The coronavirus pandemic has shed a revealing light on organizations of all kinds, just as it has on our society and its institutions. Strengths and weaknesses have been revealed. Clearly, we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us to fix what’s broken, create new solutions and chart a better path into the future.
Even as responses to the coronavirus around the world have reflected the culture and the quality of leadership within each nation, they have done the same for organizations. While in America our fractious federal government has disappointed us in critical areas, the private sector has performed more consistently. Speed and agility were demonstrated by businesses of all sizes. In some cases, unprecedented challenges had to be addressed in hours as work was shut down with little notice throughout the U.S. New work-at-home policies were created in days, not years. Some manufacturers quickly retooled to provide ventilators and masks. Health facilities reworked their processes and altered their structures within days. Worker health and safety remained the highest priority everywhere regardless of the issue under discussion.
What’s clear is that cultures and values have served businesses well so far. Essential workers risked exposure because they believed that their efforts were necessary to save lives and keep society running. Those able to work from home often did so while trying to teach their children, address health issues among family members, and offer comfort to those who had lost income or housing. Companies that value open communication quickly found that their online meetings were outstanding vehicles for informing and reassuring employees, building confidence in management, and maintaining a sense of community – even if CEOs were dressed as casually as any worker and had their dogs barking in the background.
As the issue of unequal treatment of black Americans shocked and then galvanized millions of people, leaders have been speaking out with candor and determination. The values of respect and inclusion are top of mind within businesses of all sizes. Black employees are finding many of their colleagues making heartfelt efforts to be supportive and to better understand the dynamics and consequences of bias. Even while people are working at home, some are forming ally groups and engaging in difficult conversations about race, determined to do more to address inequality and lack of diversity within their organizations.
Now, business resumption has begun. It is not likely to go smoothly, as infection rates are rising in many locations, sending a clear signal that the health danger persists and that caution is warranted. Still, the understandable need to get the economy back into gear requires the private sector to regain its forward momentum. Worker anxiety about risks of infection, job security, career growth and more will likely increase over the coming months as the recession worsen and the pandemic refuses to go away.
Trust, shared values, commitment to a purpose, and alignment with a vision will be key determinants of a true revival of both businesses and our society overall. Empathy, emotional intelligence and leadership will prove indispensable to navigating the uncertain future. People in difficult times are always drawn to those who can present a compelling message of unity, determination, flexibility and hope. This vision is rarely laid out in business resumption plans, but it is the key to thriving once the tough times are behind us.