We’re living and working through unprecedented times. As COVID-19 forces changes on everything from processes to production, we’re learning that we, too, can change with the times.

This current crisis has exposed probably the biggest global impact—in some cases positive and other cases negative—on the global economy. It also has brought out the best in all of us to rise to the challenge and lead.

Whether we lead small teams or large teams, we are faced with making quick decisions and remaining flexible to change at a moment’s notice. I believe there will be a few different stages of this pandemic. If we prepare for them, we will come out better leaders and better equipped to move our organizations forward.

Most of us in our careers have been faced with crisis in some shape or form. Mine certainly has. What lessons we take from those and how we apply them now will empower us to make better decisions for our teams and our organizations. These are my five tips on how to lead in crisis.

Tip 1: Be Ready to Shift

As we went through the early stages of COVID-19, we learned just how important it is to be ready to shift priorities. Most CIOs who work for global companies saw the effects of this as early as last year. Although we watched as it happened “somewhere else,” it got us ready to think about preliminary steps we could take if this crisis were to meet us at our doorstep.

The reality is that even if a crisis doesn’t reach you personally, it can still affect your organization. Whether you work with a global supply chain or you have global customers, you need to be prepared to make changes—immediately. And you need to know the ripple effects of those changes, both in the short and long term.

Have a plan in place, but remain flexible. Think about the ways in which you can keep production going without access to all the different moving parts of your business. It’s like a game of chess; you just need to be steady, ready, and strategic.

Tip 2: Be Productive

For a couple of months now, our “business as usual” has faced disruption. For a few, productivity has significantly increased, and for some it has come to a complete halt. That should not be a license to stop being productive altogether. The economy will eventually pick back up, and businesses will need to be at the ready to be productive in the “new normal.” What will that look like and what will be required?

I have always said that the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. It’s likely that statement is not really true, for change also changes.

We need to be ready to change and will perhaps require some imagination. You need to know the processes that will likely change as a result of new norms—whether that’s implementing social distancing or adopting cloud applications. Use this time to think outside the box and reimagine what productivity looks like. This is especially true for the information services/information technology (IS/IT) teams charged with keeping both table stakes and strategy at the forefront of decision-making.

I’ve heard some people say they’ve taken this opportunity for self-reflection. They have found that some extra time perhaps not spent traveling has allowed them to be more productive in other parts of their personal life or work. Find those opportunities. Stay productive. Think of solutions to potential problems down the road.

Tip 3: Be Collaborative

I’ve read several articles about communication being the key to success right now. And although I agree, I think it goes without saying that collaboration is just as important. Talk often and be ready and willing to work together to solve problems.

We are all learning how to deal with this pandemic. As we have experienced, even with the best disaster recovery and business continuity plans in place, things can and will go wrong. Even with being able to set up our teams to work remotely, connectivity can fail. Work together to discuss plan B, plan C, and possibly plan D. We really are all in this together.

And as you look to the future, think about what collaboration looks like. What processes and tools are working well now, and where do you need to perhaps upgrade? What technology can enable a more efficient, effective, and collaborative environment? What support is needed and how will it be implemented and made available? Who is tasked with maintaining and upgrading? Have a checklist of what is needed and why it’s needed, and then have a plan of how you’re going to get there.

Tip 4: Be Creative

COVID-19 has thrown all of us for a loop. The headlines are changing every day. Sometimes, it seems business is also changing daily. As we wait to learn more about the availability of testing, vaccines, and therapeutics, we need to get creative with how we proceed with operations.

IS/IT teams are uniquely positioned to lead that charge. This will be even more important as we get into some of the later stages of this pandemic. You’ve done your part with getting the technology stack up and running. Everyone has their PCs and remote access. But now what? What’s next?

Are you thinking about how to leverage the technology you already have and using it to its full potential? Perhaps this goes hand in hand with collaboration and reaching out to your vendors or partners and asking what else can be done. It is now more important than ever to get creative.

Tip 5: Be a Leader

This is perhaps the most important tip I can share. Simply put, be a leader. Listen, share, act, and be present. Your teams are depending on you to lead, and you need to do it with confidence.

Being a leader doesn’t just mean delegating a plan and walking away. Be intentional with the meetings you set. Be aware of other peoples’ circumstances. Be human with your interactions. I have people on my teams who never felt comfortable being on camera but now look forward to our Microsoft Teams calls just so they can see everyone else. It matters. And no one cares if you’re wearing a T-shirt and haven’t had your hair cut in months. What matters is that you are present.

Being a leader means you are encouraging and promoting the ability to be agile, the ability to be productive, the ability to be collaborative, and the ability to be creative. Take the charge and run with it.

If you have a question and/or have other suggestions, please reach out to undercovercio@asug.com. If you’re an executive and an ASUG member, join us for our Executive Exchange Virtual Summit on May 13, 2020 or for one of our upcoming virtual roundtables.

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