I can’t really say I have already figured it all out since I am still living through it and learning (and fumbling) in real time . But in the spirit of “agile”, I thought I will share what I have so far and see what I can learn from you .
1. Nothing is more important than your people
Literally nothing should worry you more than the health and safety of your people – your family , your team , your clients etc . Making sure of that should continue to stay on top of the to-do list .
A big part of caring for your people is for you to stay calm ! I am seeing all across my network where teams are frustrated because their leaders are not watching out for them , or are directionless . Don’t be that kind of leader !
2. Productivity should not be the biggest concern right now
I have always had a big interest in improving personal productivity . So it’s a bit weird for me to tell anyone to not worry about it
We are all doing this work from home thing for the first time where everyone else is also working from home . Our houses , our routines , our families – nothing was designed for what we are going through now . We will make a good playbook by the time we get out of it – but for now , just cut yourself the slack you and your family need to stay healthy mentally and physically .
The truth is – we are all working way more now than we attended office every working day . It’s usually just false panic that productivity is falling . The one exception is those companies who had poor BCP and couldn’t enable WFH for their employees . Whatever the case , we know from history that our productivity will go up and catchup quickly once we get over the temporary obstacles .
3. Attention spans are alarmingly low
It’s probably a natural reaction to the many distractions that we are facing and a feeling that there are more things to worry about than usual . But knowing this is true – we can all be more effective by being more focused when we are on video conferences etc . I no longer do anything more than 15 mins with clients at a time and even then 10 mins are spent on making sure they are doing well .
Some meetings do need more time for sure – like workshops. For those – I suggest using multiple breaks . And even for those – two hours is probably thirty mins too much . Facilitating a workshop online needs more overhead – and don’t skimp on it . You may need someone to control the webex , another to progress slides and a third to take notes .
4. Change how you create and use slides and emails
“Less is more” is even more true today . Use absolutely minimum colors and ideally no animation . Everything looks more awkward and distracting when watching on web meetings than your worst fears .
What I do now is to write emails with the context upfront and then use two or three slides in the meeting where we need to get to a decision . Those emails need to be super clear and if they are not – they do more harm than good . Let go of your pride and have them reviewed by a colleague if you are not sure .
5. Make use of slack and texts and so on way more than you usually do
I have had a zero inbox policy for a long time and it is helping me a lot now . I know not everyone does it for their own good reasons . For the sake of survival of all humanity through these hard times – pls reduce email traffic and use slack and texts and phone calls for things that need short back and forth . And I highly recommend increasing the usage of box and share files that way .
6. Don’t sell hard , just solve problems for your clients
In the IT industry – consultants and analysts routinely complain about the “cost cutting” focus of clients . Well – stop that right now ! Everyone needs to cut costs now .
It’s the worst time to sell them on utopian ideas with benefits coming over a very long term . Work with clients to understand what you can do to help with their current problems and offer solutions that deliver significant value quickly , even if it delays your own gratification to the future . Having lived through such problems in the past – I know for a fact that they remember who stood by them and who tried to squeeze them for more when they were down .
Also remember that even if your solution is truly a transformation – you have to be very careful what you call it . My tip – call it what the client wants to call it . Remember they have to sell it to their bosses etc too !
7. Physical distancing is great , social distancing sucks
“social distancing” as a term is here to stay and I am no longer trying to get people to call it “physical distancing”. It’s like “on premise” vs the more correct “on premises” – that boat sailed a long time ago . We need to stay even more connected than we ever did in the past .
Do both team calls and one on one calls . Some questions will not get raised in public depending on the level of trust , company culture etc . Your job as leader is to give as many good answers as you can give to the people who have questions . When you don’t know – tell them you don’t know .
For larger team calls – I start with what I am seeing in the world , then narrow it down by geography , industry , company and finally to the team itself . From the feedback so far – I think that’s a format that seems to work well .
8. Don’t worry about being thorough
Given the nature of fast change we are facing – it’s easier to learn from each other in short intervals than trying to wait a long time to get to a perfect answer . We do twice weekly catchups now for leadership teams and cascade our learnings . We – often comically – change our mind within the same week because of this
9. Take care of yourself
Some days you are the top dog and other days you are the fire hydrant . I have swung up either extremes these past few days itself . It’s a lot more difficult to deal with stress when you don’t have a water cooler, Starbucks or bar to go to with your friends .
For me, this means I am cooking way more dinners these days than I ever did . I take my dog for a walk more regularly . I play cards online with my friends from college most days at night – and it is way more fun than I remember from the time we did it our hostel rooms . And I continue to listen to Carnatic music every chance I get .
10. Business is not evenly distributed like your spreadsheet might tell you – you have to trust your team
Most leaders – me included – pride themselves in their ability in making decisions bu balancing between abstract aggregated information and specifics about exceptions . What I am quickly learning is that now that I am stuck at home – my ability to personally verify every exception is much more limited now . Operational reality on the ground is always different from what aggregated spreadsheet inferences tell you . You need to trust your people close to action even more now and similarly tell them what you are seeing at the aggregated level .
Think about cost cutting for example . If you look at the trend and tell all your leaders that all of them need to cut their hiring by 50% – you probably will hurt your business more than you will help . Business is usually not evenly distributed beyond your aggregated spreadsheet . Work with your team to explain what is needed – assure them that we are all in this together and they won’t be punished for doing the right thing . Let them negotiate with you and their peers and come back with a solution . Top down solutions which are forced on a team don’t work most of the time in my experience . It’s on you as their leader to help revise their metrics to make sure it’s relevant for the times we live in . And similarly we need to have faith in our leaders that they will do the right thing . Otherwise we won’t get out of this without considerable grief .
Stay safe everyone !
(Cross-posted @ Vijay’s thoughts on all things big and small)