Ten Lessons I am learning through the Corona Crisis

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I can’t really say I have already figured it all out since I am still living through it and learning (and fumbling) in real time . But in the spirit of “agile”, I thought I will share what I have so far and see what I can learn from you .

1. Nothing is more important than your people

Literally nothing should worry you more than the health and safety of your people – your family , your team , your clients etc . Making sure of that should continue to stay on top of the to-do list .

A big part of caring for your people is for you to stay calm ! I am seeing all across my network where teams are frustrated because their leaders are not watching out for them , or are directionless . Don’t be that kind of leader !

2. Productivity should not be the biggest concern right now

I have always had a big interest in improving personal productivity . So it’s a bit weird for me to tell anyone to not worry about it 🙂

We are all doing this work from home thing for the first time where everyone else is also working from home . Our houses , our routines , our families – nothing was designed for what we are going through now . We will make a good playbook by the time we get out of it – but for now , just cut yourself the slack you and your family need to stay healthy mentally and physically .

The truth is – we are all working way more now than we attended office every working day . It’s usually just false panic that productivity is falling . The one exception is those companies who had poor BCP and couldn’t enable WFH for their employees . Whatever the case , we know from history that our productivity will go up and catchup quickly once we get over the temporary obstacles .

3. Attention spans are alarmingly low

It’s probably a natural reaction to the many distractions that we are facing and a feeling that there are more things to worry about than usual . But knowing this is true – we can all be more effective by being more focused when we are on video conferences etc . I no longer do anything more than 15 mins with clients at a time and even then 10 mins are spent on making sure they are doing well .

Some meetings do need more time for sure – like workshops. For those – I suggest using multiple breaks . And even for those – two hours is probably thirty mins too much . Facilitating a workshop online needs more overhead – and don’t skimp on it . You may need someone to control the webex , another to progress slides and a third to take notes .

4. Change how you create and use slides and emails

“Less is more” is even more true today . Use absolutely minimum colors and ideally no animation . Everything looks more awkward and distracting when watching on web meetings than your worst fears .

What I do now is to write emails with the context upfront and then use two or three slides in the meeting where we need to get to a decision . Those emails need to be super clear and if they are not – they do more harm than good . Let go of your pride and have them reviewed by a colleague if you are not sure .

5. Make use of slack and texts and so on way more than you usually do

I have had a zero inbox policy for a long time and it is helping me a lot now . I know not everyone does it for their own good reasons . For the sake of survival of all humanity through these hard times – pls reduce email traffic and use slack and texts and phone calls for things that need short back and forth . And I highly recommend increasing the usage of box and share files that way .

6. Don’t sell hard , just solve problems for your clients

In the IT industry – consultants and analysts routinely complain about the “cost cutting” focus of clients . Well – stop that right now ! Everyone needs to cut costs now .

It’s the worst time to sell them on utopian ideas with benefits coming over a very long term . Work with clients to understand what you can do to help with their current problems and offer solutions that deliver significant value quickly , even if it delays your own gratification to the future . Having lived through such problems in the past – I know for a fact that they remember who stood by them and who tried to squeeze them for more when they were down .

Also remember that even if your solution is truly a transformation – you have to be very careful what you call it . My tip – call it what the client wants to call it . Remember they have to sell it to their bosses etc too !

7. Physical distancing is great , social distancing sucks

“social distancing” as a term is here to stay and I am no longer trying to get people to call it “physical distancing”. It’s like “on premise” vs the more correct “on premises” – that boat sailed a long time ago . We need to stay even more connected than we ever did in the past .

Do both team calls and one on one calls . Some questions will not get raised in public depending on the level of trust , company culture etc . Your job as leader is to give as many good answers as you can give to the people who have questions . When you don’t know – tell them you don’t know .

For larger team calls – I start with what I am seeing in the world , then narrow it down by geography , industry , company and finally to the team itself . From the feedback so far – I think that’s a format that seems to work well .

8. Don’t worry about being thorough

Given the nature of fast change we are facing – it’s easier to learn from each other in short intervals than trying to wait a long time to get to a perfect answer . We do twice weekly catchups now for leadership teams and cascade our learnings . We – often comically – change our mind within the same week because of this 🙂

9. Take care of yourself

Some days you are the top dog and other days you are the fire hydrant . I have swung up either extremes these past few days itself . It’s a lot more difficult to deal with stress when you don’t have a water cooler, Starbucks or bar to go to with your friends .

For me, this means I am cooking way more dinners these days than I ever did . I take my dog for a walk more regularly . I play cards online with my friends from college most days at night – and it is way more fun than I remember from the time we did it our hostel rooms . And I continue to listen to Carnatic music every chance I get .

10. Business is not evenly distributed like your spreadsheet might tell you – you have to trust your team

Most leaders – me included – pride themselves in their ability in making decisions bu balancing between abstract aggregated information and specifics about exceptions . What I am quickly learning is that now that I am stuck at home – my ability to personally verify every exception is much more limited now . Operational reality on the ground is always different from what aggregated spreadsheet inferences tell you . You need to trust your people close to action even more now and similarly tell them what you are seeing at the aggregated level .

Think about cost cutting for example . If you look at the trend and tell all your leaders that all of them need to cut their hiring by 50% – you probably will hurt your business more than you will help . Business is usually not evenly distributed beyond your aggregated spreadsheet . Work with your team to explain what is needed – assure them that we are all in this together and they won’t be punished for doing the right thing . Let them negotiate with you and their peers and come back with a solution . Top down solutions which are forced on a team don’t work most of the time in my experience . It’s on you as their leader to help revise their metrics to make sure it’s relevant for the times we live in . And similarly we need to have faith in our leaders that they will do the right thing . Otherwise we won’t get out of this without considerable grief .

Stay safe everyone !

(Cross-posted @ Vijay’s thoughts on all things big and small)