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How to Sustain Business Excellence During COVID-19

You probably feel like me. The business you’re part of is all about excellence. In thinking and doing. In all aspects - from R&D to Customer Success and every unit and employee in between. Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink how to sustain business excellence in this unprecedented time of crisis.

By: Gal Rimon, Founder & CEO, Centrical

How to Sustain Business Excellence During COVID-19

You probably feel like me. The business you’re part of is all about excellence. In thinking and doing. In all aspects – from R&D to Customer Success and every unit and employee in between. Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink how to sustain business excellence in this unprecedented time of crisis.

Companies and their employees are under high stress right now. Just look at the massive shifts in where employees work and what they’re doing today versus a few weeks ago. Given that, I thought it would be useful to speak with Dr. Eyal Ronen, an award-winning organizational psychologist who helps companies grow by helping them to find ways to optimize their employees’ capabilities. I share his insights with you here.

His first observation: what was mission critical before the pandemic forced how businesses operate is not mission critical today. Corporate priorities have changed, dramatically. So too have the day-to-day responsibilities and tasks of employees.

To understand, let’s look at a contact center for an airline. The nature and number of calls changed with COVID-19. There was likely a shift from phone calls to chat. Further, the number of upset customers that customer service agents are dealing with is much higher than before the health crisis. Another example: a retailer of wireless phone services and devices. There probably isn’t a big demand for plans that let consumers use their phones in another country, so tele-salespeople are promoting something else that might not move them to their bonus quite as quickly.

Key on KPIs that matter

For those and other situations, to help employees sustain excellent performance you need to help them to focus on what matters most now. Shift their KPIs but also limit the number to keep their focus sharp. That doesn’t mean removing the KPIs from employees performance goals. Instead, find a way to hide the less critical ones so those that are key are up front and in focus. In fairness, it makes sense to adjust those “usual” KPIs too so they’re aligned with the reality they’re working in. Reducing average handle time or other typical metrics need to be reevaluated in the context of this crisis.

Communicate continuously, bi-directionally

If you think agents are weary after a shift under normal circumstances, imagine how they are now. That is why conversations are extremely necessary in the days we’re living in. To literally keep spirits up, employees must trust their leaders. Nothing wipes away doubt, nothing builds confidence in a manager more than when there is continuous communications that are truly bi-directional in nature. Between manager and employees, on a team-level or, and this is important, individually. One-on-one, personalized communications can spell the difference between employees doing their best or doing nothing. Dr. Ronen observed that when employees worked at a company facility absenteeism was a matter of not being there physically. Since they’re working from home, absenteeism now takes the form of not being on the job mentally or even emotionally. Basically, being disengaged.

Focus and fun are both needed

The real challenge to sustaining business excellence is to find a way to keep a sustained focus for employees. Few of us are used to working remotely. It’s all new and cause for a whole lot of uncertainty. Add to that the myriad distractions employees did not have to worry about while working on-site, but now do at home: Barking dogs, quarreling children, and a host of things that can take even those with amazing powers of concentration a hard thing to get used to. All that zigging and zagging wears even the most dedicated employees down. So give them a moment of fun. Kind of an afternoon pick-me-up in the form of a daily challenge, a game, really. It can be a quiz to see how much employees know about keeping themselves well and in a positive frame of mind. Done right, you can learn who’s gotten involved, who knows their stuff, and who did the quiz and who didn’t. All good reasons to follow-up and have supportive one-on-ones.

Manage information overload and anxiety 

A real problem for you and your employees is information overload; their usual communications channels are flowing out of control with lots of stuff that’s plainly incorrect. And there’s a real possibility your employees filters aren’t at their usual quality. You can help them by orchestrating communications from a single source over multiple vehicles. Let them get company updates from management and developments in containing COVID-19 from real health authorities. And as a manager, you need to communicate with them frequently and predictably. Dr. Ronen reminded me we humans tend to be creatures of habit. With frequent, predictable communications, anxiety levels won’t rise. In fact, they’ll likely diminish.

Have a closed loop to help everyone 

I see reskilling and upskilling going on at lots of organizations prompted by shifting roles brought on by the pandemic. If you expose employees to bite-sized training content that can be absorbed and adopted quickly but don’t see if they’ve completed the learning activity, let alone apply it in practice, it’s as if they had no training at all. Communications and learning activities intended to nurture sustained business excellence needs to have a built-in closed loop, one that allows for self-reflection by employees and feedback by managers. It will help everyone involved.

Train well and fast

In this time of crisis, things are happening fast. So your reskilling, upskilling, and, in the case of new employees, newly hired or assigned, onboarding, must happen fast. Just-in-time training needs to be the mindset. And the approach needs to be one that presents training quickly and easily so it gets embraced quickly, in the flow-of-work, and as quickly applied.

Overcome isolation with motivation

Lastly, you have to be attuned to employees’ sense of isolation. They’ve been disconnected from so much. Their place of work, who they work with, and everything wonderful about the human interactions have all changed. Now that it’s been shifted you need to be a truly excellent manager, one who’s able to motivate, focus, and improve employees’ spirits, performance, sense of team, sense of self, and their drive for excellence on a sustained basis. No matter how long we all must contend with this pandemic.

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