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Employees and teams come first.

That brief statement captures the heart of numerous online articles I’ve been reading, regarding what kind of organizational leadership is needed for what’s shaping up to be an open-ended era with COVID-19 as our constant companion. Here’s some high level bullet points summarizing the mindsets and actions of leaders in relation to three key stakeholder groups:

1. Employees and Teams – Leaders Must:

  • Place health and well-being at the center of the employee experience
  • Address in-person and remote work and family needs with empathy, flexibility, and constant communication
  • Speed up inclusion, equity, and diversity efforts at all levels—along with fair compensation—to enhance performance, recruiting, and retention
  • Operate business cycles permitting employees to:
    1. Grow, innovate, perform
    2. Rest, recover, reflect
    3. Repeat
  • Speed up operations by flattening structures and delegating local, LOB-specific decision-making to empowered, agile, and nimble teams
  • Expedite digital transformation to help employees continue to grow, innovate, and perform
  • Integrate ongoing skill development into work-flow, with career/cross-functional mobility and organizational bench strength as key talent goals
  • Prepare employees for ongoing, rapid talent redeployment and shifts in operations, based on real-time business needs
  • Reward, recognize, and incentivize in real time
  • Collect real-time employee feedback and engagement data, and align it with rapid decision-making that improves the employee experience

2. Customers – Leaders Must:

  • Demonstrate empathy and consistency while constantly asking, “Who exactly am I here for, and how can I do something for customers that they would miss if I didn’t do it?“
  • Expedite digital transformation for increasingly remote approaches to customer engagement
  • Collect real-time customer feedback and engagement data, and align it with rapid decision-making that improves the customer experience
  • Collect real-time business results data, and align it with rapid decision-making that improves operations, products, supply chains, and customer engagement

Shareholders – Leaders Must:

  • Prioritize operational excellence and long-term business continuity over short-term profitability
  • Be resilient and flexible when facing a crisis, with processes that permit rapid decision-making
  • Launch new business models and products
  • Do the best you can, and accept results, when facing difficult choices involving employees, customers, and results

Can this three-fold approach really help organizations fighting to survive? McKinsey and Co. seem to think so, as illustrated by this recent statement in one of its articles:

“Businesses have had to increase the speed of decision making, while improving productivity, using technology and data in new ways, accelerating the scope and scale of innovation. And it’s worked. Organizations in a wide range of sectors and geographies have accomplished difficult tasks.”

John M. DeMarco is a writer, executive coach, and activist based in Nashville, Tennessee.