must first feel that they are safe, appreciated and cared for for there to be productive engagement.

Communicate frequently and with transparency. Harvard professor Amy Edmondson said, “Transparency is job one for leaders in a crisis. Be clear about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.” The idea is to project what Mckin­sey calls deliberate calm and bounded optimism. Convey a crisis situation but with the assurance of having the ability to navigate it.

Establish routines for stability; with some experimentation for motivation. Routines provide stability. There is order when people know that they have to perform a recurring set of processes and follow rules and procedures. However, for work to be engaging, people must be given opportunities to experiment as studies have clearly shown that workers who are empowered to experiment are far more motiva­ted. There will be mistakes but as the investment guru Rey Dalio said, “create a culture where it is alright to make mistakes but not acceptable not to learn from them.”

Learning and development as a motivator. For people to be engaged, work must be engaging and a key element of that is the opportunity to learn and develop, yes, even during a crisis. Solving problems, meetings, brainstorming and focusing on the day-to-day tactical stuff will understandably be the principal preoccupation of workers. That said, lea­ders must be sensitive to skills that need to be streng­thened, or new skills that need to be acquired and provide opportunities to synthesize lessons from the experimentation and from the evolving crisis in general.

Famatigan will conduct a virtual course on “Getting Things Done During the New Normal: Ensuring Execution in Spite of Adversity” on Sept. 7-8. It’s an ideal course for supervisors, officers and managers as they make critical decisions and ensure that things get things.

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For more information about the workshop and schedule of online courses offered by Inquirer Academy, please email [email protected], or call 0945-2158935 and look for Jerald Miguel. INQ

The author is the executive director of the Inquirer Academy.

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