By Angela Civitella 

It came out of nowhere, blindsided all of us, cost millions of people their jobs and forced many companies out of business for good. In fact, from smaller shops all the way up to the Fortune 500, there is still so much talk, not only about the pandemic itself, but how it was handled.

The people at the top are the measuring stick when assessing leadership quality. They are the ones who take the credit when things go well and the same people who take the blame when things go poorly.

Hopefully, your leaders were prepared, managed to keep the company afloat, saved jobs and were even able to successfully pivot and navigate the obstacles during these unprecedented times. Whether your organization successfully managed to do this or not, hang on tight because we might have to do it again — really soon. A second wave of COVID-19 is predicted for later this year. Is your organization ready? Will you pass at managing the crisis? I can assure you that the grace shown to unprepared leaders during the initial crisis will not be granted again.

Now will be the time when leaders must demonstrate preparedness and continuity by showing adaptability and responding in a timely way to new information and challenges. Applying new data and analytics will happen, customer preferences and product/service experience will be revised to prolong supply chain disruptions and greater focus will be attributed to health and family issues affecting workforces. Leaders who did not have a “win” in the first round of COVID-19 will have a chance to build their organizational strength and combat to persevere this impending second round of infections.

How can leaders prepare? 

Developing a Business Stability Strategy

To ensure business continuity and resiliency, leaders must recognize the importance of cross-skilling and reskilling throughout the ranks. Developing a stability program is a critical way to ensure that leaders and teammates can be redeployed as needed, creating maximum continuity, adaptability and flexibility across the company.

A key component to ensure stability is making sure that strong leaders are in place to take the helm in their areas of expertise as well as in adjacent roles that require a similar skillset, if needed. By leveraging nuanced business knowledge, they can enhance stabilization. Preparing for the unexpected requires knowledge share among working leadership, making it easy for individuals to jump in and lend a hand.

Along with succession planning, the most resilient companies have always encouraged and applied these practices that are built into long-term plans with massive runways for training and upskilling. In our new reality where how we respond is time-sensitive, succession planning and leadership transfer become short-term cycles that must ensure business continuity as the pandemic creates more burnout, sickout and optout among people. Preparing means intentionally designating leaders to learn elements of adjacent business functions now so they are ready to lead, rather than learning on the fly.

Establishing a stability program also requires organizations to place new emphasis on the ability of workers and leaders to shift focus and operate effectively across roles and functions. Large corporations have been faced with redeploying a massive percentage of their employees into other areas that required damage and crisis control. The training protocol becomes whatever is required to fill the knowledge gaps between different departments and support duties to create a fluid transition period. This approach prioritizes training areas that drive business value and put employees to work where most needed.

The objective here is clear: redeploy individuals to key projects where they will learn new skills and operate in new roles. However, leadership is focused on preparing for the eventual return to business as usual. Do not miss the opportunity to build a simultaneous effort to cross train and reskill staff across multiple roles where capacity may be needed — in the advent of a second wave.

Now is the time to anticipate what functions in a business would require added help, and reinforce cross-training/skilling in those areas needed for a strong reserve bench. For example, during this pandemic, some companies found additional employees were needed to fill roles related to increased demand as well as changing products/services. But if the pandemic returns or reaches HR, even this will not be enough. Organizations at the forefront of reskilling and building a reserve corps may take the opportunity to have employees from areas like finance or innovation cross-trained for interviewing skills, so they can quickly pivot when the need arises.

Developing a Plan to Resiliency

Organizational tactics encouraged by leaders can go a long way in ramping up the reserve corps model within your company. Tolerating — and encouraging — additional attendees in remote meetings is one way to expand cross-training and on-the-job models across roles and functions. Without physical limitations of room size or psychological dynamics, inviting other people to a virtual meeting translates into a low-risk forum to spread knowledge and experience.

Other steps can include creating co-worker partnerships that allow peers to share knowledge and turn to an on-the-job buddy with questions. Trained employees can also be recruited to become mentors and often enhance training materials with their own practical knowledge.

This is a win-win for the business owners, leaders and team members. When called upon, well-trained individuals now have the functional knowledge to keep the business running, share new ideas that may not have been readily available before and boost productivity during a crisis — and beyond.

Angela Civitella is an executive, a business leadership coach and founder of Intinde.

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