Times of Crisis Reveal True Character of People, Organizations

April 6, 2020 Kathleen Brennan

“My friend just got laid off along with 400 other employees by dialing into a pre-recorded Zoom message. Her manager never even called to say goodbye. The virus may be out of your control, but how humanely you handle it is not.”

This was a Tweet making the rounds last week, with people outraged and pondering just how many actions are lacking in humanity right now.

A recent study found one in three Americans say they or an immediate family member has lost their jobs, and more than 50% of Americans report a cut in pay or work hours. Often the latter is to avoid layoffs of fellow colleagues, tough blows for individuals but in the service of the greater good of communities.  

Employed people are asking: “Will I have a job? Will I have enough money to keep my family afloat and safe? Can I keep my house/apartment? Can I put food on the table?”

That same study found, of those who haven’t yet experienced a job loss, 58% are afraid they will, and 53% are worried about reductions in pay or work hours. A poll from CBS News found the perceived severity of the pandemic strongly relates to how much danger people think they're personally facing, and how much hope or anguish they feel. 

The current global health crisis is impacting us all in unforeseen and unpredictable ways. It's hard to anticipate or predict what comes next; the only thing we can count on is business and the economy won’t be returning to normal any time soon. Tough decisions are coming, and each involves moral dimensions and has heavy consequences.

How leaders and companies handle such decisions, how they lead in this crisis, how they manage the fears of employees, will reveal their moral character and say a lot about who they are and their authentic levels of connection.

It was with great relief when LRN employees heard some of the following from LRN Founder and Chairman Dov Seidman about being leaders in their communities.

“We are in uncertain times, but LRN is a secure platform upon which you stand,” wrote Seidman. “In that security, I want you to be there for others. Anyway you want to be of value to your family, your community, your fellow colleagues, I urge you to do so. I hope our faith in you and the security we are offering you inspires you to lead.”

It is a challenging time for all business, and every business is different. Here are some lessons we’ve learned over the years that may offer a kind of playbook for leaders right now in facing up to employee fears:

  • How a company faces up to employee realities, and to hardship and crisis, reveals who it is.
  • How a company acts during a crisis shouldn’t be too far afield of its standard operating procedures. If you start with fundamental human values, the decisions, though hard and often painful, should reflect a commitment to an organization’s people and reflect an organization’s humanity.
  • The irony in time of COVID-19 is while people are physically apart, there is an opportunity to be palpably one and together when communicating often, and well, with truth, honesty and care at the center.
  • Interacting with customers and other stakeholders doesn’t need overthinking. Sometimes the strategy is “just being there.” If you are connected at a human level, you are adding value. Ask how you can help, even if you don’t have answers.
  • A crisis environment is more complex and risky. What we need more of are leaders. willing to tell us the truth, who are able to create urgency around mutual interests, and who demonstrate humility while they help us navigate this moment. 
  • If you aren’t in the business of community, where stakeholders have a real stake in how decisions are made, you probably will be out of business.
  • No one could have predicted the world would be where it is today, but it is in how we react at a human level that will allow us to move forward in the short term, and that we will reflect on and which will impact us in the long term.

If you are looking for inspiration on how to do the right thing in a time of COVID-19, consider following on Twitter: #MoralLeadershipinAction and @TheHOWInstitute, @Goodable, and @LRN.

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