by Susan Hileman, NWIRC Strategic Business Advisor

We are in a new era. You may be working in the office, on the plant floor or even at your kitchen table. It’s fair to compare the COVID-19 crisis, as one writer noted, to swimming in the ocean. “It gets hard to keep track of exactly where you’re going, and sometimes, it’s challenging just to stay afloat.” Whether leading in a crisis or the day-to-day working world, here’s five best practices for good leaders.
1) Communicate More. You just can’t
over-communicate. It’s particularly important during stressful times to reach out on a regular basis. Remind your employees of the big picture, of what’s most important. Even though we may be unsure of tomorrow, instill purpose by talking about the company’s vision. Share ‘why’ you’re in business. Focus on keeping your team members aligned and help them understand how their personal best contributes to the whole team.
2) Use Technology. Whether you’ve become proficient on Skype, Zoom or GoToMeetings, these last 4 weeks have taught us all new ways to use technology to help our business. When I’m teaching Generational Diversity, manufacturers are encouraged to look for ways to integrate technology into their business. Consider automation and production monitoring systems. Use iPads on the shop floor. Develop better dashboards based on your key performance indicators (KPIs) so that everyone has a pulse on real-time operations. Create video work instructions. Identify those in your organization (younger, as well as more seasoned) who find technology fascinating and ask them—what could we be doing?  There has never been a better time to explore how to make technology work for you!
3) Build Trust. Trust is built by people being truthful and being real, by being compassionate and having empathy for others. Real leadership is about creating an environment in which employees feel like the company cares about them. People will remember how they were treated during this particular time, so allow your actions to speak louder than words. As Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence wrote, empathy and “compassion—caring about other people’s well-being and taking action to improve it–stands as a hallmark of outstanding leadership.”  Right now, we need compassionate leaders we can trust at all levels more than ever.
4) Be Coachable. Being coachable is as much about affirming what’s being done right as focusing on what can or should be improved. Use this time to lead by example. Be intentional about your personal growth. Improve listening skills, get feedback from others and evaluate constructive criticism without taking it personally. Coachable leaders are willing to be uncomfortable if it means the end result will produce something better. Taking this opportunity to upgrade personal skills could provide the most significant return on investment (ROI) for you personally and the biggest impact to your business.
5) Lead in the Moment. This period of time was recently coined the ‘Great Pause’. Take advantage of this moment in time to turn your business around. Revise outdated policies. Right the wrongs in areas where ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. Look at the shop floor. Use this slower time to get organized and improve efficiencies in your process.
Update your website and use of social media. Be sure to communicate with customers even if you’re closed! Consider the strategic direction of your business. Is this the right time to focus on new markets, customers, products or services? Perhaps even look at reorganization or restructuring staffing/roles. Funding opportunities will take some of the stress off knowing that people and bills are going to be able to be paid. So, use the Great Pause to actually address issues which get pushed aside during the normal daily grind. Your business will definitely be better for it!
NWIRC has staff who can offer expertise and guidance in many of these areas mentioned. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help you in any way.