Lead with compassion to overcome Covid-19 challenge | Sunday Observer

Lead with compassion to overcome Covid-19 challenge

8 November, 2020
The tri-forces, police and healthcare workers are the undeniable new heroes for the second round too
The tri-forces, police and healthcare workers are the undeniable new heroes for the second round too

As much as the powerful virus has conspired to keep us apart, it has also brought us together. Lockdowns and social distancing cannot suppress humanity and spirit shining through in what has become a global fight — a battle we all have a stake in — to conquer this invisible enemy we call Covid-19.

Military forces, police and healthcare workers are the undeniable new heroes for the second round too. There are others, too, who are doing the essential work of ensuring that life moves forward by keeping their families fed, cared for, and safe. And there are others still who are working hard to keep their organizations afloat amid disruption and uncertainty, with the simple goal of coming out alive and well on the other side when this crisis finally passes.

These people are our employees — the main source of success for every company. They are the ones helping companies survive by continuing to deliver value to those who need it most: clients and customers. Awareness, empathy and compassion are critical for business leaders to care for employees in a crisis environment and lay the foundation for recovery.

Organisations need to ask themselves what they are doing to protect their people in return, and what their actions reveal about their company’s soul — now confronting the second wave and later when we finally emerge from the uncertainty and chaos, hopefully never to confront again.

Companies should no longer advance only shareholder interests; instead, organisations must also “invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.” How many srilankan companies are delivering on this multi-stakeholder model today? Investing in employees in this uncertain environment we now find ourselves in means protecting and supporting them. Employees are understandably worried about losing their jobs, extended pay cuts. And while many companies can’t entirely protect their employees, many more can — and are-and they should as a primary accountability.

Bringing compassion and empathy to decision-making — despite every tendency to focus on the economic side — is crucial. Future-focused leaders understand that how well their company bounces back from this crisis will depend mainly on how they treat their people. They know their employees, as well as their clients and communities, are watching to see whether they hold firm to their core beliefs and values and use their resources to protect jobs.

Breathe values and live by them

Now is the time to ensure core values are more than mere words on a page - they are living, breathing actions that hold us accountable to all stakeholders, including ourselves. There is a definite need now for organizations to balance economics with empathy by caring enough to place responsibility for their people and long-term futures above short-term gains.

What you do now says a lot about who you are and what you stand for as an organisation. Companies must challenge themselves to think beyond the present to the time when this pandemic finally ends. Is taking drastic action by reducing headcount the right decision?

While a reduction in force may be unavoidable for some companies, layoffs should be the last resort. Most companies that lay off employees find themselves with the same number of staff within 18 months. And while layoffs can help bolster the bottom line in the immediate term, in the long run, impulsive steps usually cost a company more than it will save.

Layoffs come with hidden costs, such as lower morale, which can lead to reduced productivity, flight of top talent, and loss of intellectual property. People will remember the actions organisations take at this critical time. It’s heartening to see compassion from leaders, with many companies openly acknowledging that their highest priority is their employees’ physical and financial well-being. Organisations that stay true to their purpose, and proactively explore alternative ways to help their people and their company through this crisis, will emerge ahead.

Pandemic-driven disruption is prompting leaders to identify opportunities to pool or redirect their talent to avoid workforce reduction — moves that help them gain efficiencies and streamline operations. 

Smart strategies deliver shareholder value while protecting the company’s workforce, creating flexible platforms to accelerate business to bounce back when the economy ramps up. While none of us know what will happen in the coming weeks and months, we can have a direct influence on how we treat our people, our most valuable asset. Continue to put compassion at the center of every workforce decision. 

Our strengths

Covid-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities, but it’s also shown us our strengths. Most of us are in radically different working situations, yet we are rising to the occasion, learning new ways to move business forward. We have better, more thoughtful interactions with each other. Discussions are deeper; more detailed; and, best of all, more personal, building trust and unity as we face adversity together. But most importantly, what this crisis has shown us is the enduring power of a company’s soul. We will all win this fight with our collective, unwavering will to lead with compassion and empathy.

As a crisis strikes, a leader’s reflex is typically to first stabilise the threat. This includes setting up a crisis-response infrastructure, elevating the right leaders into critical roles, and developing scenarios to anticipate the crisis’s evolution. After the crisis’ initial shock has been absorbed, it’s essential to accept and acknowledge the reactive tendencies that unfold within ourselves and others, and to care for them.