Now is certainly a time of uncertainty, but from where we see it, this uncertainty has shown us some solid predictability.  While crises like the 2020 Pandemic are rare, how organizations respond to crisis is a predictable pattern.

Even amidst all this uncertainty, we know this for certain: 

Organizations are losing the engagement game

When a crisis hits, many organizations actually see a bump in engagement.  We heard countless leaders state that while their team is feeling a significant amount of stress, they are actually working together.  We heard countless employees say that they feel good about their employer and how the company has handled the crisis.  At least that’s what we were hearing, but that is changing fast!

According to Gallup data, in May of 2020, 54% of employees felt like their organization had a good plan in place to deal with the crisis.  However, this number dropped dramatically to 41% in June of 2020.   Communication, which was very deliberate back in April as companies figured out how to work remotely, has slipped as well.  In May, 54% of employees felt well informed by their supervisor.  That number fell to 39% in June, just a month later.  

This data suggests something that we have been observing.  Many organizations started the crisis by winning the engagement war, but now are starting to lose and lose fast.  These numbers suggest that 20-30% of employees who were likely to be engaged in May are now much less likely to be engaged in June.  Leaders are losing the engagement of their people and the crisis isn’t over. 

Crisis Separates the Pioneers from the Settlers

While the Gallup data represents an average across all organizations, we see two very distinct paths with vastly different outcomes.  Some organizations will look back at 2020 and see it as a scar; a lasting pain that never quite heals.  It will be the time when years of progress was lost and where a full recovery is never quite achieved, or worse, the organization failed altogether. 

Others will look back at 2020 and remember the challenges, but see how the team rallied and innovated and ultimately made the organization stronger.  These organizations will see 2020 as a catalyst to making courageous progress in the face of adversity.  They will have utilized the difficult times to restructure, rethink, retool, and to do it all as a team – building ties that will propel the company into the future with strengths and vigor.  

We have already shared the observation that there are 2 types of leaders: pioneers and settlers.  The Pioneers thrive in a crisis while the Settlers suffer.  For more on this topic, read this blog.

Everyone is Tired

Employees, managers, and executives are all exhausted.  The hot summer is upon us and our progress towards slowing COVID has unraveled.  Everyone is tired of social restrictions, tired of political divisiveness, tired of being stuck at home, tired of being cautious when out, tired of not travelling, tired of zoom meetings, tired of virtual screens, and tired of uncertainty. We have taken a couple of steps forward and then we have to take one step backwards.  It’s exhausting and emotionally taxing.  

So, if you lead an organization, what can you do?  We recommend 3 things: 

1. Decide to be a Pioneer

You need to deal with your own head trash that is keeping you from looking at uncertainty as something that is inherently bad.  You need to confront fear and recognize that certainty is always an illusion and that your best future is one where you can adjust and innovate.  Actively think about the things that keep you up at night?  Pioneers don’t hide from that fear, they use it as a motivator.  It is NOT about having all of the answers, it is about knowing that you don’t and being OK with it.  It is about knowing that you don’t and creating an organization that is nimble, flexible, and ready to change and innovate quickly in any environment.

For more on Settlers vs. Pioneers, check out this blog.

2. Get some Rest

You need to intentionally unplug.  Home is work and work is home and it is all integrated in weird and different ways. It is tempting to try to work your way out of these situations and unknowns, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.  You need to take some intentional time to recharge.  That means that you schedule the day off, you don’t check all your emails, and you let your team know that you are not available. This can be a few hours at a time, or days, or weeks. You just need to make sure it is intentional and you are doing something that refuels you!

3. Game On

When you get back to work, rested and ready to go, it will be time for you to find your stride in uncertain times.  Engage your team and be vulnerable.  Share what you know, what you don’t know, and what is at stake.  Get them plugged in. 

  • Create a change management system and get everyone involved with becoming agents of flexibilty and change.
  • Get your financial house in order. Ensure your financials are telling you the story of your company and that you have built a contingency plan. This plan will help you make big decisions for the organization.
  • Know your value and your values. When organizations know what thier customers find valuable, it can help make decisions in uncertianty. Also staying true to your company core values will make decision making easier. Ensure that you and your team use your value and your values to guide the organization.
  • Set an intentional communication cadence with your team. Just talking to your team when you need something isn’t going to help create a culture of innovation and change. Think about the touchpoints you need as an organization and be intentional about ensuring that they happen.
  • Hold everyone, including yourself, accountable to the goals and objectives you set as a team.

With change all around us, now is the time to create the organization you’ve always wanted to create.  

Did your organization react the way you wanted it to? Are you positioned for growth or innovation? Do you know what your customers value and what your organization’s core values are? Do those values guide decision making on a daily basis from all levels of the company? Do you have a contingency built out for the next round of uncertianty?

If you are tired of the unknown, I have a brutal truth to share: Look around you. You are exactly where you decided to be.