Coronavirus – What Should Organisations & Leaders Do About It?

We are now at a tipping point in multiple countries around the world where community transfer of the coronavirus is now starting to occur or expected to. This is where transmission takes place between those within the country who have not been out of that country or exposed to those who have been. There is anticipated to be a significant increase in cases globally over the next few weeks.

Governments and Health Authorities are already taking their own steps to deal with the challenge on the national level but what about organisations and their leaders? Should they do anything more now than just note the guidance they are getting from Governments if wider spread occurs in communities?

The senior leadership of all organisations should already be aware of the relevant guidance from their Government and Health Authorities and be acting upon this but there is a powerful argument that they should go further. The possibility of community spread is already causing concerns amongst some employees and in such situations, inaccurate information and rumour have a tendency to flourish which makes their concerns, and the situation, worse.

Organisations need to ask themselves if they have their own role to play in the management of coronavirus outbreak with their people. This is a combination of both management and leadership responsibility.

Management in the sense the physical provisions made to reduce or prevent transmission and the communication of key information about the virus, the outbreak, and the organisations response. Leadership in terms of how are we showing our employees we care about them and the reassurance they have our full support at this worrying time.

The management role is about ensuring that employees, not just senior leaders, have the accurate facts about the virus; from the fact that it is statistically less dangerous than many annual flu viruses to the simple precautions, employees can take to minimise spread such as washing hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after bathroom visits and travelling on public transport, and clear guidance on the importance of people showing any symptoms not coming to work, potentially working from home where possible. In addition it’s about the physical provision of additional facilities such as disinfectant hand gel in offices and other supportive measures.

The leadership role is a clear message from both senior leaders and indeed team leaders that the organisation is aware of the issue has prepared, that it will keep all employees fully informed about the virus and its potential impact on their workplace. Further, it understands the need for people to self-quarantine if required and seek advice from the Health Authorities. Note that I specifically mention team leaders.

In these situations, it is critical that all levels of line management are fully briefed so they can answer the day to day concerns of their people and not have to either guess or saying “I don’t know”.

They need to be briefed in some way. This doesn’t have to be complex but clear and concise information they can pass on if asked. This is a key part of the role of a line manager – to act as a reference point for the team in bad times as well as good, to keep them fully and accurately informed and show they care about their people. This demonstrates the leader and organisation has a clear “we not me” culture which will pay dividends when the virus is long forgotten.

My former military experience in emergency management absolutely confirms the need to make sure that everyone knows what is going on, not just senior leaders, and the elements of the response plan which they need to know to be reassured. Senior leaders must not fail to have a response strategy but neither must they fail to keep everyone fully informed. Without this, in such situations, people have a tendency to respond emotionally to rumour, speculation and inaccurate information. With clear communication and guidance from their organisations employees are likely to respond rationally and then be able to confidently continue working and give their best for the organisation.

In the end, this is really just about the core principles of good leadership – trust, communication and having a good plan that everyone is signed up to.


Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck is a speaker, advisor and executive coach who has a unique approach that helps leaders, teams, and organisations reach their full potential and be successful in just three steps. This is proven to add investor value, deliver better customer service, build the brand externally, develop innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, optimise risk and boost the bottom line by 10% + at no cost. Chris unique experience as a leader in the military, business, government and as a Hon Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership has enabled him to develop this innovative, entrepreneurial and highly effective new approach for leaders and organisations to achieve success: I CARE Leadership. It’s simply about you being the leader people always give their best for empowered by authentic and inspirational servant leadership. Chris shows how building on leaders current knowledge via simple, practical day to day actions can immediately deliver real improvements at all levels; individual, team, and organisation. One organisation who implemented it increased the number of staff happy to recommend it as “a great place to work” to friends or family in 2 years from 40% to 82%, an exceptional change, and increased revenue by 40%. When Global Head of Leadership at UBS, 70,000 staff & 100 countries, his team helped the bank transform organisational performance to increase profitability by 235%, market capitalisation by 50% and win awards. This is now a Harvard Case Study. Chris experience spans many sectors and geographies; from having held senior roles in UBS, HSBC, KPMG & London Underground to advising legal firms and construction, from the UK National Health Service of 1.4m staff and UK Government to the Red Cross in Myanmar, from Investment banks in London to Middle East Telecoms, from the Chinese Space Programme to retail in USA and many more. Chris has been quoted as a business leadership expert globally in the Harvard Business Review China, FT, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, New York Times, Business Week, Time Magazine, Washington Post, Times of India, Straits & Gulf Times and many other titles. He has been interviewed on TV over 350 on leadership and business issues on BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and other channels and his books have been translated into 11 languages. Chris has been recognised as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers regularly since 2011 by the HR profession.

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