In the business world, different groups of people are assigned labels. You have owners, shareholders, executives, partners, management, and employees. You have strategic business partners, vendors, and customers. Customers could be businesses (B2B) or consumers (B2C). Even in the nonprofit sector, you have charitable organizations, donors, and volunteers.
What do each of these groups have in common? They’re all people. Regardless of their title, responsibility, or salary, they’re human. Regardless of the size of the organization, decisions are ultimately made by people, and those decisions are heavily influenced by human relationships.
As easy as it can be to generalize and lump people into categories, every organization is a person-to-person (P2P). Every relationship is P2P. Although we’re relying heavily on technology to communicate during the coronavirus pandemic, our personal relationships and the human element have never been more important.
When Empathy Matters
To investigate and apply for loans and check the status of stimulus checks, people often try online services first due to convenience. Unfortunately, they often become frustrated because they don’t know which options are right for them or how to get answers.
The fact is, machines and bots are incapable of listening to people explain their situation and empathizing with people who may have lost a loved one. When a small business is faced with the very real possibility of closing permanently, they need to speak with a human, not type messages back and forth with a bot.
When an urgent problem needs solving, people turn to people, especially when emotions are involved.
Our team at Prager Metis has spoken to hundreds of customers who are applying for loans and grants. Many are in difficult if not desperate situations. The amount of human resources required to decipher the programs introduced by the government, clarify certain information internally, and communicate this information to clients in a meaningful way has been enormous.
Just like human loan officers, our team has taken the time to listen to the concerns of our clients and empathize as they share the challenges they’re facing – physically, emotionally, or economically. No machine or algorithm could have done this. In a crisis situation, you need people helping people.
When Relationships and Trust Matter
From a business perspective, listening to your team, supporting their ideas, and helping them pursue their passions shouldn’t be limited to times of crisis. When you establish a culture in which people are valued, you earn your team’s confidence and cultivate the kinds of relationships that make a crisis more manageable.
If people believe they’re viewed as expendable assets, do you think people will work hard for you under normal circumstances? If you have to reduce salaries but increase workloads during a crisis, this negative environment will only get worse.
At Prager Metis, we’ve been forced to make a number of difficult decisions. Some team members have been furloughed let go. Ownership and team members have taken pay reductions and/or deferments. At the same time, many people are working harder than ever. This is happening across the entire industry.
To be clear, this hasn’t been easy. Because people are our top priority, making decisions that affect people in a negative way is always a last resort. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t pay people if we’re not getting paid. However, the relationships and trust we’ve built, both internally and externally, are getting us through this crisis.
Clients are expecting us to work harder because they need more advice during tough times, even though many can’t afford to pay for those services. This creates a ripple effect that touches everyone.
Of course, not everyone is happy. Many people maintain a positive attitude, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that people don’t like to be told that that they have to take a pay cut and they’ll be expected to work harder. Some take certain decisions personally. It’s human nature for people to react differently.
The key is to treat people with respect and dignity before, during, and after a crisis because those relationships will ultimately determine how successfully your organization will emerge from the crisis.
Every Day Cannot Be Consumed by Crisis
Even if you’re not directly affected by COVID-19, the combination of 24/7 news coverage, constant posting on social media, and overall anxiety and uncertainty make it virtually impossible to fully escape the pandemic. However, allowing your people to be totally consumed by crisis isn’t helpful.
Just like parents are trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for their kids at home, business leaders should look towards the future and recognize that the crisis will eventually end.
Your people should be doing the same things as before the crisis as much as possible. If you were pursuing a merger before the crisis, you should continue to pursue a merger. If you were working on a plan to help a client achieve financial security, you should continue to develop that plan.
The goals you had before the crisis shouldn’t change. There might be different obstacles to overcome and you might have to adjust the strategy, but it’s important to stay focused on achieving those goals for your clients, your team, and your organization.
Preparing for the End of the Crisis
Just like people should be your top priority heading into a crisis, people should be your top priority coming out of a crisis. You need to provide them with a safe environment and recognize that it will take time to overcome the fear and uncertainty created by the pandemic.
Will you need to take the temperature of each person as they enter the office? How will they be affected by public transportation? Should you plan to stagger people’s hours to maintain social distancing? Should you provide each person with sanitizer and wipes? Will you need to adjust your remote working policy?
Beyond logistics in the workplace, leadership should be taking the time to understand each team member’s reality and provide the support they need. For each person who is enjoying extra time with family, another person is spending months alone in a small studio apartment. Another is married to a first responder who enters a life-threatening environment every single day.
The people with whom you interact each day are exactly that. They’re people. While it’s natural to label and categorize them based on different factors, never lose sight of the human element. Every relationship and interaction is person-to-person. Build bridges with the people who you expect to be there for you. More importantly, be there for them.