The standard corporate social responsibility (CSR) playbook is no longer working. Consumers, employees, and other stakeholders want companies that see social good as a core mission, not just a marketing strategy. There are several things your organization can do to meet this challenge. First, identify a specific goal or vision for your company. Avoid pursuing pet projects of individual leaders. Instead, use a thoughtful and intentional process to identify which issues your company is currently contributing to and is best equipped to address. Form working groups with representatives from your various stakeholders to fully explore the impact of the company’s actions. Done right, these working groups can inform your strategic priorities, help leaders make tough decisions in the public eye, and allow your company to respond to pressing current events in ways that resonate. And, of course, regularly evaluate progress. Have your working groups identify goals and metrics that are then communicated to your entire workforce. Holding your company accountable will build trust, make your CSR initiatives more efficient, and grow your company’s reputation for doing good.
Even in the best of times, few managers actually enjoy conducting performance reviews. But during a pandemic, the task is astronomically harder. How do you evaluate employees fairly during such a challenging time? For starters, think about what you want to accomplish. As the crisis trudges on, you can focus on helping your employees build resilience and work through these difficult circumstances. Consider doing away with ratings in favor of a narrative assessment that provides employees with specific and helpful information about what they’ve done well and what they could improve. You also need to acknowledge the vastly different conditions in which your team members are operating. Some may be juggling client calls with entertaining toddlers. Others may be overseeing projects while caring for elderly or sick relatives, or trying to work while struggling with feelings of isolation. You might need to gather different kinds of data while you’re all working remotely. Request self-evaluations and ask your employees’ peers for their feedback. Your approach to performance reviews during this time calls for a little more flexibility, a little more heart, and a little more leniency.
During this challenging historical moment, many of us have been providing unprecedented emotional support to the people in our lives. But you can’t help family, friends, colleagues, or employees if you don’t first take care of yourself. So, how can you do that? Start by checking in with yourself the same way you would with others. Ask yourself questions like: How am I really doing? Am I drinking, eating, sleeping, or crying too much? What will help me combat anxiety? Am I staying connected to others? Then, develop a plan to make sure you’re meeting your own needs. Keep to a routine, and pencil in time for regular exercise or meditation — whatever works for you. Next, ask for help when you need it — if you don’t, you might find yourself feeling resentful or holding grudges. And return the favor by making yourself available to others who need help. Lastly, look for the positive. Express appreciation, give compliments, and call out triumphs, no matter how small. Not only will these expressions of positivity encourage the people around you, they’ll also help you stay optimistic and hopeful through difficult times.
Even in dire circumstances, you can still lead with optimism, helping your team and your customers stay resilient amidst uncertainty. The first step is to be a role model. Lip service alone won’t work. Also, keep in mind that a positive outlook is easier to adopt as a group, so help employees foster a sense of connection with each other. This can be as simple as celebrating when a team or department hits a milestone, or starting meetings with each person saying one thing they’re grateful for. Any regular, routine expression of positivity will help. And keep motivation up by demonstrating a clear connection between the positive energy people are putting in and your achievements. It may even influence other teams to adjust their own mindset. Things are hard right now — there’s no doubt about it. But as a leader, you have an opportunity to set the conditions for a collective positive outlook on your team. Take advantage of it.
After a layoff, the remaining employees may experience a range of emotions — from survivor’s guilt to gratitude that they still have a job. A good manager can make a big difference in helping their team get through this hard time. Start by communicating openly: Be candid about the reasons the company decided to downsize, and explain the other options that were considered. Explain in broad terms how the company is helping those whose jobs were eliminated, for example, by providing severance or career-transition services. You also need to give employees an opportunity to share their thoughts. Virtual town-hall meetings, brown-bag lunches, and other open forums are useful ways to keep the dialogue going. You might reserve 15 minutes at the end of your next few staff meetings to provide a safe space for employees to process their emotions. While you may be tempted to avoid this difficult topic, doing so can further erode trust. When employees understand that management is reshaping the company for future stability and growth, while still treating people with dignity, they’re more likely to stay engaged with the mission and culture of their organization.
Networking may seem difficult when there are so few in-person events these days. But you can still foster connections by bringing together a small group of people on a video call. Limit the event to eight guests (including yourself) to ensure that everyone has enough time to interact. Feel free to invite close friends along with contacts you’d like to get to know better — but make sure there’s a sufficient mix of people who don’t know each other, so no one feels left out. One benefit of the virtual format is that you can include people from all over the world. A few days before your call, send out an email to the group that includes a one-sentence description of each attendee, a link to their LinkedIn profile, and guidelines on what to expect. You could say something like, “We look forward to seeing you at our virtual cocktail gathering. We’ll start right at 6 PM, so please join on time. We’ll spend around 60 to 90 minutes together, with a mix of introductions and structured conversation. We’ll be joined by the great people below. Bring your own beverage!” And of course, enjoy yourself!
When trying to address racial disparities, managers often focus on recruiting and hiring. But if you want to create a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, you have to go further. Specifically, managers need to think about how they assign work. Be careful not to let any bias emerge around assignments: Research shows that employees of color are expected to repeatedly prove their abilities, while white employees are more likely to be evaluated on their potential. Managers should not make unilateral decisions about which projects their Black employees should or should not do during this time. Collaborate, instead, letting your Black employees express how they need to be supported right now. And be sure not to penalize those choices when the time comes for performance reviews. Giving people much-needed leniency now, only to punish them later, will create further inequity.
It’s exhausting to look at a screen all day. And yet, if you’re working remotely, it may feel unavoidable. To maintain your energy throughout the workday, try to proactively disconnect from screens whenever you can. Remember that video calls aren’t necessary for every meeting: Try a regular phone call every once in a while to mix things up. Also, choose physical over digital when you can. Brainstorming ideas for an article? Write out your thoughts on paper or post-it notes. Creating a road map for a big project? Sketch the initial draft on a white board or butcher paper. Next, move around as much as possible, even if it’s just standing up and rolling your shoulders or grabbing a glass of water between meetings. Finally, take tech-free breaks over lunch, and find activities that don’t involve a screen to wind down. Taking these steps will help you reduce your digital fatigue and feel more energized at the end of each day.
Chances are your team is feeling exhausted right now. Yet, because of increased work demands and the risk of losing their jobs, few employees feel comfortable taking vacation. As a manager, it’s important that you encourage your team to take time off. First, provide clarity about your company’s time-off policy, as well as any additional company, government, or public health guidelines or restrictions so employees know what’s in and out of bounds. Talk with your team about what “vacations” mean right now. Their summer travel plans may have been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take time off to be with family, take care of others, or take care of themselves. Be a role model and take your own vacation time, fully disconnecting. If it’s not feasible for people to take a week or two off, suggest shorter, more frequent breaks. Some time off is better than none.
Over the past few weeks, company after company has released statements about their support for racial justice and equity. But it’s more important to back your words up with meaningful action. Leaders must start by changing problematic policies in their own organizations. You can also create new policies that show your company is serious about being anti-racist. For example, adopt a no-tolerance-for-racism policy that allows for swift termination of employees who display racist behavior. Commit to supporting full participation in democracy by making Election Day a paid holiday. Pay a living wage and offer paid parental and sick leave for all employees. And then back your new policies by providing racial equity training for all employees — from the CEO and board to hourly workers. These changes are within the power of every company and will make a profound difference.
With summer here, many working parents are wondering how they’re possibly going to balance their work and home life. If you have a spouse or a parenting partner, here’s how you might work out a plan together. First, take a few minutes individually to jot down your thoughts on these questions: What matters most to you in this period? Is it a particular work project or a relationship you want to foster? Are you focused on your next career transition? Or your kids’ education? What are your parenting principles during this time? Do you need to loosen screen-time restrictions? How involved in homeschooling do you want and need to be? Once you’ve written down your thoughts, share them with your partner, and work together to find common priorities. Write down what you agree on, and revisit your arrangement every week to make sure you’re on the right track. A contract like this can help couples thrive in the best of times, but it becomes even more critical in the midst of a crisis.
In the first months of the Covid-19 crisis, many teams were grappling with the new reality of working from home. Now that it seems that many will be working remotely for the foreseeable future, it’s a good time to take stock of whether your teams are still focused on the right priorities. Ask your team leaders to evaluate their short and long-term objectives: Are they still relevant to your current situation? They’ll likely need to make some adjustments — teams that are still operating as they did six months ago may be cause for concern. Make sure you assess the team’s adjusted priorities against any revised company projections: Do their scope, output, and timing still make sense given the new reality? If not, determine whether the team’s work can be shifted to create value in the current environment, or whether you need to reorganize to meet new needs. Regular check-ins on your team’s priorities increase the chance that you’ll identify small problems early, allowing you to ensure they don’t become big issues later.
We all know that thrilling feeling of learning something new — a new recipe, a new word in a foreign language, a new chord on the guitar. And yet, so many of us go through our workdays on autopilot without setting aside time to learn something new. How can you introduce the joy of learning into your professional life? Start by taking control of what you read to better yourself and your career. Pay attention to what genuinely interests you, rather than relying on a website’s algorithm for recommendations. Have an open mind about what “counts” as learning — you can find unexpected opportunities in movies, conversations with friends, speeches, or social media feeds. Finally, keep a list of what you’ve learned lately, how you’ve used that new knowledge, and what you hope to learn in the future. You’ll stay focused and motivated by tracking your progress and setting new goals. Taking these steps will help you take your professional learning and development into your own hands — and have some fun with it.
Research shows that embracing silence during a brainstorm helps teams produce significantly more — and higher-quality — ideas. Silent brainstorming can be particularly useful in remote meetings. So what does it look like in practice? First, starting with the meeting invite, make sure everyone understands the goals of the brainstorming session. Then, at the beginning of your meeting, share a working document (such as a Google Doc) with key questions that need to be answered. Encourage all participants to contribute to the document for 10 to 20 minutes without talking. During this time, attendees can actively ideate and respond to each other in the document. The leader can also participate, providing direction and asking attendees to elaborate on specific ideas as they’re being formed. Once the silent phase of the brainstorm is complete, you can begin a discussion if your group is relatively small. If the group is large, you can end the meeting, review the document, and follow up with an email that shares conclusions and next steps. Or, you might consider sending out a quick survey where participants can react or vote on options to move forward.
There is no excuse for disparities in the wages paid to people of color — especially women of color, whose pay is twice discounted. If you are committed to addressing racial inequities in your organization, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. To start, conduct a wage equity audit, and make ongoing adjustments, as needed. Commit to paying all of your employees a living wage, not just the minimum wage, which at the federal level in the U.S. hasn’t been raised in a decade and hasn’t kept up with inflation. This has had a disproportionately negative impact on Black workers. And eliminate last-minute variable shift scheduling that denies employees a 40-hour work week and disrupts their lives. These moves are not only the right thing to do — they’re good business. Research has shown that the companies that pay well, offer good benefits, and treat their hourly employees with respect are more profitable. In some cases, they even see a rise in productivity and a decrease in turnover. And according to some studies, closing the racial pay gap would increase U.S. GDP by 14% — or more than $2 trillion.
This is a scary time to be entering the job market. So, what should you do if you’re a recent graduate hunting for your first job in the midst of this crisis? First, hone the skills that will make you a more marketable candidate for the field you’re trying to break into. Do your research. Ask around to find out which skills are highly valued. Could you learn a new programming language, software package, or sales technique? Second, find someone in your network who already works in the field you’re most interested in. Well-connected professors or your university’s career services office are a good place to start. Reach out to that person. If they’re responsive, ask them if they’d be willing to review your resume and cover letter. You want honest and constructive feedback. Third, give structure to your days by finding a part-time volunteer role. Job searches typically involve a lot of downtime, so make sure you’re doing something useful that also gives back to your community or a cause that you’re passionate about. This will keep you feeling productive and fulfilled, while also giving you another line on your resume. But more important than helping yourself, you’ll be helping people — and there are many — who need it right now.
If you pride yourself on being self-sufficient, you may have assumed that you don’t need a network. But even if you’ve achieved your current success on the strength of solo (or near-solo) efforts, making meaningful connections with people in your field can still be beneficial. If you don’t like the idea of networking, reframe it as a way of making interesting friends for the long term. Create a “wishlist” of people you’d like to connect with — a senior colleague, a thought leader in your field, a respected author. You could connect with them by interviewing them for a blog or podcast. Or, if you share a commonality like being part of an alumni group or professional association, you could simply suggest a “getting-to-know-you” call. If this feels like it’s not your speed, you might concentrate your networking efforts on one or two key conferences per year. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, we all can stand to benefit from spending a little time getting to know people who may end up being our colleagues, mentors, or friends.
The Covid-19 pandemic and economic fallout have taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color in the United States. Business leaders have an opportunity to address this inequity by rethinking their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Start by collecting information on the most pressing pain points around your current initiatives, and identify opportunities to improve them. For example, you can add questions related to the crisis to your weekly pulse surveys and look at the results by demographic to gauge the challenges that different employees are facing. Then, be proactive about tackling the specific challenges you identify. This means bringing in the right people to lead that work. Keep in mind your company may already have people with the necessary skills or expertise who aren’t in formal DE&I roles. Consider temporarily changing their role to allow them to take on these challenges. You may also need to seek outside help. Try to find consultancies that offer flexible, context-dependent services (rather than off-the-shelf solutions), or consider bringing in a mix of smaller firms and specialists to work on problems in parallel. This will require coordination, but will ensure you’re addressing the particular problems that your company is facing.