Stopping pandemic panic: how to address swine flu concerns in your organization

The threat of a pandemic is on the minds of many business leaders as of late. The focus has come off of the business once again to be placed on the many "what ifs" posed by recent health threats. The truth is, leaders need to be mitigating risks every single day, not just when the media escalates or over exaggerates a potential threat. The issue at hand is not the actual threat posed, but poor leadership habits being exposed by the possibility of yet another form of risk to the business.

My advice for ensuring preparedness for a pandemic differs little from my advice for leading your teams on a daily basis – regardless of the threats at hand. The keys to success in these challenging times is not a plan to put in place when a pandemic begins, but a way of thinking that needs to be ingrained in organizations on a daily basis. 

To best deal with the potential pandemic and to best lead your teams on a daily basis:

  • Resist the urge to move into black and white thinking, using "either/or" and "all or nothing" thinking.  Identify the key goal along with the major risks. Focus on risk mitigation rather than risk avoidance, at the cost of the customer and at the employee.

  • Begin by identifying critical functions of the business from the view of the customer. The key is to segment your employees and to provide duplication of avenues to serve customers. Keeping your employees grouped by function such as customer service leaves the entire function at risk. Group your employees instead into teams that cover the entire customer experience from order to fulfillment to support which can duplicated hundreds of times throughout the organization. 

  • Segregate your teams to different locations or different floors, working creative schedules, even using segregated elevators to limit the risk of contagiousness. With this model, you have tons of complete support systems duplicated throughout the organization.

  • Get clear on the facts of the situation. Disallow editorializing and speculating, which just causes panic in the organization. Re-visit what you know to be true and keep everyone focused on real risks your company is facing.

  • Get very clear on the goal. The goal during this or any potential crisis is to mitigate risks to your employees while encountering zero disruption of service to your customers. It is not about deciding whether or when to close the business or even on figuring out ways to avoid the risk involved.  

The advantages to these techniques are far more than mitigating the risk of contagiousness and having multiple backup options if teams become sick. Employees begin to understand the entire customer process, begin to learn job functions adjacent to their own, begin to feel loyalty to their peers downstream from them, and enhance the overall customer experience.

Keep the option of sending employees home as a last resort. To be prepared, find ways to fill customer needs virtually, if possible, by establishing work-from-home options and implementing technology that allows for support of the customer and daily business functions to be conducted regardless of location.

Resist the urge to over-complicate your risk mitigation strategies. Have each employee identify the key functions of their positions and simply videotape the employee as they walk through those functions, creating a low budget "training" tape to be used if needed in their absence.

When sending employees home, keep it simple. Set key players up with a phone buddy that can be their hands, eyes and brains at the workplace. They can be available by phone, coaching the healthy as they fulfill their job functions at work. 

The lack of knowledge transfer is a great risk to every business, pandemic or not. Use this opportunity to heighten the urgency of knowledge transfer behavior. Have each employee identify the key functions of their positions, create "YouTube"-like training videos for each function, and have at least two others train in their job in order to earn a bonus and certification. The reward system buys a great deal of risk mitigation, which is extremely valuable to the business while motivating the employees to willingly document their expertise. 

Quit sitting in your office watching the news and worrying about the pandemic and get out there to lead your people. It is your job to make the organization and the people inside the organization immune to pandemics and any other potential threat that may come along.

So today and every day - overreactions be gone, get the facts, plan for the contingencies, trust the people, focus on the customers, group your people with the customer in mind, reward the risk takers, and ensure the remaining workforce can keep the business running.

Remember, you rock and Cy rocks!

Lead on my friend.

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