Talking with clients, friends and colleagues, I noticed some patterns in what people want from employers and what effective organizations are doing. These top needs and actions are surprisingly simple:
1. Coordinate communications. Employees are hungry for information. One person told me “we are hearing nothing” from their leader. They want the truth about what is happening now and what is likely for the future for the organization. They want to hear from the top, and they also want their direct boss to understand it and be able to discuss it. For employees working remotely, they hate a dearth of information, but they also hate a barrage of little snippets of information that are constant distractions that they and their peers must try to piece into a whole. One of the major jobs of leaders is to make sure there are regular updates from the top and that managers understand and can explain it.
2. Help people know what to do. Some organizations have decided to keep people even during slow periods if it is financially possible. It is not only a humane thing to do, it is a good business idea to keep a strong team together. But some of what was keeping people busy may not be possible now. Some employees are deciding on their own how to stay busy working from home. Instead, leaders need to prioritize all the things that still need to get done, and assign them as projects to individuals or teams.
3. Level down one-on-ones. A tech sales person I know was energized because he got a no-agenda call from an executive two levels above his boss. They just talked and the executive showed interest in what the sales rep was doing. This is an example of a practice known as “skip-level meetings”. They are important in very good times and in bad times. Mid level managers need to know these discussions are not meant to “check up on them” but to keep the executives informed directly and to keep people engaged with leadership.
4. Help those that are furloughed. Organizations may not have much experience with layoffs but they are judged by how they treat people for whom there is a lack of work. Some companies are able to keep people as employees without pay but continuing benefits. Others must discontinue all pay and benefits in order to survive. One simple step to take in that case is to find out exactly what documentation people need to get unemployment benefits and give them that documentation. Also, assign someone to be the liaison with those furloughed to answer questions about health coverage, severance, unemployment and re-employment.
5. Fix old problems. Almost every organization has had a disruption that “unfreezes” their patterns of operating and behaving and puts old problems in new perspective. It is a good time to step up and fix those old organizational problems. For example, one company has decided that the old war between Sales and Finance needs to end now. It is not a luxury the company can afford anymore. The leaders in each faction now are more open to finding mutually acceptable resolutions. But there are also those invested in old positions, so leaders will need to set deadlines and specifications for resolutions, and institutionalize or “refreeze” solutions.
Taking these actions now will help organizational effectiveness now and in the future, and help the people who remain in the organization and those who may be returning in the future.