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Getting Back to Business: 5 Practices to Successfully Do Business During a Pandemic

Monday, August 10, 2020

While progress in coming months requires safety masks and sanitizer, latest research shows it’s not enough. Successfully doing business during an ongoing pandemic also requires a culture of 200 percent accountability where everyone is 100 percent responsible for their compliance and 100 percent responsible for correcting anyone they see deviating from healthy norms. Yet employees say their organizations are failing on both accounts.

We asked 1,062 employees if they felt their organizations were safe and healthy places—meaning their leaders had identified crucial moments of risk as well as created precautions and workarounds to address those crucial moments and added layers of protection for employees. Shockingly, only 14 percent said they believed their organization is safe from COVID-19.

Even if appropriate precautions were in place, employees didn’t feel able to enforce their widespread use. Specifically, two out of five felt nervous about infection risk when interacting with colleagues. And when they felt uncomfortable, seven out of 10 admitted to saying less than they wished they could to keep themselves and others safe.

This scenario played out on a national stage on May 3 when Vice President Pence entered Mayo Clinic, one of the most COVID-19-conscious organizations in the country. During a lengthy tour provided by Mayo leaders wearing masks, Pence proceeded barefaced without reprimand.

Pence’s visit to Mayo Clinic illustrates what leaders are facing as they attempt to reopen their doors. The biggest problem is not single offenders. Rather, it’s the silent consent of others who watch the person violate new norms and still opt to stay quiet. The real leadership challenge in coming months is ensuring employees hold each other to strong norms of responsible behavior.

We have spent 30 years studying what it takes to create rapid, profound, and sustainable behavior change. Our central finding is that the speed with which norms change is the speed with which it becomes normal to give correction. If noncompliance is rarely addressed, healthy behavior becomes a joke.


Five Practices to Safely Get Back to Business

Below are five practices every leader should implement to get back to business. Unless all five are practiced in combination, the odds of meaningful change drop substantially.

1. COVID-19 boot camp. A boot camp breaks down old patterns and introduces new ones. Use this powerful leader-led socialization ritual when you first introduce new behaviors. Instruct people on new safety behaviors and focus on deliberate practice. Make the moral case for changing behavior by telling stories of affected friends, family, or clients to bring the risks to life.


2. Please and thank you. Instruct employees that when anyone sees another person violate safe practices, they are to remind them with a proper, “please.” Then, even more importantly, the one reminded is to respond with “thank you” and comply. Leaders can reinforce this new reminding/thanking ritual by teaching, “It’s kind to remind” and “When reminded, show gratitude not attitude.”

3. Fire drill. Hold frequent fire drills. In an effective fire drill, leaders walk all employees through the motions of each new safety behavior, including please and thank you.

4. Daily rounding. You don’t get what you expect; you get what you inspect.

5. Public scorekeeping. Leaders must post rounding scores publicly, every day. Above the score they place a colored circle to denote whether the organization is in green (95 percent or higher), yellow (80–90 percent), or red (<80 percent). They must post the results no matter what they are. Embarrassment is a powerful motivator for improvement.

Download the full guide here.

About the Author

Joseph Grenny is the New York Times best-selling co-author of Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything, a dynamic keynote speaker, and a leading social scientist for business performance. With thirty years of experience, Grenny has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Co-founder of corporate training and leadership development innovator VitalSmarts, Grenny’s work has been translated into 28 languages, is available in 36 countries, and has generated results for 300 of the Fortune 500.

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