Leadership during a crisis: Stronger Together
Kerry Jarred, Managing Director, Ignium, discusses the steps leaders can take to see teams through these unprecedented times.
As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world businesses, both small and large, continue to break open their crisis management plans. Many will have been caught on the back foot with this pandemic but what you need to remember is that a predefined response won’t have all the answers in creating calm during a sea of global panic. Instead, you need to look at what actions will help you and your workforce to look ahead and reduce the panic. Here, we explore eight such behaviours and accompanying mindsets that can help leaders navigate this current challenge:
Everyone knows that we are going through a global pandemic. We all know that many sectors are going to be hit, extremely hard. There’s no escaping the fact that there will be a major slowdown in the global economy as a result of the coronavirus.
Treat your people like the adults they are, and be honest about the situation your business is in. This transparency will not only foster greater trust, loyalty and understanding, but will also create opportunities for others to contribute ideas on how to tackle the problems you face and that you may not have considered.
Frequent, open communications will help to keep people in the loop as well as managing expectations and being completely clear on your priorities will help to steady the ship.
During times of crisis, uncertainty and ambiguity are rife. Leaders face problems that are unfamiliar, constantly changing and poorly understood. A small group of top executives cannot collect enough information or make decisions quickly enough to respond effectively. Instead you should empower others (within clearly defined parameters) to discover and implement solutions, based on a common, agreed purpose.
You need to promote psychological safety so people can openly discuss ideas, questions, and concerns without fear of repercussions. This allows teams to make sense of the situation, and work out how to handle it, through healthy, open, and collaborative debate.
In times of crisis people will focus on their own survival first to meet the fundamental needs of their own wellbeing, health and families. Will I fall ill? Will my family? Will I lose my job and my house? What happens then? Who will care for us?
This is the time to uphold a key element of your role, which is to make a positive difference in people’s lives. This doesn’t mean trying to solve everything or trying to give people false hope in order to cheer them up! It simply means acknowledging the personal and professional challenges that your people and their loved ones will be experiencing. After all, we are all in this together.
So as part of this, be open to empathy that others show you too and remain attentive to your own well-being. It’s imperative that you sustain your own effectiveness over the coming months.
Focus on four key priorities
Creating an integrated ‘nerve centre’ of teams, covering four priority areas will help you to structure your activities and spot the connections and opportunities:
Serving your people
Stabilising your supply-chain
Engaging and supporting your clients
Financial stress testing and modelling.
Agree how decisions will be made
One important thing you need to do as a leader is to quickly establish an architecture for decision making so that accountability is clear and decisions are made by appropriate people at different levels. This also allows some robust planning should you fall ill during this period too.
Part of this infrastructure is to ensure you empower the right people to make decisions and accept that mistakes will be made. People should be able to learn quickly and make corrections without overreacting or paralysing the organisation.
Pausing frequently, assessing the situation from multiple vantage points, and trying to anticipate what may happen next, before acting is critical too as it helps to maintain a state of deliberate calm and avoid overreaction to new information as it comes in.
If you truly demonstrate that you are open to the ideas of your people, you will build trust and engagement, but also you are likely to achieve better results in the long term!
Put clear parameters or objectives around each initiative; for example, a positive impact on cash flow, reduction of costs, higher demand areas from clients, likely higher impact on saving jobs, etc.
By showing your people, not just saying, that you care about what they think, you will have stronger buy-in for the initiatives you eventually prioritise.
Consider all options
Before making people redundant, consider all available options. Try to keep an open mind and an eye on the long term. What will you need as a business once we are through the worst of this pandemic? One thing is for sure, you will need your best people to help you to re-build and possibly even re-define your business and possibly your business model.
There are many options out there and you may be surprised by how open and flexible people can be in times like these. Shorter working weeks, reducing hours may be welcome as they try to juggle homeschooling or care for loved ones that are ill. Moving resources to higher demand or higher revenue-generating opportunities, re-skilling, job sharing, reducing employee benefits in the short term, halting bonuses or overtime payments, taking advantage of tax deferral opportunities, reducing paid holiday entitlement and unpaid leave or help to demonstrate that you want the business to survive through this period of turmoil. If we all behave like we are in this together, we are more likely to find a way through this together, because we are and we will!
Share the Pain
Sadly, you may have difficult decisions to make. These will affect people’s jobs and livelihoods, so make sure you carefully consider how you can best spread the impact so that these tough calls impact fewer people on a deeper level. Lead by example and reduce your own leadership expenses (for example, you may need to take a salary cut in the short term).
Working through a downturn, having to make tough decisions to keep your company going and doing the ‘next right thing’ is daunting and exhausting. However, by leading with compassion you will touch the lives of your people in an extraordinary way and stand a great chance of emerging from this crisis stronger than ever before. This virus is the last thing anyone expected but the silver-lining could be that you develop more meaningfully shared values and a culture which will drive enhance productivity for years to come.
For more information on business topics in Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Africa.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.