Leadership in Corona Recovery


Phoebe Kitto

Human Resources Columnist

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Phoebe Kitto, Director of HR Dynamics offers some advice for employers in a time when they may be feeling at a loss as to what to do next. Image: Supplied.

We’ve managed to get through the first stage of Corona, the anxiety, the ‘what is going to happen?’ stage - This was the stage where we were watching the virus and it’s devastating rates of infection across Europe and the most that it impacted us was our next trip overseas and some cancellations from international visitors.

Then… Corona caught a ride to our shores and we had border shutdowns, mass shutdowns of all of the things we as humans love – the places we gather, places we socialise. We had new words invented, the #stayathome was plastered everywhere, and we banded together as one - #weareallinthistogether.

During this stage we all stood a little taller, paid respect to the Anzacs from our driveways, held our shoulders a little broader and have smiled to each other (well we can’t shake hands or get close enough to pat backs) and have felt good that we are flattening the curve. We’ve all said to each other what a great job Australia has done.

During this phase employees understood that their jobs were going to be impacted and were supportive of the difficult decisions their employer had to make. There were tears shed on both sides and the grief of what was ‘taken’ away/lost was fresh. 

Now we are seeing the next stage, the anger.

The anger phase is starting to impact the decision making, mental health issues are spotlighted during isolation and everyone is absolutely fatigued. Wow, Friday rolls around and I feel like crawling under the covers and hibernating. Stuff the 5 visitors’ rule, I’m too tired to see anyone!

It’s a perfect storm in a corona test tube.

So, when you are feeling fatigued and just can’t face another new piece of legislation to understand, another rent negotiation conversation with your landlord, or another decision to make about your business, how do you show leadership?

The irony is that staff are wanting and needing leadership more now than ever. All of the feelings that you have around loss of income and what is going to happen next they are feeling too, and maybe even more so – you have a degree of control over your business and the reopening phase, they don’t.

The key is to not change your style – during a crisis people need familiarity. Now more than ever you just need to be genuine and honest. Listen to your staff, listen to their concerns. You might not have any answers yourself and you can say this to staff. There is nothing wrong with not having all the answers.

Have a plan and engage with your team to help build your new plan. You aren’t an inspiring leader if you are so chaotic you can’t see any path (if you can’t see a path ahead, how will your team?), if you don’t have faith in your product/service. You need to believe what it is that you do, even if you are looking at coming back in a smaller footprint and have used this time to take stock of what is really important. No one trusts a leader that doesn’t believe in their own business or themselves. Be genuine but take time to reassure your staffing body that you will be better than ever after Corona.

One business I spoke to said that they are making less income, but they have less bills, less stock to carry and less staffing worries, less customer complaints. They are the least stressed they have been in five years and loving life.

They are using this time to plan their comeback and what their reduced footprint will look like. No longer is their forecast growth, it is about consolidating what they have and working on their core business. They are engaging with staff via meetings and letting them know their plans and thoughts. Staff have had some great ideas – which they have put into place already. Staff feel like they are on the journey with the business and are more committed and excited than they ever were prior to Corona.

My last point is look after yourself. If you are snappy, tired and just plain old fatigued you need to take some stock of what is important and make sure that you are ok.

You don’t have to exercise like a maniac, but you do need to have some time out to do an activity that you like. Whether that is hiking, taking long walks along the beach or relaxing yoga – it’s not a ‘nice to do’, it is important that you have some time out.

There won’t be a comeback if you are so burnt out that you can’t see straight.

Phoebe Kitto is a Director at HR Dynamics.

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