To Avoid the Secondary Effects of the Crisis, Pause the Business Agenda and Focus on Your People

My Post (20)Jesse Sostrin is Salesforce’s Global Head of Executive Development, which means he spends a lot of time thinking about the future of leadership. He is the author of five books, including “The Manager’s Dilemma,” “Beyond the Job Description,” and “Re-Making Communication at Work,” all of which helped to establish his place in the next generation of influential thinkers challenging conventional ideas about management, leadership, and success on the job.

Here on the Salesforce Blog, Sostrin’s column offers periodic insights on the challenges of leading people, teams, and organizations into “the next normal.” In today’s edition, he explains how people managers can increase their visibility and transparency in order to engage employees at a new level and rebuild productivity after a crisis.  

Every crisis has two phases. First comes the disruptive event and the actual damage it causes. Then there is the collective impact from the reaction to the event itself. While leaders cannot control the first phase, their mindset, behaviors, and public actions have significant influence on the second.

Consider a natural disaster. There is the event itself — an earthquake, hurricane, pandemic — and then the compounding human response that follows. A positive response can inspire hope, swiftly deliver humanitarian support, address infrastructure issues to relieve safety concerns, and collectively limit the damage from the first phase. However, ineffective responses, whether from a breakdown in communication, planning, or misalignment, fail to deliver those positive resources and risk making the first phase of the event worse than it needed to be.

Any positive response needs a strong and consistent focus on people, including their hopes, fears, motivations, and needs. Of course you need to solve problems quickly, but focusing too much on the technical issues from the triggering event itself can leave leaders disconnected from what their teams, clients, and stakeholders need most – a champion of their ultimate concerns.

As circumstances evolve and leaders refine their approach to the next phase of the crisis, here are three human-first leadership strategies to help your people grow through change — not just work around it.

Be people-obsessed, not solution-crazy

Great leaders strive for a different outcome after a crisis – one that elevates people and leaves the entire situation potentially better than before. To achieve this, leaders have to resist a primal instinct to fix things.

This is easier said than done because, for leaders, the desire to act in adversity is overwhelming. Often, their resilience compels them to take ownership of what they can influence and work quickly to “make things better” no matter the circumstances. Think about international development teams that might install irrigation systems in developing communities to increase crop production, only to see an explosion of waterborne illnesses. Or technology companies that optimize their product with new features nobody asked for, only to destroy the user experience that made their customers loyal in the first place.

Notwithstanding unintended consequences from well-intentioned solutions like these, the “fix things first” mindset can blind even the best leaders to the human element. It’s also true that fast and ambitious action and the obsession with solutions is not the same as smart action. The key is to suspend brute force problem solving long enough to fine-tune a wiser, more people-centric approach to resolving issues.

To develop a people-first obsession with your crucial relationships, increase the frequency of check-ins and make room for the whole person when you do connect. Pausing the business agenda momentarily may feel like a risk, but it’s not nearly as risky as losing your vital connection with the person. – Read more

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