By Bernie Dixon
We are a couple weeks into the crisis. I really miss running into people in the office talking about their parenting, kids’ achievements, recent travel or the kind of tea we are into while lolling in the break area. Chance meetings often spur ideas and relationships that wouldn’t happen in the normal course of business meetings. Often a chance conversation provides valuable insight into a team member’s motivation or their personal life that is influencing how they perform their roles. As leaders without the office environment to provide those impromptu visits, we need to seek other means of keeping related to our teams while still driving the business.
Develop a daily check in routine. Whether it is the entire team or at the individual level, all team members need to be touched at least once a day. The check in conversations need not be simply about work and tasks. Ask your team members how they are coping and encourage their openness. Allow unstructured time in the conversation to understand how your team members are coping and what’s on their mind.
Communicate gratitude. Encourage team members to show support by communicating gratitude for their work and their completed projects. “Wow, great job” is a welcomed sentiment after a problem is solved. It makes a huge difference in making the team members feel appreciated and more connected to the team efforts, particularly now when teams are feeling isolated at home. Over communicating is key. We can’t assume that our teams know when they’ve done a great job. Tell them.
Curb your expectations that your team members work every minute of every hour. The world has changed dramatically and continues to change unpredictably. The loss of normalcy and security can be traumatic. This is the time to give people breathing room to take care of their families, to go out for a walk and to manage their own mental health. You can still set expectations and meet necessary deadlines while trusting your team to manage their own time. With isolation from the rest of the company, email is even more essential yet, keep in mind that your team may need to hear each other. Voice calls may be making a comeback. Video is a must.
Maintain an open and optimistic style. Most entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic. It is optimism for the future state of the company that founding CEOs maintain as a motivational tool for often low paid or equity only paid team members. With confident optimism I have seen CEOs drive team members to perform at new levels and new personal bests encouraging flexibility and self-motivation.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Make every effort to be there for your team. If you prefer to schedule “open office hours” over the phone when you are feeling up to it, announce your availability. Find out if there is something you or your company can do to help your team in extraordinary circumstances.
Establish a proactive communications strategy. It is important for your team to be informed in a timely manner about any changes the crisis is driving. In all parts of your business it is of utmost importance that information be communicated by the top leadership and any decisions or changes in company operations or policies be communicated by facts, information and data. You may be tempted to wait until you understand everything or have all the information. Nonetheless, it is best to be transparent and make decisions on the information you have available at the time. It is time to keep your team in the loop and mitigate speculation or confusion rather than wait.
Exercise timely communications to your customers. They are your most important stakeholder after your team members. Your customers require transparency and timeliness of communications but perhaps in smaller doses. Focus only on the company changes that are important to customers: hours of operation, service offerings, discounts or free services or acts of support, availability of products and services, how they interact with your company. It may be important for you to reach out and ask clients what issues they are facing and where you can help. Your customers will remember you long after the crisis has passed.
Bernie P. Dixon is Founder and Chairman of Launchpad2X, a founder-to-CEO accelerator training program for women entrepreneurs. Find her on LinkedIn.