With (as of this writing) two vaccines being distributed, we are talking about getting back to normal. In fact, my wife heard some medical experts say that we should be back to normal around this time next year.
This time Next year.
THIS TIME NEXT #$?@&!% YEAR!?!?
What does this mean (other than that I really need to wash my favorite mask)? For me, it means that what I thought was going to be a short-lived event, well, isn’t going to be so short lived. Now c’mon, I know I am not the only one, especially here in Texas, that thought we’d be through this by the first of June. I mean the virus is tough but tougher than a Texas Summer? I was wrong. You read it here first – I was wrong about something. One thing I am not going to be wrong about is that as this continues, we have to shift our mindsets, especially as it relates to how we manage our greatest asset – our people.
Unemployment is looking slightly better – we are currently at 6.7 percent. The fact that unemployment hovering near 7% is a positive is a sign of just what we are going through.
Let us not forget that for April, it was 14.7 percent. Let that sink in. 14.7 percent.
It was 4.4 percent in March. Of course, we all know what happened in March, a phenomenon we in HR call “All Hell Breaking Loose.” We didn’t know what we were dealing with, if we are honest most of us, myself included, were in denial, and then it hit us like a ton of bricks and things started slowing down. We began adjusting, and hence unemployment started trending down.
Yes, we are well south of 6 percent, but 6 months ago we were more than twice that. The thing is, we ain’t through it yet. We are still in the midst of a crisis, and we need to manage in such a way that we can not only survive, but be poised to thrive when this is all over.
And this means ensuring that you have the right people, and you are doing what you can to keep them. Truth be told, I doubt most people who are currently employed are looking to jump ship just yet, but this thing will be over sooner or later, and when it does, there is going to be a hiring frenzy. Your long term strategy should not involve backfilling those key positions that you were able to hold onto during this mess. I’m not saying you won’t need to ramp up, but there is a difference between ramping up and starting from scratch.
So what does this COVID employment strategy look like right now? For me, it is transparency. Everyone talks about communication, and that is important, don’t get me wrong, but propaganda is communication too. Transparency is saying “look, things are tight. We are doing everything we can to try and maintain as much of a semblance of normalcy as we can, but the fact is, revenues are down. New prospects are low as well. Everyone needs to do more with what they have. Raises may not happen this year, or they may not be as generous as in the past. Bonuses, well, no. But we are doing this and this and this to ensure that we are stable. We are doing this and this to drive more revenue. We are cutting costs in these areas and renegotiating rates here and here so that:
a) We can retain as many of your jobs as we can, and
b) We will be poised to hit the ground running and beat our competition to an incomprehensible pulp when things do settle down – and the better the company does, the better we will all do.
In a blog post, and his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” Ben Horowitz references the difference between a Wartime CEO and a Peacetime CEO. He points out that leading during peace is very different than leading during war. When we are at peace, it is important to look at broad creativity and diverse ideas. In other words, look for ways to expand your business. When we are at war, to quote from the post: “the company typically has a single bullet in the chamber and must, at all costs, hit the target. The company’s survival in wartime depends upon strict adherence and alignment to the mission.” In other words, we don’t have time to dick around. We don’t have the resources to dick around. This applies to all strategies, including your Human Capital strategy.
But proceed with caution, that “strict adherence and alignment to the mission” could backfire if your team, and by team, I am referring to those who have proven themselves to be indispensable during this time, don’t understand why the shift in priorities. You can argue that they know what is going on as much as anyone, and should naturally understand why you are taking the measures that you are, but I think that is an unwise approach. As quoted earlier, the company has a single bullet in the chamber, you don’t want that one bullet to backfire on you.
So, while we are at war, this will come to an end. Wars always do. And I believe wholeheartedly that when it is all said and done, those who changed their strategies to align with the environment, made the tough decisions, and put in the work will be better suited when peacetime does finally roll around.
If you are interested, check out the blog post here: https://a16z.com/2011/04/14/peacetime-ceowartime-ceo-2/ Just don’t get too interested. It isn’t near as enlightening as a blog about HR…