Tips for leading during the coronavirus pandemic

June 3, 2020
Amanda Del Buono interviews Jay Richards, a member of the founding team and senior consultant at Denison Consulting

Amanda Del Buono interviews Jay Richards, a member of the founding team and senior consultant at Denison Consulting, a consulting firm that helps its clients improve their culture and build leadership development. They discuss leadership during the coronavirus pandemic and then step back to take a broader look at leadership development in U.S. manufacturing. Visit Jay's YouTube channel:

Below is a portion of the interview. The full transcript is available here. 

Amanda: So, right now, we all know we're going through an unprecedented crisis, and I just want to start out by asking, what advice you have for leaders who are trying to manage during this? 

Jay: The big thing that I see out there, and I've done this for 20 years now in organizational psychology specifically culture leadership and things like that, but right now, there is so much uncertainty in the workforce. You know what I mean? There's a lot of fear. And I mean, right now, we're two months into this whole COVID-19 thing, and when things couldn't get any worse, now they're telling us we're going to have to dodge murder hornets as well, right? And so, what you see when you're looking at things around uncertainty is how do we relieve or alleviate that uncertainty? And you do that by communicating. So, if I'm talking to any leader right now, there's a few things that we want to learn, and we're learning that as the months go by and the data that we have, but right now, what I'm seeing great organizations do is communicate, communicate, communicate.

And a lot of times, what we do when we're not communicating well in just normal times, we usually leave out information. We tend to speak at people, okay? And so, when I'm coaching some of the people I coach, managers, leaders, executives, and things like that, I actually use a formula that I developed, which is just basically what minus why equals the rumor mill. And so, I always set what at 100%, but it's the why that's where we get ourselves in trouble. So, if I only communicate 9% of the why, I leave 90% out in the rumor mill, right? One hundred percent minus 10% equals 90%. And that's where all the headaches occur. People tend to make up answers that they don't have, that we leave out there, and you don't want them doing that because they never give you the benefit of the doubt. It always seems to be they come back negative, right?

So, what we want to do, and what we're seeing right now is organizations are communicating at a high level. Your people need this information. They're worried about their job, they're worried about their families. A lot of them that are families, they not only have their eight-hour jobs, if they're essential, they're also stay-at-home school teachers now. And so, there's a lot of stuff out there, "Am I gonna get sick?" whatever. We want to make sure we're getting people information, and I think a lot of companies are doing that.

Amanda: Well, good. That's good to hear that people are taking a proactive approach to communicating with their employees and really being transparent right during this time.

Jay: Yeah. I mean, back in March, as everything began to unfold, at Denison people were not thinking about a culture survey anymore or leadership development surveys. Things are getting pushed off, and we have here in Michigan a lot of organizations, Ford, GM and a lot of factories out here that have switched over to gowns, ventilators, masks, and things like that. And we wanted to do something as well. So, that's why we developed a resilience survey, measuring how resilient organizations are in times of crisis. What we really wanted to accomplish was getting companies' information quickly from their people because people had concerns, right? We talk about uncertainty. So, we were good at that. We can't make ventilators, but we can get information. So, we switched over pro bono for a lot of our clients and just started letting them use our software to collect information.

And it was cool because within a month, we had over 30 organizations that have all done the survey and we actually have a normative database now for it, for just the 30. It'll continue to grow, but the cool thing was there was a lot of things that started to emerge. And one was when you look at the data, we added a question on the end where people could type in their own comments, and it said, "What has our organization done well during COVID?" And the top answer by far was communication.

Read the full transcript.

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