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Ask Madison: What are key characteristics of organizations that will thrive after a crisis?

April 16, 2020
| ByDan Davenport

The old adage “you can never be too prepared” is a mantra that most organizations will agree sets the tone for business operations for the foreseeable future. While organizations have in-depth, tested procedures in place to account for disaster-preparedness and crisis-management, when they are put into action in real-time, even the most prepared will feel a twinge of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented experience for most working-age individuals in the US and across the globe. We have endured natural disasters, financial recessions, widespread illnesses and social unrest through terroristic actions. However, the unknown of the COVID-19 and the swiftness in which it blanketed the globe in crisis is not something we have experienced in modern times.

Yet we prevail. We are not collapsing. We are banding together. Even when what we read and hear may suggest otherwise with countries, states and governments at odds, we have seen neighbors supporting one another, workers in essential roles giving their efforts selflessly and great places to work doing the right thing.

During and after this crisis, we will witness the companies that will emerge bruised and battered, but intact and ready to plow on, preparing for the unknown that may strike again in the future. Most predictions of organizational longevity are based on balance sheets, cost control and budget forecasts; those items are critical, fact-based elements that go without saying as crucial to the successful management of any organization. However, as an expert in employee recognition, and a believer in creating workplaces where employees love to work, learn, connect and succeed, Madison has drafted an informal blueprint of the qualities and characteristics of an organization that will thrive after this crisis. Our blueprint is an investment in people.

Be prepared with agility and flexibility

Over the last 5 years, remote work grew 44% in the US. According to recent surveys and studies, 3.4% of the population are remote workers. That number has temporarily skyrocketed in the last two months since the guidelines have been established in response to COVID-19. And we project that the shift could indeed become permanent.

The companies that rode the tide of change were in a better position to make the switch to an off-site, remote work environment. Either fully operational as a remote-primary workforce, or having plans in place to support that platform, companies with an innate flexible structure and mindset will fare better in the end, and did so by:

  • Investing in technological infrastructure as a priority. With equipment, software applications and the talent of tech staff who can oversee implementation as well as the security of sensitive systems and data, it’s not as simple as taking a laptop home and working at your kitchen table. Sound, tested procedures need to be established to protect the integrity of back-end systems and be able to withstand a surge in activity.

  • Adapting the workday and work expectation. When a crisis hits, it will not be business as usual. The end result may appear that way to consumers or clients, but the steps to get there will have changed. It’s important that leadership sets the tone for priorities. Every business has red tape, bureaucracy and “busy work.” Focusing on reprioritizing quickly and realistically will put the workforce in sync, with employees being aware of the goals and working with each other to achieve them. Sharing responsibilities, keeping each other up to speed, especially during a health crisis that may find employees suddenly unable to work, allows operations to continue uninterrupted when peers and colleagues can pick up the reins.

The power of organizational agility is a topic that has been on the radar of many companies who work towards building sustainable business models. You can find more ideas supporting this key characteristic here.

Trust and transparency as a foundation in the culture

This won’t be built overnight, but telling the truth will always be effective no matter when you start. It is a studied phenomenon that trust is a top factor in employee’s happiness and productivity in a workplace. This study featured in Harvard Business Review suggests a neuroscientific connection to the idea of trust in the workplace and the stress-reducing effects it can have, especially during a crisis situation.

It’s simple, rudimentary and cliché, but it’s true: If your employees trust that you will do right by them, they will do right by you, and together you increase your chances of weathering a crisis. Some ways to accomplish this are outlined below:

  • Being transparent and inclusive is paramount. If you shroud your organization in secrecy and closed doors, rumors swirl, animosity builds and trust erodes. However, if you set out the plan for crisis management for everyone to see, and solicit feedback and recommendations, employees will often accommodate gaps and changes because they feel part of the solution or at least considered. In a manufacturing facility, trust that the employees on the line have ideas for productivity, safety, and continuity. Often, we solicit the help of outside experts to help define policy and procedure. That is OK, but consider looking within for answers. Trust will build, employees will feel empowered and teams will feel a sense of protection over something they helped own and develop.

  • Over-communicate. During a crisis, keep your members informed, especially from leadership. Employees want fairness and insight. An understanding that those in senior level positions have some stake in the game also keeps employees engaged and feeling important.

  • Share numbers. When you work for a large organization, the magnitude of operational costs and expenses is sometimes lost when layoffs loom and news reels of high-paid executives cross the feed. Numbers matter – saying that cuts are necessary but not explaining the math creates confusion and in many cases distrust. It’s the same as in grade school when your math teacher insisted on showing your work on how you solved the problem. People inherently want to understand and to have a trust built, explanations are necessary.

Implementing creative employee support and recognition programs

Everyone is treading water during a crisis. Companies that have a solid employee support system and policy in place will push through because they have always recognized the needs of their employees and provided resources for them.

Continue to Recognize. During a time of crisis, it’s easy to plod through just to stay afloat. But people still need to be recognized, especially when they are sticking together in the moments of truth. Sharing the good news, commending good work and honoring their efforts is still as important, if not more so, than on a regular business day. Keeping your formal employee recognition program in place is a priority, even if some monetary rewards need to be reduced in some capacity - a gift card or online credit for grocery deliveries could be a cost effective and practical way to help employees during this crisis.

Celebrating the day-to-day is a critical activity now and going forward. Employing a specialized program, customized to your business and your worker environment, to recognize each and every milestone will support your team today, and reward your organization long-term through loyalty and cultural excellence.

Offer advice and counsel. Companies that offer unique support like budget management counseling and access to outside resources may find that it helps to keep employees productive and operations moving forward. While funds dwindle and extra pay may not be an option, companies that have tools or experts that can help employees create individual management plans could be a welcome stress-relief.

A government relations expert for help with securing stimulus relief, government programs, and debt management, while not the general responsibility of the employer, demonstrates that you are working with your employees to explore every angle to help them weather the storm.

Encourage Peer Care. Employees in crisis will have a lot on their plate, but each day we are amazed at how much more people will pile on for the greater good. Cultivating an environment where peers care for one another will help to ensure the most positive outcome for the whole organization. When all team members pool together resources to care for workers, much can be accomplished. Creating internal delivery services to workers at home and supporting peer networks to keep employees connected with each other, particularly during moments of isolation and social distancing.

Established Wellness Programs

Especially during a crisis as significant as the COVID-19 pandemic, employees will appreciate the health-related assistance available through companies that have implemented wellness programs. Wellness programs run the gamut in terms of offerings: incentive programs, exercise facilities in-house or vouchers, dietary and nutrition counseling and more. In a health crisis like we are facing now, the organizations that have also included access to health screenings and medical care have an advantage. Telemedicine options, on-site clinics, house nurses and medical staff who can help provide a medical safety net for employees will be looked upon as a service worth its weight in gold.

It remains to be seen how the recovery phase of COVID-19 will unfold. And sometimes the fallout is beyond the control of any organization and unavoidable. Building a culture of employee empowerment and true support of an employee as a whole being is a solid foundation that could withstand the toughest circumstances.

At Madison, it’s not business as usual, but instead, we are focused on support. Supporting our invaluable customers by maintaining business continuity, sharing advice about new working models and providing an opportunity to connect with others. 

While you adjust to your new working routine – whether it be at home or part of an essential service - please join the conversation. Ask Madison is an opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and help create our ‘new normal’, together. We believe that employee recognition is an essential business function and that, now more than ever, it is our responsibility to celebrate each other, recognize every milestone and collaborate together—even though we may be sitting apart.

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