Yesterday, 18th May, was the day Ireland started the process of going back to work, the day that we start getting back to 'normal' (and that's a whole can of worms for next week's post)
10 days ago the government produced a handy guide to what businesses should and shouldn't do in order to bring your people back safely. The 'Return to work safely' protocol is a 30 page document that outlines everything you need to know and do to ensure that you can get your business going again whilst limiting the re-emergence of the virus and protecting the safety of your people.
So that's the WHAT all handled.
The bigger question for me is HOW....
Because the WHAT is no good if your people don't know it, don't do it, don't feel comfortable or confident; or don't know the role they play in making sure they and everyone around them is safe.
After all, that government document is a single approach for every business in every sector across every county. Effectively, it's a blueprint that you need to tweak and modify to make your own. And, we're still living in a VERY fluid world, so it's going to have to be a plan and an approach with a lot of flex built-in - both as your business, staff and customer needs change and the environment changes around you.
So, for me, there are four things you need to think about:
Once you've formulated a plan you need to get it out to our people. For me, this involves two separate strands:
Company - A planned roll-out of general company communications from 'HQ' or from the CEO/MD, outlining what you're doing as a company, your commitments to your people and your customers. This should highlight the key pillars of your approach to the return to work, what you'll do and when; recognising that the return will be different for different people and that this approach has to be flexible for everyone - the company and everyone in it. In terms of channels, think about email, intranet, videos, posters and flyers. This sets a consistent direction across your business
Team-led - A team in a warehouse will have to bring your plan to life in a very different way to a mobile team or one based in an office. So, team-led communications will be critical. Think of it as a waterfall with government guidelines at the top, your company approach next and team approach after that - the further down you go the more granular the approaches become. You need to empower your managers, team leaders or supervisors to agree with their teams how best to apply the guidelines in their areas. Doing so not only means your plan is applied most effectively but, in involving your people in its roll-out, you're more likely to get their buy in. Think about local team sessions, zoom calls, virtual suggestion boxes and brainstorms. This drives effective activation in the business
Whether you're the MD or CEO or a team leader or supervisor, NOW is the time to step up. All the leadership training you've done, NOW is the time to get it out and have a read! At times of crisis and in times of change, people look up the organisation to see what their leaders are doing - they think that you have (or should have) all the answers.
Among many other traits, to be a great leader you need to:
Be Authentic - do things your way, in your voice, using your words, and your actions.
Be Open - be open to being told you're wrong, being given advice, listening to others' input and feedback
Be Honest - Say 'I don't know' - it's OK not to have all the answers (particularly when we aren't sure what all the questions are!)
Be Brave - try new things and new ways, delegate and empower people - if there was ever a time to try being a bit more innovative it's right now!
Be Vulnerable - It's OK to be scared or worried or to not have all the answers and to admit as much to your people - it's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of self belief and confidence in yourself and them
Be Visible - most of all, BE SEEN! And if you can't be seen in person, be seen on Zoom, on conference calls or in videos. Be seen checking in on people, seeing how they are and what you can do to help. Don't hide away
You can't do all of this yourself and, even if you try, you won't be as effective as you could be if you delegated some of that responsibility. In one way, if you follow the communications approach above, you're already delegating a chunk of responsibility to team leaders and their teams to do what's right locally. You could also:
Pick a couple of more junior staff to run staff forums and feedback groups to get honest feedback that perhaps your people wouldn't give you directly
Let other staff write some of the communications from their perspective - it brings a certain reality and relatability that your communications might not.
Make one of your senior team responsible for staff communications allowing you to focus on running the business.
Employees feeling like they are being listened to is one of the four cornerstones of strong employee engagement. This is a very fluid situation and things will change. You need to ensure you continue to listen to your people to understand what's working and what isn't. And based on that insight, you need to be prepared to change - and that will mean circling back to (1) above.
And, of course, all of that needs to be done with empathy and clarity and, perhaps, over time, a bit of creativity to keep the message front and centre as the excitement of getting back starts to wane.
Do all these things and you'll bring your people with you on the journey, give them the chance to step-up and, in turn, drive motivation, engagement and productivity.
Right now, it's those things that might mean the very success of your business.
About Inspiring Change
Based in Dublin, Ireland, we help organisations to drive sustainable change and business performance through the power of internal communications, engagement and leadership. If you want to have a chat please get in touch.