Clear, decisive and continuously improving: You’re probably thinking that I’m describing a well-known company, but I’m actually describing my son’s preschool, specifically its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. What was it about how the school responded that was so impressive? And what can companies learn from this? Here are three key components of their success:
Clear communication: Six weeks ago, we were all in a state of confusion and uncertainty about what we’re dealing with and the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact. We were all looking for what to make of the situation. My son’s school and its leadership team were in the same boat. They knew as much as we did—maybe even less than some of us—but their communication to parents and teachers was clear, constant and consistent. At all times, we knew exactly what the school’s position was and what they were basing their decisions on. This clarity in times of uncertainty was a breath of fresh air for us.
Decisive leaders: While the news about the impact in the U.S. was developing, I often asked the school’s principal if she intended to close the school. Initially, her answer was clear: Not at this time for specific reasons, but things are constantly evolving, so our decisions may change at any time. When conditions reached a point that warranted school closure, she immediately made the decision to the close the school and communicated this to us. Three days later, she announced that school will move to virtual classes and that teachers will take a few days to prepare content. Three days after that, virtual learning was launched via Google Classroom and the first set of lessons were online. What’s most impressive is how decisively the school acted and changed its learning model completely, going from a highly hands-on format to a fully virtual one.
Continuous improvement: When the school launched Google Classroom, it was not perfect: There was too much content, a lack of organization, and minimal direction and instruction. My wife and I shared feedback—and I’m sure many other parents did, too—and as each day went by, there was a noticeable change in the content, format and structure. The school started to post instruction videos, set up live Zoom meetings so children could feel engaged, added folders for submitting work so that children could feel accountable, and so on. Even now, they’re still learning and adapting to improve delivery efficiency and effectiveness. They were quick to launch, recognizing that they will have to be flexible along the way, and they didn’t let perfection be the enemy of action.
So, what lessons can companies learn from this? Here are a few:
- Effective communication is not only an effective solution for companies but also can be an opportunity to gain support and build trust with their customers and employees, regardless of how untoward the outcome may be. We often hear stories of how companies had to make tough decisions, but even those impacted will say that they did it the right way. This can be a powerful and long-lasting tool for building loyalty.
- Companies can adapt to the “new abnormal” with decisive action, too. Take, for example, a company that relies greatly on its field sales team and decides to shift to virtual sales. Once that decision is made, the company equips the field sales team with relevant tools and technology. It then realizes that some of the sales team may not be as technologically savvy, so it organizes simple webinars to train them on a few key aspects of virtual sales.
- Companies must realize that this is not a “one and done” environment, but rather a prolonged decision-making journey, during which they will almost certainly have to pivot based on results. Agility is key. Using the same field-sales-reliant company example, the company could ensure that it doesn’t invest too much time and effort while simultaneously ensuring that the training is high quality, and knowing that there’s a chance that it won’t be effective. If early signs are positive, they could build on the training and increase its impact. If not, they can pivot to another form of training, such as peer-to-peer training, and quickly gauge its effectiveness.
There’s a thin line between being nimble and rash, or being flexible and inconsistent, but organizations that succeed in this environment are the ones that toe this line well. This school is trying to stay in business, just like every other business. They’re doing everything in their power—and doing everything right—to succeed. And they will.
For more ZS insights on the impact of COVID-19, visit zs.com/COVID19.