In the wake of super storm Sandy, we've heard story after story about the big infrastructural challenges of disaster response, crisis management and climate change. And we've heard story after story about the storm's economic toll on supply chains and small businesses. But what about the impact on individual managers?
Climate change doesn't just mean that governments and big companies will need to reassess their risk management, or make their infrastructure more resilient. It means that all of us, as individual managers, will have to figure out how to cope with power outages, damaged facilities and employee absences — all on very short notice.
While fewer business leader responses to Sandy have been reported in the media, I have heard a wealth of anecdotal evidence since the storm that many were quick to grasp the importance of their response as managers. As a result, these leaders conveyed the strength of leadership and values-based decision making that is commonly recognised as good for business.
Examples I've heard of include senior managers:
moving in with relatives and offering employees their own homes
providing additional transport like car services for employees to get them to where they needed to be
temporarily relocating employees to another state
renting hotel rooms for staff to use
distributing "go-bags" — containing the items they would need during an evacuation — to employees in advance of the hurricane and giving out flashlights during the outages.
In the aftermath of an event like Sandy, leaders have the opportunity not just to do the right thing as human beings and citizens, but to promote employee engagement in their organisation, through promoting corporate participation in relief efforts. The feel-good factor associated with activities like volunteering are widely accepted to result in organisational benefits, not just happier employees but also reduced staff turnover and increased productivity. Research tells us that employees are most engaged when our leaders and organisations care for our well-being. According to research by Towers Watson, this comprises physical health, psychological health (including stress /anxiety, intrinsic satisfaction and safety) and social "health" (including work relationships, work-life balance and fairness).
In talking to friends and clients about the storm, it appears there are some common leadership behaviours which inspired confidence among employees. First, companies that handled the storm well were quick to issue a clear statement of communication early. This outlined the approach that they were going to take and what behaviours their employees could expect — e.g. exceptional changes to expense policies or offers of temporary housing or relocation for those who were in need. Secondly, they followed up with real action, like the steps listed above, to make sure employees had the support they needed.
The time to come up with contingency plans like these is not when hurricane force winds are bearing down on your city. Instead, smart leaders will develop their emergency-response measures well in advance and communicate them to all managers, so that the next time a major weather event strikes, everyone knows exactly what to do.
Jordan Cohen is a knowledge worker productivity expert at PA Consulting Group
Jordan is the recipient of the 2010 Grand Prize at the Management Innovation eXchange (The MIX) for his previous work as creator and Head of pfizerWorks at Pfizer Inc.
To view the article online in HBR, click here.
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