There are disaster situations that companies and organizations are prepared for.
Every year of grade-school growing up, twice a year we had to do a mandatory tornado drill where a loud, obtrusive alarm would blare and everyone would scramble to the middle of the hallways, away from the windows, and would sit with our heads tucked and legs pulled in.
Companies do fire-drills. My company had an active-shooter training a few years back to prepare our team for what to do in the event of an unseen dangerous situation.
Organizations have scenarios and situations that they are already prepared for. The training manuals are on the shelf, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. A global pandemic that shuts down the economy for 3 months, halting all work-life rhythm and social practices is not one of those scenarios organizations were prepared for.
As such, many organizations have been reeling, knocked back onto their heels from the recent events, and are still working to figure out how to best move forward in light of this pandemic.
To best move forward, companies must be radically honest. They must be willing to listen and learn, to admit their shortcomings, and to make adjustments where necessary.
And they must do everything in their power to maintain their mission.
In order to maintain your organization’s mission during a time of crisis, you should embrace three crucial truths.
1. Tell Your Story
The world is full of stories that will attempt to hijack your mission if you let them. These stories fill our TVs, our social media platforms, even our writing platforms. These stories appeal to our fear, to our anxiety, to our nervousness about the current circumstances and they always seem to be so important. But here’s what these stories are trying to get you to forget.
The news is not your story. The anxiety is not your story. The cloud of uncertainty and the thousands of possibles, unseen circumstances, and their resulting outcomes are not your story.
Your mission is your story.
Why do you as an organization exist? What tension are you addressing, solving, or alleviating? As Simon Sinek says it, what is your “just cause?”
That is what you need to be sharing. That is what you need to be re-posting, re-tweeting, or re-broadcasting. Yes, the world may be on fire, and while you shouldn’t advocate for just turning your back and letting it burn, embrace the fact that you have a role to play and see the good that will come from telling your story.
2. Keep COVID at the table but not in the center
It’s folly to act like nothing has happened or that you aren’t affected by what is going on in the world. COVID has been disruptive and, as such, it deserves a seat at your table organizationally.
You need to be talking about how to be safe if you are returning to the office. You need to be addressing the possibility of testing your employees or working to determine proper protocols when one of your staff tests positive. You need to have new systems in place for expectations on work-place balance and general team policies.
However, while COVID needs to be at the table, it cannot be in the center.
COVID is not the lens through which you view your entire organization. Once again, that is meant to your mission.
Putting COVID at the center of the table means that you’ll start making decisions based on data and implications that are shifting faster than you are able to move your company.
You’ll begin leading in a way that is reactionary — following the latest news cycle. In other words, you won’t be leading. Your organization will be caught up in the swirling unknown, effectively paralyzed from accomplishing your mission.
Keep it at the table, but make sure the center is clear for your mission to move forward.
3. Check-in with your staff
If your organization is going to survive this season, not just thrive in this season, but legitimately survive, you’ll need to lead in a way that values and respects the people around and under you.
You’ll need to really check-in with how your people are doing.
In order to do this, you may need to institute a policy where directors meet with each of their reports in a 1:1 fashion every week. Even if you already do something like this, you may need to train your directors on how to ask the right questions for a season like this.
For organizations to thrive, for organizations to keep focusing on their mission, they need healthy people. They need people who are able to process their emotions with vulnerability and safety.
If you’re committed to the long-term vision of your organization, you should recognize that it might be worth sacrificing some short-term productivity in order to build some long-term trust and stability.
No one really has the exact answers for how to best navigate these uncharted waters, however, we do know what the answer isn’t. The answer isn’t to sit back and do nothing. The answer isn’t to just act like nothing is different or to expect people to just go back to normal.
If you want to lead your organization through this time and maintain your mission, you need to be purposeful. You need to be intentional. Try something, anything, then pause and reflect if it was a good choice.
Keep moving and keep adjusting. You’ll get there.