Leading Remote Teams in a Crisis, Part 2: Best Practices in Operations
Our previous post shared some foundational elements of leadership in a crisis. This week, we will focus on operational elements critical to maintaining effective customer service when a crisis turns a company’s world upside down. In this post, you will see that effective crisis operations require teamwork and cannot be achieved without all team members pulling together.
Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Truer words were never spoken as it relates to a crisis scenario.
1. Effectively Communicate
The first critical operational element in a crisis is effective communication.
Your staff is in disarray; they are worried and confused. Your customers don’t know if you are open or closed or if you are able to service them or not. You need to get information to both groups quickly. BUT you need to convey the right message. It must be informative, with clear instructions on what you are doing and how you are doing it.
The message must be delivered using the communication channels your customers and staff are accustomed to. Customers must have a clear understanding of how to contact you and what services to expect.
In addition, because the crisis will cause unexpected changes, you must continue to communicate, providing updates to your staff and customers on a timely basis. Tight change management between leadership and the front-line staff and to customers will drive this effective communication.
The second critical operational element is to understand that communication is a two-way street. Leadership needs to listen to staff and to customers, thoughtfully evaluating and acting on the input received.
Consider the following:
- Confront Challenges: The staff is likely struggling with scheduling conflicts. Work with your Workforce Optimization team to enable flexibility in scheduling to overcome employee challenges.
- Evaluate KPIs: Work with the Operations team to determine whether the KPIs measured before the crisis need to be adjusted, or at least relaxed for a period of time.
- Seek Input: Find a way to engage customers on a more frequent basis that allows for real-time input. You need to put yourself in their shoes, understand the challenges they are facing, and make any adjustments that are needed. The same guidance applies to your employees.
- Be Flexible: As necessary, be prepared to relax or modify policies and/or workflow to make things easier for the staff and for customers.
3. Give Clear Direction
The third key operational element is ensuring clear direction among leadership teams, and between leaders and staff.
- Set Standards: Set standards to ensure your team knows what you and the business expects. What is now “business as usual”; what has changed; what can they expect?
- Set Priorities: Work still needs to be accomplished, so continue to set priorities for your teams, manage projects that were in flight to meet deadlines, and enable feedback channels.
- Express Commitment: Ensure that your team completely understands your commitment to transparency, trust, camaraderie, engagement, and the success of the business during this time.
4. Think Ahead
Last, but certainly not least, make sure everyone understands that this crisis will eventually come to an end.
However, as things begin to normalize, leadership must actively, comprehensively, and holistically think about the post-crisis world. The perspectives of employees, customers, and leadership should be included in this process.
Tough questions will need to be addressed:
- What had to change during the crisis to address specific challenges? Did those changes work well? Should they be maintained after the crisis and incorporated into normal operating procedures?
- What were the gaps? This question will lead to thinking about preparation for future disruptions of this type. Gaps in day-to-day business operations, customer interactions, communications, and technology will all have to be addressed in this analysis.
Based on this assessment, establish two plans. One plan will deal with operations when the current crisis is over. The second plan will address what needs to change in a future crisis scenario, addressing the gaps uncovered in the approach above.
Bringing it Together to get to the “New Normal”
As we learned last week, leadership and working together in a crisis scenario is not easy. But if the proper operational elements are in place — effective communication, collecting and acting on relevant input, providing clear direction, and thinking beyond the current crisis – you can get through the crisis successfully.
Remember Henry Ford’s words.