Dealing with a pandemic crisis of unimaginable proportion: Part I

IT is no illusion that the world has been plunged into an unprecedented crisis following the outbreak of a pandemic Covid-19. The pandemic has literally thrown everyone off guard as lives and economies crumble under the onslaught of this invisible enemy.

Robert Mandeya

Given that we have been so used to operating under clear structured schedules, this crisis has put all that in disarray, plunging us all in a state of emergency and panic. Unfortunately, no one has ever invented a predictive model that can actually warn us about everything that might blindside us during such an unprecedented phenomenon.

As we grapple to make sense of an average business day let us be wary of being overwhelmed and lose sight of the silver lining at the edge of this very dark cloud. This crisis calls for unwavering leadership more than at any time of lives.

The perfect world syndrome

In a perfect world, we would expect the unexpected, since we all know from experience how quickly things can go wrong.But somehow, this crisis is different from all that we have ever experienced as the whole world goes on a lockdown. Ever the optimists, most of us look forward to the workday proceeding smoothly and according to plan, so we can keep to our schedules and maximise our productivity. And sure, optimism has its good points; but sometimes, we let a positive, can-do attitude blind us to the reality that things can and do, in fact, go wrong.

We find ourselves in a cesspit that defies all optimistic tendencies and calls for the unimaginable responses.In the midst of all the confusion currently playing out in social and business spaces, we human beings share a perverse talent for inventing new problems for ourselves and others.

Currently, we see organisational leaders taking drastic and ill-conceived measures which might hurt organisations and individuals for a long time to come. For instance, closing shop completely and immediate termination of people’s contracts are some of the drastic moves taken by executives in a state of panic. These are knee-jerk reactions. It is like throwing away both the dirty water and the baby.

This situation calls for real leadership which can inspire confidence, provide direction and instill hope in the people around us. What is your bounce back plan?

Need for flexibility

When something comes completely out of hand, you have no choice but to fall back on good, old-fashioned flexibility: you deal with the disruptions as they appear, doing whatever you can to alleviate their effects without utterly derailing your personal productivity.

In times like this, people in workplaces must close ranks (not physically of course), communicate often and chat the way forward. There is a tendency of that thinking solutions to a crisis always lies with those in leadership — far from it! At times like this, anyone in the organisation can be called to step up.

We all respond differently to shock and it is not likely that those in leadership are endowed with the requisite mechanisms for handling shock and awe. Whatever the case, the real test of a work process is not how well, it works when everything is going smoothly, but how well it performs when you are slammed with a disaster.

Embracing new work styles

It is clear that Covid-19 has not only brought with it fatalities and economic destruction but a jolt on people to think differently and come up with new perspectives of our environment and the world around us.

At times like this, work schedules and work styles need to be revised. For a long time, Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, have been reluctant to try out the telecommuting styles of working, opting rather to have a body count at work (seeing everyone at the workplace). The current crisis presents us an opportunity to try out some of these work styles which have long been applied in progressive economies of the world.

This revisiting has to be done within the constraints of our existing schedule, and we should guard against overdoing some of these measures; just make sure your to-do list has enough flexibility to accommodate a bit of the unexpected. In the midst of a crisis like this prioritising becomes a skill which needs to be developed. It may be wiser, to start separating your to-do list into the “want-to-do” and the “must-do” tasks.

Make sure that you can give in on some of the low-priority tasks on your list, so that you can reprioritise or postpone them at a moment’s notice in favour of handling something unexpected — instead of wearing yourself to a frazzle by adding more tasks to an already stretched schedule.

Handling the crisis

When an unexpected crisis of the magnitude of the Covid-19 does occur, face the situation calmly. Most people either freeze or let everything grind to a halt, or they overreact in some way, making things worse.

Neither paralysis nor freaking out can help you. Instead, carefully and deliberately assess the situation, and then do whatever you must to mitigate the impact. For instance, instead of drastic termination of people’s contracts an arrangement can be worked out where people work from home and cut on transport costs instead.

It helps to reframe the crisis as a challenge, if at all possible it can be something you can turn into an advantage in some way. That may make it easier to handle, at least in the short term. Even if you cannot work the crisis into an advantage, you may learn something from it; so be open to that possibility as you go into action.

A lot of lessons can be drawn from this pandemic such as developing new work styles which are economic but productive. Also personal choices are being shaped, certain personal disciplines are developing which could give rise to innovativeness and more creativity in the workplace.

Please feel free to contribute on this topic and to contact us with more feedback. Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of LiRD. —robert@lird.co.zw/www.lird.co.zw.

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