In the first article of a series I initiated with Fran Cherny, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, we offered some thoughts to start helping you, and leaders in your organization, support your employees get back to their best and grow the power of adaptability and resilience we all need now more than ever. Now it is my turn to come back to this series of articles and share with you some thoughts about the last action we suggested in our first article: “Gather information and act fast.” This important aspect of crisis leadership is about interactive and empathic communication in the context of accelerated digitalization of our social connections at work due to this Covid-19 crisis.
The number one need employees and managers have in the current context is for their organization and leaders to actively listen, with empathy and compassion, to their feelings, fears, difficulties, and what support they need., This is the first step to treating any trauma.
Managing organizational trauma
As Constanza Busto said, do not be misled by a quite common Knower posture consisting of believing that we well know what our people are feeling, what needs to be done, what’s best for the other person and needs to happen. This would be a double mistake. First, this would ignore the diversity of your employees’ feelings and needs. Secondly, what really matters is for your people to have the opportunity to express themselves and for you to show empathy, care, and compassion at work in the current context.
I see 3 key steps to manage organizational trauma:
1) Encourage your people to express and discuss their vulnerability.
2) Build a shared purpose as an organization in the context of what you will choose as your new normal, or new future, post-crisis.
3) Permanent and interactive two-way communication.
Some companies are already running initiatives to concretely gather the data and feedback they need to help their people address trauma and grief (of self and of others). These initiatives include:
- Regular employee pulse surveys and/or focus groups: Stop waiting for the annual survey or the perfect organizational way of doing it instead of using simple tools and surveys. You could pose a question of the day or week, such as, “how do you feel this week about x topic?” There are easy and simple applications, like “Happyforce,” to measure how your people are feeling in general every day and/or how they feel about a specific topic. It is not only about asking, but also about acting on it. Quick, simple, and effective.
- Group webinars on health & wellbeing with active participation from employees to better manage their physical and mental health, as well as practice and grow their emotional mastery.
- Online peer to peer group coaching programs: Consider a series of regular 60 to 90 minute webinars during which small groups of leaders (5 to 6 max) and their coach practice how to bounce back and rebuild their response-abilities to the crises they face.
- Cascading of “Reflection Dynamics:” A top-down process of monthly 1 hour in-person or online team meetings on well-structured reflections. Managers can discuss challenges with their team and ways to practice effective mindsets and behaviors that will help them, and the company, overcome concrete pain points. Then, each team member cascades it down to their own teams.
- Create virtual spaces to connect: Organize a weekly virtual café (via Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc.) to encourage people to reconnect personally, beyond work issues.
Take advantage of this opportunity to gather information and act
This crisis is not only about trauma and disruption, it is also a fantastic opportunity to grow for people and businesses. In the past 3 to 4 months, we have seen extraordinary demonstrations of resilience, agility, creativity, speed in decision and action, collaboration, empathy, and solidarity in our organizations, cities, communities, and families. Leveraging these bright spots in your organization is a very effective way to help your employees and managers get back to their best with inspiring examples of “what we can accomplish together.” You can do this by gathering facts and data with structured tools and processes. The same tools and processes also apply to identify and measure what did not work, what should we do differently and what we must do to fix the roots of the current organizational trauma or difficulties.
Beyond any of these examples, my number one point about managing organizational trauma is that inviting your people to express and discuss their vulnerability is the best way of making them stronger and better.