Like me, I am sure you have read, listened, or viewed more than your fair share of “how to get through the pandemic” articles, podcasts,and videos.  Everything from how to get back to a semblance of “normal” to how to survive the “NEW normal”. There are tough and complex decisions about many things from ongoing remote work, how to maintain (and encourage) productivity, to ways to balance the upcoming school year …. are we overwhelmed yet? Every day brings new challenges we thought we understood yesterday, and the rules continue to change.

It has been remarkably interesting to read and watch how companies are navigating in vastly different ways. A recent NY Times article published on June 23 (Are Companies More Productive in a Pandemic?) illustrated that there is no “one size fits all”and leaders – from the CEO to Departmental Managers, are concerned with a wide array of issues from employee burnout and managing hyper-productivity to customer churn and re-establishing sales growth.

As leaders, we want to trust our judgement and experience but when the rules keep changing, sometimes we must stand up, look around and assess how others are trying to navigate the same choppy waters.

Despite how complex and uncertain things are today (and will be tomorrow), I believe now is the perfect time to consider making big changes.Transformation and adaptation are necessary to survive and thrive, but quick fixes that are long lasting, could be difficult to come by.  These decisions should not only encompass technology investments. We at Differly know from experience that technology itself does not disrupt; people do.

As we all search for answers, here are five considerations in navigating new decisions that have served me well over my career:

1.      Listen and Critically Analyze. While many leaders will say they do not have all the answers, it takes a confident leader to proactively seek out their team’s views and opinions. What are they worried about? How do they want to help move the business forward? There is a balance between the objectivity of the data and the subjective interpretation of it. Now is the time to ask lots of questions (and then ask again) and listen to as many opinions as possible.

2.      Reimagine Broadly and Creatively. Th ecover story from July 25th’s Globe and Mail Report on Business (“The Great Reset”), challenges leaders to look long term, using the lessons of today. The article highlighted the massive shifts across many different jobs from “routine jobs to middle management” as business and customer expectations evolve in the coming months and years forcing us all to re-imagine the “emergence of a very different economy”. Pushing yourself and your team to think past the pressures of today,the knowns and known unknowns is now critical. Where are the opportunities to innovate?

3.      Communicate Long Before you have all the Answers.There is a great saying, “done is better than perfect”. In my experience,many leaders and managers will wait to communicate until they think the plan is“perfect”. This can lead to the “here we go again feeling” of cynicism and mistrust. Be transparent, be vulnerable, be open. Your team will be happier knowing that there is progress, and will understand that making decisions impacting many….is simply hard work. By sharing early and often, we open ourselves up to other points of view but in the long run, transparency and honesty fosters respect and loyalty.

4.      Be Human. In times of crisis, employees hope that their leaders are empathetic and understanding. Bills to pay, kids to manage,volunteer activities and hopefully, a social life. These are the job descriptions for the most important role we play – being human. We all have challenges and stress, fun and happiness to seek and the teams we are a part of at work are one (important) part of the role that we play. A recent White Paper published by Rightpoint (“Embracing the Employee Experience”) suggests the importance of “understanding the situation human beings find themselves in – through no fault of their own – and then doing what you can to alleviate these circumstances and help people strive to overcome them”. This context is important for leaders. Embracing the humanity in these times of change and transformation will lead to effective,long-lasting decisions and more positive outcomes.

5.      Now is the Time to be Really Flexible. Speaking to the Ottawa Business Journal earlier in July, Laurent Lapierre, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, said “the key is giving people a say in when and how they work.” Every company circumstance, and employees are different. While this can increase the complexity of analysis and decision making, it points to the need to be comprehensive and flexible in your analysis. Check your gut, check the data, speak to people…and then check your gut again.

These five considerations have helped me as a leader and have been front and center with our clients as they navigate their own challenges.  Now is the time for bold action but not at the expense of thoughtful consideration.

About the author

Scott Nowlan

Bringing almost 30 years of global, multi-industry experience, Scott brings deep operational and strategic leadership experience and management consulting background to his clients. Focusing on digital and organizational transformation, Scott’s work across a variety of industries (wholesale distribution, retail, logistics, public sector, postal to name a few) has helped formulate, lead and facilitate change agendas that has always focused on people – employees and clients – with an eye to improving organizational effectiveness and when applicable, the bottom line. He brings experience in a variety of areas including eCommerce, CRM and the “business side” of technology (defining business needs, requirements, procurement, business implementation, change management etc.).

With two start-ups under his belt in Canada and Australia and 8 years as VP Operations/COO, Scott has had direct responsibility and oversight for several organizational functions including Sales/Marketing, Finance, HR, Legal with strategic and P&L responsibility.

Scott is also a certified Agile Scrum Master and is currently the Chair, Board of Directors for Toronto-based People for Education, an independent, non-partisan, charitable organization working to support and advance public education through research, policy and public engagement.

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