Call it by it’s name: a crisis

Written by Ann Francke Monday 06 April 2020
When managing through COVID-19, there are ways to acknowledge the crisis and overcome its difficulties.
Ann Francke OBE

For CMI’s third ‘Better Managers Briefing’ I sat down with Chartered Companions and crisis management experts Air Vice Marshall ‘Bunny’ James and Angela Owen. Bunny is CEO of management and leadership training for the Royal Air Force; Angela is a former Army Officer and founder of Women in Defence UK.

Here’s their advice on acknowledging the crisis and overcoming its difficulties:

1. Call it a crisis. It's disruptive and disorienting and you need to move fast.

You are trying to get things done more quickly and at a faster pace than ever before. Your management style may seem more directive and transactional. This crisis is affecting most people whether you’re a firefighter or not. It amplifies the things you should be doing in business as usual – but don’t have the time to do. Make sure your ‘how-to guides’ are up-to-date as you may have to switch staff suddenly. We are only 12 days into the lockdown but it may feel like months. We are changing very, very quickly - almost daily. People find that difficult. Understand and articulate that.

2. Recognise that the crisis upends everything. Embrace the new normal.

The enforced lack of interaction on such a scale is really unique. It affects everyone. It forces the hands of people to get virtual. Use it, practise with it, get comfortable with it. For the military who like to grab stuff it means empowerment to allow people to get on and do the right thing at the right time. At the same time there is so much information. It’s important to recognise there are some pluses, even if we are in a new normal. We've never been through a pandemic. People are having to work it out for the first time. But we can turn the cameras on and have daily virtual interactions with our team. Five or ten years ago we couldn’t do this. Now you can turn the cameras on. You can see whether their heads are up or down. Everyday. In a funny sort of way it's better that it happens now rather than five or ten years ago.

3. Clarity of communication is critical.

We need very clear messaging because of information overload. Use the good stuff. We have app-based sources for welfare and physical activity, and lots of excellent websites and government information. Every business needs to create a simple area signposting to trusted information not only for businesses and teams but for their welfare and families. Put it in one place for your colleagues to access simply and easily and tell them about it. Simplicity and clarity are really important in a crisis because of the volume of information about.

Also there’s a lot of fake news and rumours spreading – it happens fast and can be very corrosive. You need to quickly counter that by pointing to the latest and best information from the experts and the sources you trust. Again, five or ten years ago we wouldn't have had the ability to get that information to people. Here’s our COVID-19 Leading Through Uncertainty space at CMI. In addition – take your information in measured doses to protect yourself. Maybe don't go on social media or read the news as much. People like information at a regular military drumbeat – give your team an update at 10am every day. Even if there is no news, you are creating something that can help give people a routine and sense of control.

4. As an individual, make sure you make use of networks. And get to know your teams as individuals.

It is vital that you turn to private as well as work networks and have someone to talk to. Form small teams of trusted buddies and talk with them. Share what you are doing – e.g, physical activities. Make sure you create some kind of structure. For teams, allow time to talk in your daily call. Use the first ten minutes to talk about the view out the window, see each other's rooms and other fun things at home. You will now get to know each other better than you ever would have at work because you are going through unusual times together. You are bonding. Interact and don’t hide yourself away. Have fun.

5. See the (digital) opportunity in a crisis. There's always an opportunity for a different way of doing business.

Realise that you can do things quicker and don't go back to the way everything was before. You will learn to speed up the changes and accelerate the change to digital. Move people around less – you will save time and money, resources and give people time to think about other things. This is the new normal – it will make things more efficient and effective in some ways rather than waste time in long meetings. It will also help to shift the dial on flexible working and working from home. It will help to shift mindsets. People will realise it’s fine, acceptable and it will work.

6. A motto for this crisis: Learn. Earn. Return.

Learn: understand what's changing.

Earn: earn the respect of teams in the way we do things.

Return: know what you can give back – also in the way you coach and mentor and be better when it’s over.

And remember: It’s OK to be Kind to Yourself. Recognise the need to talk. We all make mistakes. We are all finding it difficult. It’s ok to cut yourself some slack.

Find more guidance on managing in response to Covid-19 on our new Leading Through Uncertainty hub.

Why not sign up for our upcoming webinar with Burce Carnegie-Brown and Patrick Dunne this Thursday?