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On a LIVE Covid-19 call to the industry this morning, under the subject of ‘People Stewardship’ James asked me this question:

In terms of organisational culture, what thoughts or advice do you have for Hospitality Owners & Leaders facing the end of L4, L3 and then starting business again – in essentially a New World. 

I am not sure about ‘advice’ as such, but I certainly had thoughts on the issue. Here is a rough estimate of what I said.

  1. Calling L4 and beyond a ‘New World’ is useful because it helps us understand that covid-19 has the potential to shift the identity of your business and challenge the identity of the people working within your business. Identity and culture are strongly linked, therefore the culture within your business shifts by default. Business will be different because the world is different.
  2. Being a business leader of people means that you are not merely a manager of systems. Now is the time to remind ourselves that our relationship with those whom we lead is more than a transactional relationship, (where they do a job and we pay them) but one that requires stewardship. Stewardship of people means looking after and investing in your people beyond the transactional.
  3. Culturally speaking, stress and anxiety will be present at a heightened level. People will be fragile and that’s a problem for engagement, productivity, and profit. Engagement and individual productivity are pre-existing problems within the industry, covid-19 exacerbates the pre-existing issue.

In some ways, my introductory points above were complex. I suggested a simple way forward.

  1. Communicate

At the very least …

During L4, L3 and beyond, have a strong centralised communication platform that provides not only the information required, but also a great deal of compassion, transparency and even a few laughs.

Ensure you deliver personal communication. Try your absolute best to have face-to-face (screen-to-screen) contact. Eye contact with every team-member is important.

Identify your high-risk employees – understand where the pressure resides. Listen. Avoid rash promises but connect and include everyone in your planning discussions. Ask your team for their thoughts and ideas. Provide human-to-human connection and understanding.

  1. Be Prepared

It is almost impossible to be a ‘steward of people’ if you are running around barking orders. You need to be super-prepared because your team need you to be calm. You will be stressed, but you still need to provide structural strength and clear procedure.

Avoid demanding resilience, model resilience instead.

Pivoting may be required but avoid unnecessary pivoting. Try and keep the business narrative as organised, clear, and straight as you can – while also addressing cashflow. Your team will not enjoy you jumping all over the place or attempting to ride the new world like a rodeo cowboy.

In a sense, everything we are doing post-covid-19 is a business pivot, just make sure it is well-organised and extremely well-communicated. Any specific project work is a great time to provide emerging leaders with more responsibility.

Nevertheless, if you are a creative and visionary type – avoid expressing the dozens of ideas you have every day; keep to the one or two that you have prepared for and you know can work.

  1. Provide Attention

Beyond communication, provide attention. Hold your people up the best you can. Make sense of the predicament and sooth distress. Be available not demanding.

For most team-members, working closely with their boss will be powerfully uplifting. Organisational culture building is a long process, but personal attention goes a long way.

Ask your team lots of questions and be present. Laugh at their jokes – especially if they are funny. Look for learning opportunities together.

In such a time as this a complex approach to organisational culture is unrealistic, and for a small business largely unnecessary. Even in our families it is hard-work.

While multiple issues and emotions are wrestling for our time and energy – I see these three elements as the most important.


Friday, 24 April

Alexis O’Connell