In the docu-drama, Apollo 13 – a real life mission to the moon gets aborted midway because of an explosion. The goal of the mission changes quickly – from going to the moon to bringing the astronauts back to Earth safely. The movie features Gene Krantz, the mission leader who is entrusted with the responsibility to lead a team of thousands of individuals through a very public crisis – with no playbook to turn to. Krantz realizes that the key to success is how he framed the crisis. So, when a senior US space agency official notes that the agency could be looking at its worst disaster ever, Krantz publicly corrects him and notes that this was the agency’s ‘finest hour’.
Crisis as opportunity
Opening the keynote with this story at the People Matters L&D 2020 conference, Jeffrey McHenry said, “Every crisis consists of danger and opportunity. And that the Covid19 crisis doesn’t just have a playbook – the responsibility to diffuse it is among the tens of thousands of leaders globally. There has never been a more important time to ‘rev-up’ leadership.”
As work organizations are some of the worst affected institutions, leaders today need to step up and reboot their approaches as the pandemic infused impasse is unlikely to go away quickly.
“While the months of April and May, saw some of the highest levels of engagement and productivity. It has now dipped, world over,” he noted citing recent studies.
Care and support
“While effectively engaging with the workforce is difficult to do remotely, employees are now starting to feel the fatigue caused by the digital work model. But as long as the workplace feels safe and engaged, they will continue to contribute,” he said.
There are three action steps that leaders can take to navigate this period of crisis.
1. Foster a sense of belonging: Now more than ever, leaders need to show empathy. They need to identify with their employees. A number of support systems like child care, schooling and elder care are disrupted. Leaving employees with not just work, but additional personal obligations. It also means being able to communicate that sense of belonging too. Running impersonal communication campaigns and emails aren’t going to have the needed impact.
Employees need to hear from their leaders, that they are cared for. Continue to foster a sense of belonging at every level of leadership – track employee needs and be transparent about where the organization stands.
2. Ensure feedback: Nothing disrupts work and engagement like the lack of feedback. “When we don’t know how we’re performing, our imagination runs wild,” Jeffrey said.
He encouraged leaders to share with their employees information on where they stand. Also, this feedback needs to be geared towards learning, growing and becoming successful.
3. Give hope: Ever since the pandemic has entered its fourth or fifth month, the optimism has been declining, studies show. One among the reasons is that leaders are failing to provide an exciting vision of the future. “Work has become a grind, and a means to a pay check, rather than pride and meaning,” Jeffrey said. It is important to remind employees about the positive impact of their work and to share a vision for the future.
Employees are looking for challenges and they want to know how they’re doing and its up to leaders to step up to responsibility.