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The pandemic lockdown left CBDs virtually deserted as workers turned to home offices - but some stayed behind.

1. Market Feedback

Intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on specific financial services sectors, not published by media. 

A. Settling in for the long haul

We’re hearing and seeing evidence you’re all now settled in for the long haul. Your decisions are less and less about this week and this month, and more and more about the next year or so. You’re factoring continue C19 impacts into planning, and you’re seeing, experiencing or acting with: generosity, a focus on engagement (in many different forms) and an eye on internal or industry politics and values mismatches.

While two of these things are good news, one is not.  

B. Generous thinking

We’re seeing a lot of generosity from businesses towards those you serve, your staff and even your competitors. Acts of selfless service are ‘out there’. Many clients are doing things that don’t bring any short-term commercial benefit but do ‘pay it forward’. Some freedom from thinking about commercials is required to do this – many of you are under immense cost pressure, and that’s starting to bite in the form of radically reduced budgets. But until then many of you, particularly those with a strong sense of purpose, have simply sought to help your clients, prospects, team, audiences and others.

Such camaraderie and generosity was evident among participants at a recent Blue Chip webinar on how to produce virtual events, where attendees were really happy to share their issues and successes with some 27 strangers. It’s not the only example of ‘we’re in it together’ we’ve seen recently but it is a typical example of what’s working right now to increase engagement via virtual platforms.

C. Politics & recriminations versus supportive behaviours & teamwork

We’re also seeing – but haven’t highlighted until now - how the pressure of COVID-19 has increased politics and some unpleasantness. This is particularly true where people have not been held accountable prior to C19 for poor performance or inappropriate behaviours.

Looking at this through a “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (Lencioni, 2002) lens there are identifiable characterises of teams where unhelpful behaviours flourish. They’re typically teams where peers don’t really trust each other, you tend to agree, people are not held to account for performance and behaviours, the team are not all equally committed, and there’s an inattention to results.

The preconditions for these issues – if you have them – were probably there pre-COVID19. Now it’s just that good performers are finding dysfunctional behaviour among colleagues less tolerable. It’s a warning to CEOs where there are tensions in the team: build trust, encourage healthy conflict, hold people accountable, expect real commitment, and focus on results as much now as you would any other time. Or teams will be more fragmented, not more united and productive.

2. Management responses

This section outlines how CEOs and their leadership teams are responding

A. Physical relocations: polar opposites but most in the middle

While you may think every business deserted their physical offices at one stage, there are some that never left. Typically these are smaller businesses or teams (eg family offices), or sole traders who decided their small workforce size (even though the actual company’s financial or capital size might be substantial) reduced their risk enough to be outweighed by the benefits of coming into the office.

They’ve been working away in splendid isolation in their offices, without the disruption of moving to work from home.

There are also some workers who will never return to the office. Or at least you’re still saying that now.

Most of us, however, are in the middle of a graduated return to the office, with biosecurity precautions. We expect this to continue in NSW unless we see a strong spike or second wave of COVID-19 cases.

B. Variance in how business is coping

We have observed three “moments” teams find yourselves in part due to the capability of both the leader and her or his direct reports. These are overlapping, not mutually exclusive, states. And many of you are seeking to stay in the good place through active management.

Those in “the good place” are focused and energised. You’ve found new capability and agility, and the leadership team has often found new cohesion because of forced adaptation. You’re worn out like many of us, but still quite energised and focused. Your next actions are clear, even if the outlook is not.

Then there are those of us who are tired and unfocused – and that’s almost all of us at some point. Some struggled after coping with the initial crisis, and now are facing the challenge of the medium and longer term consequences of the pandemic. Management may not be giving enough wayfinding signals, or you haven’t given yourself time out to rest, reflect and regroup.

Then there are those who are pulling apart: rather than working together, some businesses are letting politics and recrimination affect their response.

3. CEO guidance regarding coronavirus responses

This section provides our guidance on management and communication responses.

1. When to “hold” versus cite the vision

As CEO or the person crafting corporate messages, consider whether you are “holding” your staff metaphorically. Literally, this means sitting with another who is in distress. It’s something leaders must do in crisis, almost above offering a vision and communicating well. It should be done with stakeholders and staff alike. It’s evidenced by your ability to sit in discomfort and uncertainty for yourself and your people, and help them through it. It’s more about listening, acknowledging concerns, and reflecting what you hear rather than laying out a grand plan or giving certainty. This HBR article has more – it’s a powerful short read about the role of CEO in crisis and through recovery.

4. Appendix: How to help us help you

This briefing is collective intelligence gathered, anonymised and shared with you by my firm for the greater good. We’ve taken the view, based on client feedback, that the collective benefit to you all takes precedence over normal competitive pressures at a time like this.

This is an excerpt from one of our client COVID-19 CEO response briefings. For more COVID-19 response resources and guidance, visit our COVID-19 Response page

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here.

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