The longer we as business leaders are in the middle of a pandemic crisis, the more we will see an evolution on what we consider "business as usual." The question then becomes when does the new normal just become, well, normal?

I'd say it's now.

Normal as we knew it isn't coming back in the way we are accustomed to and we all have to make adjustments to normalize what we are collectively experiencing. As leaders, we need to understand the change curve as developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The change curve describes how people will react both personally and organizationally to change. It's often referred to as the five stages of grief.

Your employees are all in different places on that curve and you need to understand how to manage across the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Leaders can't begin to help coach or lead their folks through crisis unless they are equipped to effectively react to the change. Using the five principles of what I call the R.E.A.C.T. model, leaders can better support and lead through the change curve of COVID-19.

R is for Read

Leaders need to read the room, meaning take the temperature on how folks are doing. The easiest way is to just ask, take a pulse survey of how your employees are adjusting.

On top of the quantitative data, look at the types of issues raised with HR, assess if there are drops in employee engagement, examine social media sentiment by staff and check utilization of time off taken/not taken. These are all signals that can help you better understand how your folks are doing.

E is for Empathy

Once you understand how folks are managing, try to be empathetic to what they're going through. You never know what challenges your employees are facing. They may be caregivers taking care of a family member or maybe they're grappling with isolation because they are living alone.

It's really important to get this right. Being out of touch with the general well-being of staff is not only detrimental to morale and productivity, but leaders also run the risk of alienating and needlessly upsetting their employees, which can lead to regrettable attrition as your best and brightest jump ship the first moment they get a chance because they felt less than supported or heard by leadership.

A is for Acknowledge

Let people know you see and hear them. Your employees want to know that they're not alone and as a leader, you're reaffirming and acknowledging that this isn't easy or normal. This acknowledgement allows employees to see their leader exercise vulnerability and it creates space for leaders to model the right behaviors so their staff can see and mirror those attributes.

C is for Communicate

Share resources and communicate ways that convey you are supportive of staff. As leaders, it requires adjusting expectations for output and recognizing that output will be varied. Some employees will register amazing performance in response to the crisis while some folks performance will suffer. The reality is, most everyone is juggling a lot, based on their individual circumstances. Communicating that you understand those realities creates  psychological safety.

T is for Translate

When I was a kid, we used to play a game called telephone. You'd sit in a circle on the floor and would whisper a message to the person sitting beside you and they'd then whisper the message to the next person sitting beside them and so on. Eventually the message would make it back to the originator of the message and quite often the message would quite different from what was initially shared. Morale of the story, messages can get lost in translation.

Make sure everyone understands what the change curve involves, so they can see the signs and in particular, make sure managers can absorb and translate the message so that  staff know they're understood and supported. This is critical as messages from leaders are often misconstrued, misunderstood or are mangled as they work their way through the organization down to the individual contributors.

Change is never easy but Dr. Maya Angelou may have put it best when she said, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."