As someone once said: “A most important role of leadership in a time of crisis is to plan for the next crisis.”
There will be another crisis. It may not be — and we hope it won’t be — as devastating as COVID-19. The next crisis may be a product recall, a class action law suit, an internet security breach, a sexual harassment complaint or a public relations gaff. While the chief learning officer has a key role to play during a crisis with ongoing employee development activities, new employee onboarding and helping employees deal with remote workplace issues, it is as the crisis winds down that she must be prepared to work with the leadership team and take action to help the organization get back, not to the new normal but, “to the new better.”
Needed: A Crisis Action Assessment
Effective learning and development leaders need to be a positive influence on the imperative of assessing the organization’s performance during the crisis. They need to make it clear that this is not a once in a generation event that can be easily dismissed.
- Since it is reasonable to assume there will be another crisis in the organization’s future, it is important to learn how to handle the next one better.
- It is quite possible that certain key things have changed during the crisis that make it impossible to return to “the good old days.” To the contrary we should be looking to “the better new days.”
- Learning professionals will know what workplace adjustments crafted during the crisis had a salutary effect on productivity and employee satisfaction.
Macro Process Decisions
At the outset the leadership team needs to determine the composition of the assessment groups.
- Does an all-hands meeting work for your organization?
- Should the meeting only include a representative sample of each department?
- Is the unique culture of each business unit such that smaller department unit meetings will generate better results?
Meeting Process Issues
- Where possible the meeting should be co-facilitated by the business leader and a learning professional, a person who has received facilitation skills training or been coached by a learning and development professional.
- Working together the leader and facilitator should craft an agenda and a series of open-ended questions for the meeting (see sample questions below).
- Determine the length of the meeting based upon the number of attendees and the number of questions. Two to four hours are typical for an assessment meeting.
- Send the agenda and the questions to the participants in advance of the meeting.
- Ask for a volunteer to serve as scribe for the meeting whose role is to take notes on the key issues covered, significant conclusions and consensus recommendations.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- Manage the flow of the meeting to ensure you have sufficient time to highlight and gain a consensus on the conclusions and recommendations.
- Convert the recommendations into concrete actionable objectives; for example, “appoint a crisis action liaison person in each business unit whose role is to manage the two-way communication between senior leadership and the unit and between the unit, other business units and key stakeholders.”
- Conduct a brief discussion or distribute a form asking for feedback on the value of the crisis action assessment.
- Send a summary of the meeting, including key findings and recommendations, to the participants, senior leadership and other stakeholders.
Sample Crisis Assessment Questions
- What were our goals during this time?
- To what extent did we achieve our goals?
- What changed over time?
- What worked well?/What could have gone better/What didn’t work at all?
- What should do the next time we are hit with a crisis?
- What things that we did during this time worked so well we should incorporate them into our work process, procedures or norms going forward?
- What personal issues or lessons — e.g., work-family balance, technology, productivity, collaboration — did you experience during this time?
Learning and development professionals, in concert with the leadership team, have key roles to play both during and as the impact of a crisis winds down. They can be positive influence leaders who help people learn from the experience, integrate new processes and workplace norms that help achieve both near term organizational effectiveness and preparation for a future crisis.
For more on leadership in a time of crisis, see Michael P. Parker and Glenn M. Parker, Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self (HRD Press, 2020).