In the past months, as the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in across the world, most organizational leaders reacted quickly. They established remote workforces, managed financial exposures, and supported the mental and emotional well-being of the workforce–all while trying to maintain the productivity of the organization.
Now, they are considering the challenges of returning to a “new normal.”
This must include postmortem planning. I have seen firsthand the success that comes from conducting postmortems after major events and applying those learnings to future plans. The current pandemic is a perfect example of why it’s vital for companies to review and understand what went well, what didn’t, and what they should do differently in the future.
Although OneLogin has a business continuity and disaster recovery plan, we never considered an event with the global impact that we currently face. We had planned for a natural disaster (earthquake) focused in the Bay Area, which is typically a single, time-bound, geographically defined event, and we have to worry about how to get things back up and running. The current pandemic is a rolling series of events that each require a different response.
Although this rolling series of events is not over and there’s the potential of a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall, leaders have to start the postmortem process now. Postmortem plans are too important to the future, and companies can’t afford to wait any longer.
Invest an entire day for postmortem planning
Looking after employee well-being has never been quite so complicated. Everyone knows they need to start thinking about the future, but nobody has the time to dedicate to it. With so many irons in the fire and so much to worry about, it can be easy to ask how much time the leaders of a company can really afford to spend in postmortem planning. The answer is one entire day.
In March, when we expected San Francisco to go into lockdown, our first priority was our employees. Like many other companies, we communicated daily and ensured our team had everything they needed to work from home for the foreseeable future.
The next two weeks were shocking as the world literally stopped and we all tried to wrap our heads around what was happening. Since that time, our executive team has met for 30 minutes every other day to specifically discuss learnings and adjust our plan accordingly.
Eventually, our executive leadership team will take the practices and processes we are documenting and revise them over the course of a full day into a new executable plan. Although it can seem like everyone is pinched for time, this approach will ultimately pay off in greater organizational alignment, prioritization, and execution.
Find the emotional leaders of your organization
Returning to work once the COVID-19 crisis eases will be directed by organizational leaders but truly led by emotional leaders. People with high EQ are crucial to the success of an organization and should be determined and codified in business continuity plans and postmortem reviews.
HR consultancy firm Innovisor created the “Three Percent Rule,” which suggests that the number of informal leaders who drive perceptions among employees can be reduced to as few as 3%. Formal leaders must identify and engage this 3% when making recovery plans, as they influence as much as 85% of an organization.
This is an area of company well-being, culture, and planning that is often wildly overlooked. These leaders provide a sense of hope and stability and care deeply for others. They notice moods and tempo, keeping their fingers on the pulse of the company, and tend to have a kind word for everyone.
Emotional leaders will emerge from every area of the company, regardless of their formal title. Those who have the capacity to make others feel comfortable are not always organizational leaders. The boss can reopen the office, but unless they are also an emotional leader, people will still feel insecure about going back in.
Bring together peers in the industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has imparted many lessons about preparedness and response, but perhaps the most long-lasting will be that people genuinely need each other. In postmortem planning, connecting enables people and companies to share ideas, experiences, and hope.
This may be a tough pill to swallow for many leaders. Although it’s practically anathema to say it in the modern business world: your own company is not enough. Sharing the learnings, strategies, and even failings that have emerged during this global catastrophe will benefit a far broader group of people than just your own.
A 2018 study conducted by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute further highlights the growing importance of collaborative competition, suggesting that companies have a better than 50% chance of mutually reducing company costs if they collaborate for a period of at least three years.
Businesses obviously have a right and a need to protect their information and certain discussions can be protected by NDAs, if needed. But companies also can’t afford to assume they have all the solutions to the problems brought on by COVID-19. Invitations to connect with industry peers should go out today.
Get buy-in from every level of the organization
Even the most well thought out postmortem won’t help a company through the next crisis unless there is broad buy-in across the organization. Employees at every level are needed to help achieve positive outcomes and should feel like they share a part of the responsibility for the success of a plan.
As the executives set the direction, managers and team leaders should conduct similar postmortem exercises with their smaller groups to understand on a microlevel their needs for future issues. Identifying these specifics will help teams know the areas in which they need the most help as they work across departments in both recovery and future planning.
Every employee also has a right to make their voice heard on an individual level and needs to know that. When given the opportunity to speak up, people need to be honest with their organizations, provided they have been given a safe forum in which to do it. Likewise, emotional leaders who are engaged in the well-being of their companies should recognize their influence and exercise it.
Right now, all of us are responding as well as we can to the COVID-19 crisis. It is an unprecedented disruption to the world, and we are certain to feel the aftershocks for years to come. In the future, as our companies begin to come out of social-distancing measures and attempt to return to normal business, it will be more important than ever to conduct a thorough postmortem.
Rick Barr is the chief operating officer at OneLogin.