In the last few months, we have been speaking to Chief Executives about their experiences resulting from the Covid outbreak, and a pattern has started to emerge from these conversations. We also, and not surprisingly, have found that this pattern was reflected in other sectors and that there were several key takeaways for executive teams.
The first is that there are two fundamental stages to working in an emergency environment. The first stage has been named the ‘red alert stage’ which is an adrenaline-pumping, and oddly exhilarating rush of constant action. During this stage, executive teams pull together their crisis planning, evaluate scenarios at breakneck speed, and make hard decisions on the hoof. Councils have reached out to their communities and are working in partnership like never before to ensure that the vulnerable are looked after. Executives spoke about being in a state of perpetual action; of getting things done and feeling competent. Staff have been able to act independently for the greater good of all and have stepped up to the mark.
The second stage is only just starting to be reached by many. This is the ‘reality hits’. Executive teams do not have the physical and mental resources to sustain this pace and scale of change. Leadership teams have spliced together their strategic and recovery plans to retain the positive aspects of Covid and make changes before the tidal wave of demand comes forth and there is a sense of foreboding. The calm before the storm! This period highlights the physical and mental toll in terms of illness and stress within the management teams. The tedium of home-working and lowered energy levels start to have a significant impact on output performance. Furthermore, many councils are looking to their local economy to take up some of the demand, but as we have heard from the local supply chain trailblazers, this can take years to develop.
So, what should executive teams be focusing on?
Be realistic about what it is you can achieve and when. Doing some planning with resources and timelines will really help. This sounds obvious, but choosing which battles to fight, and which to step away from will spare an already stretched organisation from even more stress. Particularly during these unprecedented times, there is no such thing as too much communication. Leadership teams should think through their messages and reflect empathy as well as information to help people understand what is happening and why. An important point here is that if you do not fill the information gap, someone else will. So, keep communications links strong.
Teams need to stay connected, and due to Covid, we are now having to rely on technology to communicate with one another via video link, and as a result, everyone has become less formal as pets, children, and partners with cups of tea, unwittingly disrupt meetings and add a healthy and humorous distraction to the mundane. Making sure that connectivity is regularly maintained is critical while we are working from home. Think about who is missing on the team chats and make sure everyone is included. Have informal meetings on Zoom to ensure how everyone is coping and reinforce your support for your teams. Working remotely is a double-edged sword. It can mean that we are always on call, so make space in your diary for down time. There is plenty of material around on self-care these days, so make sure your management team are aware of it and are using it.
Get reflective on your active listening skills. Listening to those around you with empathy is key. Stress impacts on our performance, which in turn can cause even more stress – it becomes a vicious cycle. We all need to give and receive a dose of empathy, forgiveness, and support from time to time. We need to be kind to ourselves and one another. Use your support networks. This includes iESE.