For the past few weeks I've been spending a lot of time on video calls with the CEOs I coach. There's a lot to talk about. We've looked at changing scenarios. We've re-planned the budget and then re-planned it again. We've discussed supply chains and customer health, and in one case we created a remote onboarding plan for a new executive.
In all of these conversations, the one topic that comes up again and again is the constant need to check in on employees' state of mind. As an executive coach for startups, I've helped many companies weather existential threats. The crisis right now brings an extra layer of complexity because of it's level of uncertainty and because everyone is working remotely. Because of this your employees are dealing with heightened anxiety and distractions. It's natural for them to feel down, and yet you need their focus and energy now more than ever.
Here is what your team needs from you right now to keep them upbeat.
1. They need repetition.
In a time of crisis, confusion is the enemy. Your employees may be anxious. Working remotely can feel isolating, and being at home brings its own distractions.
To keep everyone motivated, you need to make sure your employees understand the most important priorities and the larger context. That way people can cut through distraction and get clear on what they are supposed to work on. Clarity is motivating.
The only way to do this is to double down on communication. Convene regular town halls by video or by phone if you must to remind everyone what the most important priorities for the company are. Review these again when you meet in smaller groups and have 1-1s. Make sure that your executives and other leaders are doing the same.
People easily get off track, so hearing the same message over and over in different formats from different people helps them take it to heart.
2. They need to see their quick wins.
A quick win is a milestone which may be small, but it is visible, relevant, and has immediate impact. An example of this is from the head of marketing at one of the startups I coach. As the Covid-19 crisis began unfolding, he realized that the marketing message would have to be completely revamped. Within three days his team came up with a new concept and implementation. There was plenty of work ahead to execute the new plan, but the fast response and strong start gave the team a sense of feel-good energy that carried over to the rest of the company.
When people achieve quick wins they build confidence in themselves and in their ability to make an impact. When you celebrate these small achievements, you signal to everyone that your company is making progress. That infuses a jolt of momentum into everyone.
3. They need encouragement about what's possible.
So much is out of our control. Your salespeople can't control the response of their customers, their inability to travel, or if their key contact gets sick. But they can take the action of making a certain number of calls they make and the quality of that outreach. Your head of finance can't eliminate the uncertainty of the current economic outlook, but she can realistically look at what's happening and come up with scenarios to ensure better planning.
There are plenty of roadblocks right now, but a surprising number of pathways if you look for them. When your employees get frustrated or resigned about what they can't do, encourage them to think about what they can do.
For example, one of the startups I coach was in the middle of opening up markets in Europe when the crisis hit. The Chief Revenue Officer had planned to lead a session to train her sales force. As the pandemic spread through the region, however, it became obvious that they would have to put off their launch. Rather than cancel the training, the CRO engaged her team in a conversation about how they could support existing customers at this crucial moment. Everyone left the session with a plan to deepen relationships during this time.
There is plenty of uncertainty in these times, but also opportunity. Use these techniques to make sure your team maintains good spirits and can move forward.