The CEO Crisis Roadmap

How to Lead with Clarity Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

When I reach out to people and drill down to what really worries them, I frequently hear three questions:

  1. Am I (are we) going to get through this?
  2. How am I (are we) going to get through this?
  3. How can I (can we) help others get through this?

What I’ve also discovered is that when people are in a state of dread (see: When Dread Becomes You), their minds constrict. That means it is very difficult to understand, learn and take action on anything that is the least complicated.

That may explain why the repeated message to all of us from our leaders is: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, social distance, stay at home.

How do you communicate to your people as a CEO, when their minds are constricted?

It needs to be simple, easily understood and doable by them and if you mention more than a few steps, they need to fit together in a lockstep manner. Fuzzy words like Vision, Mission, Values are too abstract for these times and instead of being inspired by them, people will fall through the cracks. What follows is what we refer to as the CEO Roadmap, because each step uses simple, normal, non-abstract words, and each step locks into the next step and reduces the wiggle room that creates those cracks that people fall through.

It is something that everyone connected with your company will understand and also explains what is expected of them and why. This will even help furloughed or laid off people if they share it with their next CEO.  Clarity helps people feel more of a sense of control which lessens anxiety.

I hope it has that effect on everyone who reads this.

1: Assess Needs

For the majority of people in a company, the word “goal” is confusing and intimidating. That is why if you ask people their goals they often hem and haw or just throw out some number to get their boss off their back.

Not everyone has goals, but everyone has needs, especially now. And nearly all companies have three needs:

  • To make or free up money — to pay for overhead, have a runway to develop disruptive products/services and deliver a return on investment. And of course in times like these, the way to make money or free up money is to cut costs including laying off employees.
  • To consistently astonish and amaze and delight customers.
  • To develop a team and fully engage employees to zealously commit to fulfilling the above and if you need to lay people off, to do it in a way that is the least painful, damaging and helps them make it through and past it.

2: Get Results

What results would fulfill the three needs above? If the company consistently astonishes customers and is very socially redeeming, that would satisfy all three needs. That’s because such enthusiastic customers will want to buy their products and employees will want to be part of a company that creates such excitement in customers.

If those results involve saving or freeing up money by laying people off, to do so in a way that gives those employees a path through it (for example, check out: How to Talk to Your People about Laying them Off or Furloughing Them).

To do that, the results must trigger these ‘Whoa!’ ‘Wow!’ and ‘Hmm… Yes!’ reactions in employees, customers, clients and investors. For instance, with regard to the Covid-19 crisis in NYC, it seems that New Yorkers will forever be grateful to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his daily updates, briefs and spare no cost or action to save NYC and the state and then help other states as the pandemic filters into their region.

How can you as a CEO emulate Governor Cuomo to have a similar effect of your being in charge to your people?

3: Make a Plan

Create a plan to make all of the above happen, most especially, how to cause customers, clients and employees to respond with: ’Whoa!’ ‘Wow!’ and ‘Hmm… Yes!’

To do that make your products and services and communication deliver the best user and employee experience which includes the following qualities:

  • Relevant in the future – This won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. It’s hard to satisfy what a customer wants and will want versus building irrelevant products and services that are obsolete by the time you build and sell them. During the Coronavirus crisis, it’s hard to pinpoint what that future will specifically look like and how it will impact everyone, but continuing to communicate regularly status updates and current actions will go a long way to calming people.
  • Simple – The world makes everyone feel stupid outside what they know. And it’s getting worse. The more people reach outside what they know, the more those outside products and services need to be simplified to use. In fact, many great services in IT and cybersecurity are avoided because they are too complex to implement. With regard to the Coronavirus, continuing to communicate: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, socially distance, stay at home as disruptive as they are, are becoming increasingly simple to follow.
  • Reliable – People also don’t like getting frustrated when something doesn’t work. In fact, their initial reaction is to almost become panicky before they yell back at the product or services company that sold them on something that breaks down. With regard to the Coronavirus, it is critical that what you communicate is the actual unvarnished truth.
  • Convenient –The world is becoming more impatient and people want products and services to be available on demand (Amazon Prime anyone?) Therefore, don’t make anything that’s inconvenient. People are just too impatient to tolerate that.
  • Fun – When we’re past this crisis, remember that whatever you build, make sure it puts a smile on people’s faces and is enjoyable. People may tolerate it if it isn’t, but they’ll run to your competition if they provide more of an enjoyable experience than your products and services.
  • Beautiful – If fun puts a smile on people’s faces, beautiful and elegant takes their breath away as they experience awe. Awe is a much more lasting experience than “Gee, how neat!” Harking back to rough, tough Governor Cuomo’s concern and worry for the health and well-being of his younger brother, Christopher, may not be exactly beautiful, but it touches everyone.
  • Socially Redeeming – The upcoming generations are really committed to making the world a better place. Make sure you don’t hurt the world. The world doesn’t need your help to be more dangerous, scary and disappointing than it already is. With the Coronavirus crisis upon us, the last thing the world needs or will tolerate is blatant opportunism. Do that at your own peril.

4: Identify Tasks

Words like “roles” and “responsibilities” are often too abstract to many of your people who are literal. Everyone understands the word “tasks.” Therefore, figure out what tasks are needed to be done to accomplish the plan above.

5: Allocate Skills and Resources

After you come up with those tasks, determine the skills and resources that would be needed to accomplish them. This may mean needing to move people around who had different “titles” because they had the skills to accomplish the tasks in some other part of the company.

6: Make the Right Casting Moves

Identify, hire and place people with the skills, ability to access resources and a track record of successfully doing both to perform the tasks above. This includes discovering someone in one department with amazing skills that weren’t being used and moving them to another department to make the most of their potential value to the company. This is usually under the auspices of talent recruitment and development.

7:  Follow Through and Follow Up

Focus and remaining focused is the single key element in accomplishing anything significant. By the way, “follow through” and “follow up” are much better “employee experience” words than “accountability” which immediately puts most people on the defensive.

8: Keep Up the Motivation

Create an environment that is clean, convenient, filled with great food, etc. Keep employees motivated by having them feel pride, enthusiasm, passion and gratitude for the companies’ products and services.

  • Pride is associated with creating exceedingly high-quality products – that have the “Whoa! Wow! Hmmm… Yes!” and the seven aspects of great user experience listed above. I don’t know about you, but I have this response every time I hear Governor Cuomo speak. He causes me to feel proud that he is leading the New York effort.
  • Enthusiasm is associated with execution. If you have great ideas but can’t get anything accomplished, people feel frustrated and become demotivated.
  • Passion is about being part of disruptive innovation and being along for a journey into the future. Being part of the future can make up for a lot of sacrifices people make. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos know exactly what that is about.
  • Gratitude is about your doing things above and beyond what is expected of you to sustain the well-being through difficult times.

9: Regularly Review

This goes back to maintaining focus. Institute regular, productive and non-timewasting meetings to stay on top of steps 1 – 8 above.

10: Create a “Go To” Crisis Team

Realize that even with the best practices, crises are unavoidable. To not have a group of key “go to” people at the ready to pull together can cause waves of anxiety and “sky is falling” panic to set in. Have people you can always go to when a crisis hits. For instance, this may be a time when your COO and HR head were never more valuable, because they will be the one directly interacting with your people on a day to day basis, while you are focused on following this roadmap.

This above is not written in stone and please feel free to modify and customize. What we hope you’ll take away from it is that when you create something that makes sense, feels as if it would work and seems doable, the more you can reduce chaos and be better able to make it successfully through this time.

Take good care.

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