How to lead organisations during Covid-19 pandemic

Tuesday April 7 2020

Brian Mukalazi

Brian Mukalazi 

By Brian Mukalazi

At the time of writing this, there have been 52 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Uganda with no deaths yet recorded from the disease. As a result of the preventive measures taken by government, serious interruptions, chaos and disruptions to business and people have been noted.

Clearly, the main emphasis is and should be on containing and mitigating the disease itself. But the economic impacts are also significant, and are creating great challenges for leaders at all levels and organisations of all sizes. The actions and reactions of executives and their teams now in the midst of this crisis, will significantly determine their fate. Leaders have the uphill task of navigating rough waters deftly, saving lives, energising organisations, and inspiring communities.

According to Prof Dutch Leonard, a crisis management expert at Harvard Business School, there are two fundamental distinctions of crisis events - routine emergency events and true crisis events. In routine emergency situations, a well trained and well-resourced organisation, which has seen similar events in the past, may already have a set of parameters or solutions in place to counter the crisis.
On the other hand, a true crisis event (like the Covid-19 pandemic) is constituted by a situation in which you have not had a great deal of familiarity and there are significant elements of novelty to it. In other words, there are no existing procedures for how to fundamentally tackle the challenges.

Leaders need to set up Covid-19 crisis management teams. The crisis team should be a tailored group of senior executives, managers, and staff within the organisation that shall convene to control or contain the crisis. All the work force in the organisation ranging from lowest to the highest-ranking executives, should be duly represented on this team because of the different concerns they each face.
In the current circumstances, where people are mostly required to work from home, the crisis teams shall have to devise effective means of communication and coordination. They need to take advantage of the digital communication tools like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp, among others. It is also vital for organisations to design effective communication strategies. In today’s 24/7 digital world, information travels extremely fast and it is, therefore, imperative to get your message right the first time or your organisation may suffer severe consequences.

Crises are typically confusing situations characterised by rumours, half-truths, and misleading information and the ugly truth is that in the court of public opinion, a person or organisation is guilty until proven innocent. Therefore, organisations should properly exploit social media and other platforms to communicate with the public, share information with partners, and to keenly monitor events as they unfold.
Leaders should ensure business continuity and survival at all costs. Managing crises like Covid-19 is similar to running from a lion; one does not need to run faster than the lion, just run faster than the next person. Thus, strategies should be devised based on creativity, rapid innovativeness, resilience and the ability to solve real-time problems.
In these kinds of difficult circumstances, leaders on one hand need to be brutally honest about what is happening and what the circumstances are, but they also need to offer a rational basis for hope towards the people they lead.

Mr Mukalazi is the country director,
Every Child Ministries Uganda.