Re-Entry Post Pandemic: What Every Leader Must Do

I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday – waking up to my clock radio with a booming voice declaring that two airplanes struck the World Trade Center. You can imagine to waking up to this stunning news – many of you experienced this live. This was particularly stunning for me because I’m a proud New Yorker, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. While I live in Los Angeles, New York will always be home to me in a profound way.

A few days later I took a flight home to New York to visit my family. I wanted so very much to walk around the city to see how my precious place was impacted. When I walked around New York City I was in shock, absolute complete shock at the impact to New York as well as the impact to people in the City and beyond.

9/11 was a tragedy and also a transformative event. Connecting with friends throughout the week and sharing stories of where we were and the impact, provided so much comfort and community. We all really wanted to feel and experience love, community, connection, relief and safety. The world felt quite unsafe afterwards.

The impact on workplaces was most profound. Some workplaces held town halls or mass meetings that gathered people together to share stories and provide support. Some put disaster preparedness as part of their norm. Then after a few weeks, it was as if 9/11 never happened. I remember seeing people back at work and not speaking about 9/11 or they would talk briefly about it and then move on quickly. It seemed to me as if people were walking around with post-traumatic stress disorder and no one wanted to talk about it.

Now here comes COVID-19. While I’m not comparing 9/11 to COVID-19, because you can’t compare it, however we could easily replay the workplace aftermath described above. Meaning, we could focus on the people for a few months and then move on and lean in on the tactics. That would indeed be an incredible miss.

There are real and profound questions to be answered such as:

  • How do we bring people back to the workplace and social distance them?
  • How many employees do we actually bring into the office and at what pace?
  • How do we redesign the office space to accommodate social distancing?
  • How are people going to get to work when they take mass transit and many will be fearful of doing so?
  • People who take Lyft and Uber to work, how will they travel to work? Will they rideshare or???

And the list goes on.

While those questions are important, what I’m encouraging us all to do is to ask and answer these questions:

  • How do we prepare our leaders to lead loss because everyone has experienced some form of loss?
  • How do we train people to have the patience to not bypass loss?
  • How do we lead a workforce that may be experiencing grief?
  • How do we shift our leadership to dive into how people are feeling rather than simply being focused on the tactics of getting the job done?
  • How will people’s anxiety level be shifting in 3 months? 6 months? 12 months?
  • What boundaries do we need to encourage people to set in order to work from home AND be productive? (While companies are talking about this, encouraging people to enforce their boundaries is a whole other story)
  • How do we develop our leadership to have conversations around emotions when many can feel as if these are conversations best left to a therapist?
  • How do we shift our lens about how people move through changes? Even high performers may go into hyper doing while others may be stopped.
  • How do we uncover what people are really committed to as an access to moving them through change? As a simple example, I may not speak up although my boss is saying that it’s a growth area for me. While I may focus on speaking up more, I don’t. So while it seems that I’m committed to having a powerful voice, what I’m really committed to is the belief that I’m not good enough.
  • How do we move teams to be further and more profoundly interconnected beyond Zoom meetings and Zoom happy hours?
  • How do we manage productivity with an employee base who may be facing different issues? Some employees will be back in the office while others will be working from home juggling the same issues as before – kids + work; taking care of family + work, etc.
  • How do we re-invent, sustain or re-examine our culture? Are we really living up to what we say on our website? How has COVID-19 shifted this?
  • How do we develop leaders to lead with compassion and empathy since our workforce will need it more now than before and not just for 90 days?

Answering these questions is pivotal to how organizations are going to become even more successful through COVID-19. That is precisely why we created a framework called The Ready Zone. It’s a methodology of creating workplace cultures where trust, respect and safety is as valued and as measured as the bottom line. We measure The Ready Zone by six key Zone Performance Indicators – evaluation tools to reframe, refocus and realign, enabling leaders, their teams and organizations to thrive during times of change.

As an example, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was hailed by The Atlantic as perhaps being the most effective leader on the planet. As they said her, “Leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it’s putting the country on track for success against the coronavirus…One poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton in early April found that 88 percent of New Zealanders trusted the government to make the right decisions about addressing COVID-19, and 84 percent approved of the government’s response to the pandemic, in each case higher than what the company found in the world’s seven largest advanced economies.”

Re-entry back is the opportunity at every company, business owner and leaders feet. How you handle it, what you think about and the kind of ”people” playbook you create is going to be the key difference between success and failure. Very few leaders can say they have led teams through a pandemic. Most organizations are creating the playbook mid play.

However now is the crucial time to reframe, refocus and realign leadership. Up leveling leadership skills, attitudes and behaviors is going to be imperative to moving people positively through re-entry. This is not an event, and even a 3-6 month unfolding. This is a 12 month + unfolding. This is not change management – this is people management. People’s trauma, anxiety and fear will not go away simply because they are working.

If you want to be ready and powerful for what comes next or what we call being in The Ready Zone – creating workplace cultures of trust, respect and safety that are as valued AND as measured as the bottom line – is going to be the only effective way forward.

Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.

In the meantime, download our FREE eBook – “Why Your Company’s Bottom Line Is Not Your Top Priority: 6 Eye-Opening Strategies to Put People First