Maintaining Organizational Alignment in Difficult Times

Few organizations have faced more significant challenges than the effects of the pandemic and its aftermath.  Many companies are now returning employees to the workplace, others are establishing long-term remote work situations, and still others are implementing more workforce cost reductions,  according to The Conference Board’s May 2020 Economic Forecast for the US Economy. Business decisions are being made in the midst of extraordinary challenges, all of which will have far-reaching implications that could forever change the face of the workplace.  The long-lasting impacts of your organization’s choices at this time should not be underestimated.

Modifying operations requires careful consideration and good communication

As I’ve talked to business leaders, I have heard examples of vastly differing approaches that have been used to bring employees back to work.  Here are a few examples:

  • A C-level executive announced on social media that virtually all employees would continue working from home indefinitely, which would provide the benefit of a reduced carbon footprint for the company.  The social media post did not mention the other inputs and benefits that were considered in making this decision, which left the workforce to wonder whether their collaborative needs and individual circumstances had been given any attention.
  • Another organization commanded all its employees to return to the company’s workplace immediately when that state allowed re-opening, and it was hinted that all work-from-home employees had enjoyed nearly two months of “vacation.” 

I find myself curious as to what data supported either of these decisions.  How do organizations position themselves for success in the new workplace dynamic they have chosen?  What will the response be if there is another wave of coronavirus?  Certainly, employee communications should demonstrate leadership regard for the company culture and the needs of employees.  Leaders also need to determine how work processes have changed and how the organization will manage governance with the possible advent of a long-term work-from-home environment or other variations in workplace structure.

Even many well-aligned organizations may not have anticipated times like this, and all business leaders must face the realities of steering the organization in a way that will sustain it into the future.   Employers must carefully and thoughtfully navigate these unprecedented times, creating a safe and healthy workplace for employees, customers, and business affiliates, while simultaneously addressing impacts to strategy, goals and culture.

As we move an organization into its “new normal,” the business systems (HR, IT, operations, business data, processes, etc.) need to be aligned to support the company.  Diligent attention to the alignment of all six sides of the organization’s cube (structure, work, information and metrics, improvement, people and rewards, and leadership and culture) is essential.

Succeeding with a dramatically different workplace and a worried workforce

Consider the following to ensure the best possible outcome as we transition our organizations to meet post-COVID-19 challenges and help already-stressed employees acclimate to new policies and processes:

  • Make critical decisions now. The first decision should be to obtain the right data and be certain you are looking at it correctly.  This does not need to be overly complex; assemble your organization’s market data, environmental data, operational data, organization scorecards, etc. Assess that data to determine the key parameters, using a manageable number of data points for each leader or area of the organization.  In the end, your analysis should lead to something actionable and useful in driving key decisions in your organization.
  • Be thoroughly transparent with your process. Just as with organizational alignment, developing and implementing workplace strategies will require a high level of acceptance and commitment.  Utilize an interactive approach with as many of the organization’s subject matter experts as possible, rather than assembling a closeted, secretive group of leadership designees.   Do not underestimate the positive power of a large, cross-departmental team that understands the objectives and who can help lead the charge in implementing return-to-work, remote work, or workforce reduction decisions.
  • Be sure your workplace plan is complete. Does your plan provide for the required accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act?  Have you considered guidelines from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the CDC?  Your plan should include ways to mitigate risks under these and other laws and regulations, and you may need to develop new safety training protocols and an emergency communication plan.  It is highly possible that trained people will need to be in place to deal with mental health issues faced by employees dealing with the emotional fallout of COVID-19.
  • Do not remotely micromanage your team. Particularly in these trying times, an organizational leader could very quickly demoralize a team by issuing dictates from a home office to be implemented by employees working on site.  An HR leader at a large manufacturing facility recently mentioned that the corporate executive leadership across the country had no idea of the dynamics her location was facing.  Every community has been affected differently by this year’s events; and every organization needs to have the proper structure, information, metrics, and governance in place to operate effectively at each worksite.  Outside of basic health, sanitation, and safety policies, some workplace directives may need to be influenced by the local situation.  Engage the onsite management team in developing specific procedures and protocols that may be needed for that particular site and, if possible, visit the site to ensure that needs are being met.

As you look to the future, you can be sure that a well-managed plan will set a positive tone for the entire organization.  Keeping morale high through this next chapter of our business world will require upbeat leaders who understand how decisions made on one side of the organization’s cube will impact the other sides.  Having an aligned strategy will prove more important than ever before.