Leading Through a Crisis with Strength and Compassion

Tips to Modify Your Business Practices and Better Serve Your Talent


By: Adam Cottingham, Managing Director


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered our way of life and will have a long-lasting impact on all of us. While the health and well-being of family, friends and neighbors is always of utmost concern, it is also imperative to address both the short- and long-term economic ramifications. Sudden economic downturns can not only cripple companies financially, but also create doubt and uncertainty from both employees and customers. With so many variables and unknowns, it is important to focus on what we do know and how to best help American workers.


Many companies are facing vastly contrasting employment pictures. Immediate-risk industries such as retail, restaurants, transportation, entertainment, hospitality and personal services, which employed a total of 37.2 million people, or 23% of the total U.S. workforce, have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Workers have experienced swift and drastic changes to their employment status, suddenly finding themselves out of once stable jobs. They are also navigating new territory such as unemployment benefits and are unclear about when, or if, their situation will improve.


At the same time that these industries are slashing payrolls, other essential services such as grocery and healthcare and high-demand businesses including online retail, warehousing and delivery, are hiring. Many of these workers face different stresses, including health concerns for those in public-facing roles, which are often exacerbated for caregivers. They are also adjusting to new work requirements such as social distancing practices, increased hygiene requirements, temperature checks and in some cases, remote work.


Advice for Adjusting Business Practices


Until COVID-19 is eventually controlled, all industries are at risk of economic and reputational damage without swift and decisive action. Obtaining employee trust is critical to weather the storm and to do so requires a clear, transparent crisis plan. If you already have one in place, take the time to update it for COVID-19 and re-evaluate it frequently as the situation evolves. If not, now is the time to develop one that allows you to better manage this crisis with a clear and measured approach. 


In either case, below are some things to consider as you adjust your business practices to address this unique event.


Safeguard employees: Leading through difficult times is much harder than during prosperous ones, but companies that respond with compassion and understanding will have a lasting impact on their employees. Here are a few examples of what can be done to support employees, depending on your organization’s circumstances:

  • Assist employees in navigating benefits such as unemployment, healthcare and the CARES Act; consider extending paid sick leave benefits to those employees currently exempt

  • Protect employees who physically report to work by instituting and enforcing strict safety protocols and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed

  • Provide remote workers with the technical equipment and guidance they need to be productive in this new arrangement; encourage online connections with co-workers to help combat feelings of isolation

  • Forgive disruptions that are bound to occur as professional and personal worlds collide

  • Provide mental health services for employees under psychological stress


Empower managers: Constantly shifting circumstances will demand ongoing internal adjustments. Each day brings different challenges, such as new health and regulatory guidelines, internal layoffs and furloughs or abrupt changes in customer needs. Managers need to be resilient, flexible and agile, especially now. Here is how to help your managers, and if you are a manager, consider talking with your supervisors about these ideas:

  • Create a set of priorities and protocols that help managers make decisions based on clear and consistent parameters

  • Encourage managers to collaborate with colleagues to problem-solve difficult or unique challenges; for remote workers or those in separate offices, this may require setting up Zoom or Slack accounts

  • Foster open and consistent dialogue between managers and the executive team by providing honest, direct and judgement-free feedback

  • Lead with empathy by recognizing the increased pressures managers are facing as they respond to a fluid situation, often with less resources, while dealing with concerns at home


Communicate clearly: Transparency takes on new meaning during times of crisis, and being honest about what is known and what remains unknown can help instill trust and reduce rumors. Every company should have a crisis communication plan in place but here are a few points to consider relevant to COVID-19:

  • Stay informed of the latest information and guidelines from federal, state and local governments and communicate pertinent information to stakeholders, customizing the message based on audience

  • Minimize stress and panic by keeping the tone clear, concise and calm and offer solutions when possible

  • Determine a reasonable cadence and try to reach each audience on the platforms they prefer such as email, Facebook groups, Slack channels, etc.

  • Reinforce your culture by focusing on the organization’s core values and recognizing that some practices and perks may change because of this unique situation

  • Consider issuing a personal message from leadership, preferably in video, that addresses key concerns and offers a warm, empathetic “we’re here for you” message


While we are unsure how long this crisis will last, it remains imperative to plan for the future. This includes continuing career growth discussions with high-performing employees, maintaining close relationships with customers and developing long-range plans for operating in a changed world.


It is also critical to preserve and grow your talent pipeline so that you can quickly get back to business when things improve. If your organization needs talent today, or wants to plan for future needs, our network of executive search recruiters can help immediately. To learn more, visit us at www.touchpointpartners.com or contact me at acottingham@touchpointpartners.com.