Last week, following what has likely been the most frantic day of news updates in memory,(Broadway closing, etc.), while all the world was urged towards isolating, we gathered leaders from top organizations around the globe in an Executive Roundtable to discuss real, pressing issues within their organizations.
In February, when we originally envisioned these gatherings, they were to be in person, and COVID had not yet emerged as the driver of change it has now. Some on speaker phone still working in offices, some boldly on camera from makeshift home-offices with pony-tails and in sweatshirts, the coming together as caring professionals across industries happened as each shared their current top two business concerns, their top leadership concerns, and what commitments they would make to keep THEMSELVES at their best.
With change being as rapid and constant as it is, not to mention the bevvy of issues at hand, the conversation took on a life of it's own, each participant speaking transparently about the issues they face. Fast forward only five days, already some of these considerations feel ancient, while some are evergreen. Net net: the value of bouncing issues off an impartial group of peers is beyond valuable. You are not alone.
Communications - With the ever-changing information flow and competing opinions, you're wise to establish a continuous point of access for employees to go to for your organization's position on various aspects of the crisis, as well as recommended best practices. Given the updates can be fast and frenzied, by numbering them sequentially and making sure each update is day and time-stamped, you'll save employees from having to figure out what's most current for themselves.
Lack of Experience Managing Through Crisis - It was observed that most senior leaders have never confronted true crisis on even a local scale, much less one of global economic, health and security. Most were entry or early mid-level during 9/11 and since then, short of the lending crisis of 2008, it's been pretty smooth sailing. Executives need development of leadership resiliency skills and best-practices now more than ever, including fostering trust through authenticity and transparency, managing from home best practices, and taking the long view in a time that tempts us to just deal with the day to day impact of the crisis. The competencies required now are ones of transparency, the discipline of perspective, how to foster trust and how to empower others.
Generational Aha's - A significant curve ball noted in our discussion is that despite being digital natives, many younger Millennials and Gen Z's do not have computers at home. Adapted to either tablets or doing everything via their mobile phones, they simply do not have home equipment to facilitate productivity as they confront the realities of work from home. Without even a laptop, you can forget hoping they have a monitor, mouse or keyboard to allow them to perform well and without wear and tear to their eyes, neck, and wrists. Allocation of facilities funding must be shifted immediately to providing these tools to employees, as we now weigh not just two weeks of WFH, but potentially the better part of 2020.
Finances - The issues are real. Most pressing to our participant who is CHRO of a national chain of coffee bars, her concerns for hourlies struck all present as a model for the concerns of hourly workers globally. The executives representing financial services institutions remarked with some pride that their organizations are allocating emergency funds to support hourly workers who don't have paid leave and are impacted by the virus either themselves or in caring for others. Hanging in the virtual room was a question of how long those funds will last as we collectively face the prospect of recession or economic, independent of whether aid will come nationally or locally.
Human Response - Among the group, the notion that this time can serve as an invitation to make good on our cultural commitments beyond aspirations, and fostering a more compassionate, human response to one another. A beautiful continuum was offered by one participant, and that was of seeing us all not only evolve from tolerated/included/belonging - to use common diversity and inclusion language - but that of all of us evolving our perspective from sympathy to empathy, and that as opening a pathway to greater unity. Considerations were raised as to how to use specific aspects of the crisis to drive greater unity, to be the voice that leads internal considerations of policy shifts towards more compassionate, conscious and human capitalism.
Our 90 minutes together flew. No one left early, and we talked to the very end. That in the eye of the storm these exec's took time to gather, to pause, connect, learn from and feel community with one another says a lot about not only their ability to back up from the maelstrom for invaluable reflection time, but also says they recognize that circumspection is a key trait of the leader. That said, the most difficult question for the participants to explore is what they would do to take care of themselves.
Parting thoughts included gratitude for having time together, for having a forum to open up with peers of commensurate level and not be talked at or given canned solutions, but to sit with the complexity of solving these challenges and the many more now appearing on the horizon.
With participant enthusiasm to continue to connect, we shall. After all, we're not going to suddenly need reflection time any less. And you're welcome to join us. If you'd like to take part in our next Executive Roundtable, let us know by clicking here.