Leading through COVID-19: 8 key learnings so far

Over the past month, organisations will have required HR Directors, and executive colleagues to have responded to a variety of new challenges. COVID-19’s indiscriminate reach across all sectors and geographies, combined with its impact across all elements of our work and daily lives, means that we are in challenging and uncharted waters.

As we begin to settle into new routines and ways of working, having moved through the initial survival and response wave, we wanted to take a moment to share learning and intel that we have gained so far through a series of HR leadership discussions.

1. Develop fast

Communicate early. There is a premium placed on speed of communication and decision making: in these uncertain times employees are keen to understand how their business will respond. And specifically in the short term, what policies and initiatives will be offered in response to a variety of new challenges, ranging from critical workers to personal caring responsibilities, and from health and safety through to furlough policies.

2. Be agile and plan ahead

While we all crave certainty, the speed of change is such that initiatives and approaches need to be flexible enough to enable leaders to respond and adapt over short timelines. Planning against a 6-month timeline felt most appropriate.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Take a moment to pause and review existing policies: while this is an unprecedented time, there will be many tried and tested responses that are fit for purpose. Where possible use business as usual policies and protocols.

4. Embrace and facilitate remote working

The boundary between professional and personal life has been erased, and with it the expectation to be able to work flexibly for many has increased exponentially overnight.

5. Set the tone as a leadership team

The requirement to adapt to new ways of working for an executive leadership team has been significant. More regular meetings and a refocussing of individual responsibilities around the board table should be a key priority. And with that, consider implementing weekly full board meetings, with non-executive leaders supporting more actively in day-to-day decision making. The requirement to stay connected with executive peers should be a priority, finding alternatives for the spontaneous “corridor catch-ups” that might have served as a key intel exchange.

6. Stay connected

Communicating with a more devolved and dispersed employee base is a new challenge and key priority for many. Prioritise the development of your organisation’s listening strategy in the coming weeks.

7. Spot talent

This is a valuable opportunity to spot up-and-coming talent in the medium-long term at multiple levels in the business, particularly in the form of individuals who are seizing opportunities.

8. Stand by your employees

The extent to which leaders talked about doing the right thing by employees was striking, sometimes at the cost of short-term profit. A number recognised the need to weigh up short-term results against the longer-term sustainability of the business. While the absolute reason for this is not yet clear, the result is remarkable and unlike previous economic downturns. Perhaps it is due to the global scale of the challenge, or the fact that there is such a clear humanitarian component at its core.

Saxton Bampfylde is holding regular online discussions for HR Directors over the coming weeks to share experiences of leading through COVID-19. If you would like to join the conversation contact Kate Ludlow – kate.ludlow@saxbam.com