Lead with Empathy and Help Your Employees Thrive in a Pandemic

What do you think most people would be grateful for during a global health pandemic?

Well, among the 25 business coaching clients that I’ve coached over the past four weeks, the common threads have been good health, a job, and having family close.

However, several of those employees who work at the software company Solana expressed gratitude for not only having a job but also being able to work at a company that deeply cares for them and for their community.

That’s because Solana CEO, Doug Nafziger, and the entire Solana leadership team has made it a habit before the pandemic to treat every employee with respect, empathy, kindness, and compassion, with a focus on measurably high expectations and performance. That’s why it was only natural that once the stay-at-home order was issued due to COVID-19, he took pen to paper and started writing weekly letters to his employees.

Doug has been sharing the letters with me and I have been blown away, even moved to tears. It’s as if Doug pulled out a manual called How to Lead Your Employees Through a Global Pandemic. Each letter is curated in a manner that feels extremely personal to the reader - making them feel safe, secure, included, like they matter, and giving them a deep sense of purpose through giving back to others. It’s clear that Doug wanted to convey to his employees that he and his entire leadership team will collaboratively help each employee find a clear path forward.

After reading four letters thus far, I believe everyone can learn from the empathy-based patterns I see within each one of Doug’s letters. So, I’m writing this blog in an effort to encourage other leaders in organizations to lean in, take notes, and to learn how to lead employees through a crisis.

Here are the key takeaways:

1. Talk to your employees like they are your family: Whether you are writing a letter, recording a video, or sharing via podcast, start your communication as if you are talking to a close family member or a great friend. It’s critical to start in a warm and inviting way.

Doug writes: Our first full week apart is soon coming to a close and while we are doing right by our customers, it certainly feels a bit strange, don’t you think?

NOTE: If you did not speak like this before a crisis, simply pick a delivery style that fits your voice, then have someone you know and trust to warm it up for you.

2. Address the crisis: Discuss what is actually going on. Don’t shy away from discussing the difficult nature of the crisis. However, you can humanize the issue and express how you feel about it. Then, share a fact or two about the issue from a credible source, share your credible sources, and then weigh in on it with your own feelings, and how each employee should take care of themselves and their wellbeing.

Doug writes: We know that our best way to combat this is to remain at home, stay clean, care for our families, and do our work well. The simplicity of this is overwhelming. And we can do this.

3. Be transparent about your company’s finances and how it personally affects them: Be open and honest about where your company stands financially. Speak to them as if they are a board member, but make it personal to the employee so that they know how they will be personally impacted.

After sharing factual evidence of Solana’s solid financial metrics ...

Doug writes: We want you to know that Solana has the financial footing to weather this storm, so please feel at ease that your job is intact, secure, and incredibly important.

PS: Seriously, can’t you just hear every employee breathe a sigh of relief?

4. Remind everyone that you are a team, and that team includes their families: In a crisis, it’s not only important to know that you can rely upon one another but that the team also includes the employees’ children, spouses, loved ones, and pets.

Doug writes: We may have a different set of “co-workers” that now include spouses, significant others, kids, pets. Remember, if you need anything, please ask your manager. We will be strong for each other.

5. Encourage your employees to remember your customers: In business, everyone has customers. It’s important in times of crisis to lean in and learn their pain points. Where do the customers need help? Encourage your employees to listen, empathize, and be problem solvers.

Doug writes: Continue to walk in the shoes of our customers. We should focus on their needs, empathize with how they now need to serve a population of people completely under their care, and recognize that a few kind words will simply make their day. That goes for each other, too.

6. Make a way for your employees to help their families and friends in need: Once you help your employees deal with their immediate needs and make them feel good, secure, and like they matter, they will have room to help others. In fact, they’ll feel motivated to do so. Research what’s available at your company or through community resources. Do all that you can to help them help others.

Doug writes: In the event you have a friend or family member that may need help, we are adding this to the reasons you can borrow from the Solana Sharing program.

7. Make a way for your employees to help the businesses in their communities: In times of crisis, most businesses will suffer. Research ways your employees can give back to these businesses to allow for your employees to feel good about giving back in any way they can.

Doug writes: [Small business is going to be negatively impacted by this pandemic and Solana’s values supporting and developing resilient communities.] Solana wants to help. Every week for the next month, we ask those who choose to order takeout/delivery food… from a local restaurant… Solana will reimburse you up to $35 weekly.

Watch this 13abc Toledo news clip about this!

Not every company is financially secure. That’s why, as the leader of your organization, you will do your employees good to help them help themselves and to help others. Research what’s available through your United Way or other helping organizations, and share that information with your employees.

Be sure to communicate with your employees as often as possible and make it a point to close every communication with words like, “[YOUR COMPANY NAME] is here to support you,” and, “Make the best choices for you and your families,” and, “Please be a force for good.”

It’s no wonder that through this pandemic Solana’s employees have already made two

important, COVID-driven, innovative adjustments for their customers. One, they built reporting to help providers track human interactions of individual clients or staff members to trace possible exposure. And two, they addressed the growing demand for both payroll services and billing services. That’s what happens when you have a CEO that leads with empathy.

I’ll close this with one final word of advice that Doug gave his employees, and that is “slowing down, breathing deeply, and thinking empathetically is a crucial and valuable way to begin making a difference.”

I hope these tips were useful.

Are you interested to learn how you can lead your employees with empathy so that they too can thrive through this pandemic?

Join Doug Nafziger and me for a FREE LIVE ZOOM call on Wednesday, April 29, 8a.m. EST

Send an email to diana@dianarpatton.com to register.

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