Let’s be honest, whatever relationship you had with your employees prior to the onset of COVID-19 is different now. Not that it is bad; just different. Your org may be flourishing during these big changes or you may be figuring out the best way to downsize and still have a future plan.
The constant for all of us is that we collectively went through a crisis and are now re-arranging our priorities.
These are the three themes we are hearing when we have those “where do we start now” discussions.
Tone -- It’s up to you to focus on a positive, neutral, or serious tone for your population. You know your culture. That said, we encourage you to address the most common tone of fear.
Set the tone by admitting that their and your fear is real. It’s time to stop holding hands like we have and admit to what everyone already knows; we are treading in uncharted waters and while we can plan for tomorrow there is no playbook for this. Then you can shift back to the message that the company will survive this.
This is not the time for some bland, generalized statement that companies have fallen back on. It’s time to reassure people by being authoritative. It’s time for a statement of purpose and a declaration of what the organization is all about. You set the tone by first recognizing that you need to rebuild with your employees. You need to set the tone by demonstrating how you will lead not by how you’ll continue. Third, and most important, you need to set the tone by making a firm statement that you will stand behind.
Trust--All of the HR executives I am talking to believe, either publicly or privately that trust has diminished. It’s nothing that could be avoided, it's just what it is. Accept it and move to rebuild. One way to rebuild trust is to apologize. An apology can take any number of forms and remember that an apology is not always an admission of wrongdoing. In this case it can be a statement of regret and pain. Many companies have written heartfelt apology letters to employees stating how much they regret having to do what they did and are sorry they had to do it.
You can rebuild the trust very slowly by reminding your employees you are a strong company with a deep customer base and you will return to a position of authority very shortly. Make sure they understand you are telling them the truth as it is at that moment but be honest and tell them you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Transparency-- There is only one way to rebuild trust and that is by being 100 percent transparent in your actions with your employees. It’s not a time to hold back that you’re facing rough financial waters. I know it is almost like taking poison to share bad news but I always tell the HR leaders I deal with that, in the end, it’s the best form of communication and engagement employees want.
When talking about KangoGift’s solutions there is a constant feedback piece that comes up. Employees appreciate very much getting gifts and rewards for their excellent work that are aligned to values. What they appreciate, even expect I would say, is open and honest communication so they know what is going on.
When it comes to transparency management needs to make it clear that while all groups remain vital to the success of the organization it is important that we realize the importance of some groups has changed.
For example, look at the hotel industry. Did you ever really see the men or women who cleaned your room? Pretty invisible right?
But now they are the most important team within the hotel. Do you think anyone will stay in a hotel room that is not spotless? If you look inside your organization, there is a team just like housekeeping whose role is more important than ever. Be fully transparent about them so they know and share their importance with the rest of the team.
So let me leave you with some takeaways.
- Know your culture--Hopefully you already knew this but only by knowing your culture entirely can you hope to set a proper tone, rebuild the relationship you have with your employees and bring your transparency to a new level.
- Train senior leadership-Your C team and just below are so used to a way of operating when talking to employees that the old usual, even the hard times stuff, may be all they are used to. Now you have to retrain them to use the three ts mostly because you will be re-building around them
- Think about what to expect--Just because you don’t know what to expect doesn’t mean you can’t plan on what to expect. This is a long hard slog and it will require a huge amount of work. If you don’t know what to expect how can you plan for it? Have the answers ready before the questions are asked.
You’ve been hit by a disaster and, like in any disaster, you're going to have to rebuild. Can you put things back together exactly the same? No! Can you rebuild and, possibly, make things better than before? For sure! If you’re willing to realize what you need to do. Remember the 3 tees.