By: Russ Hill, Tanner Corbridge, and Jared Jones, Senior Partners, Partners In Leadership

His job is to sell meat. Millions of pounds of it every month. The division he leads inside a Fortune 500 company was having a great year. But then an invisible virus started to spread. In a matter of days, his entire world turned upside down.

His team of sales reps works primarily with hotels, universities, and restaurants -- industries that have been severely impacted by Covid-19.

"In our business of selling meat we have a saying that if you don't sell it, you smell it," he told us.

Food production companies like this one are experiencing something most businesses are going through: a massive shift in demand. How do businesses keep up, and how do you manage through this disruption?

We've identified five skills that leaders need today to enable their teams to adapt at the required speed: clarity, visibility, accountability, agility, and empathy.

Clarity

For most teams and organizations, there's little value to leaning too much into long-term goals or planning right now. What's most needed is clarity around two-to-three Key Deliverables or Key Expectations for the next 60 to 90 days.

To create clarity, follow three simple steps: Make sure deliverables or expectations are measurable, meaningful, and memorable. If you can't measure the deliverables or expectations, you won't move them or meet them. Identify things everyone can directly or indirectly connect with. Keep them memorable by sticking to three or four at most.

Visibility

Most leaders have increased their visibility during recent weeks. That increased visibility should be aimed, in part, at clarifying Key Expectations. And because greater visibility loses its impact without greater accessibility, ensure those closest to the customer and those making critical decisions have access to leaders.

Some leaders are demonstrating visibility and accessibility but still aren't seeing enough acceleration. They're likely missing transparency. Transparent leaders don't get any satisfaction from having the most information in the room. Transparency is radical candor delivered in a way that accelerates collaboration.

Agility

Marked by a high speed of execution, adaptability, and a commitment to innovate and find creative solutions, agile organizations are the ones that don't just survive, but also thrive in highly disrupted markets.

Agility requires the ability to learn fast and move fast. Doing this effectively requires high levels of personal accountability. In a workplace culture with high levels of accountability, employees feel connected to the purpose of their work, enabling them to recognize gaps in performance, take personal ownership for closing those gaps, deliver innovative solutions, and take action -- all quicker than the competition.

In fact, organizations in the top quartile of accountability as measured by Cultural Advantage Index experience 27 percent faster execution and 30 percent greater adaptability. So how do you increase levels of accountability -- individually and in your organization?

Accountability

In moments of great upheaval, we see two prominent mindsets that pose challenges to greater Accountability inside teams. Those are a "wait and see" or "confusion/tell me what to do" mentality. Both of these mindsets are major obstacles to speed.

A set of four questions derived from a model called the Steps to Accountability frames up what accountability looks like. Each step has a corresponding question.

  • See It: What's the reality I most need to acknowledge?
  • Own It: How am I involved in the solution?
  • Solve It: What else can I do?
  • Do It: What do I need to do and by when?

Accountability is a personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve the Key Expectations. Start asking these questions -- and guide your team to do the same -- to see immediate improvements in accountability.

Empathy

Seventy-seven percent of employees say they're willing to put in more hours when they work for an empathetic workplace culture. However, only about 49 percent of employees describe their culture as empathetic.

Practicing empathy might feel like a super squishy soft skill to some. And yet, empathy has a major impact on a team's level of engagement and ownership of what needs to be done to meet the Key Expectations or Deliverables.

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone is experiencing from their frame of reference. Apathy is an opposite of empathy. It suggests disinterest and a lack enthusiasm or concern.

If you're looking for a tactical way to demonstrate empathy, start with making a decision to be intensely curious in others and their ideas.

Where to Focus

There is no playbook for disruption. Each one is different. However, leaders who demonstrate these five skills produce the most impressive results during disruption and the coming innovative era.

Dive deeper into these concepts in our open conversation for leaders every Tuesday: Leading During Uncertainty. Or explore our course on creating accountability during disruption.