BY ANNETTE T. SANTOS
For many of us, living on Guam has prepared us for what many regard as non-programmed decision making. Non-programmed decisions are made in response to situations that are unique, poorly defined and largely unstructured, and have important consequences to the organization” (Daft, R.L., 2018). So, for most natural calamities, we are pretty well prepared having a track record to show minimal impact from the magnitude of super-typhoons and earthquakes that we experienced over the years.
But who would have anticipated a flu with such magnitude? We survived H1N1. It was as simple as telling people to stay home. But the virality of the spread is what makes this public health emergency an alarming one. How we respond to these types of emergencies may determine the ability of our organizations to survive and rebound. How we respond is also telling of our leadership abilities.
Fortunately, my studies have been about managing strategically. I live in anticipated futures and I get a lot of puzzled looks when I talk about plans and what we ought to be doing. One of the first things I did with my team was to conduct a strategic segmentation. This simply means identifying what will be demanded of us in the near future, the technology that will help us serve this future need, who our customers are, and in what way will we reach our customers. We split our customers into three major groups and assigned teams to develop plans to address each of their needs.
The most challenging part of this process is implementation (isn’t it always?). I expected that this implementation lag that would be due largely in part to perfection paralysis (I am totally guilty as well). I firmly held the teams to deliverables emphasizing the importance of timing. And, during a crisis, it is easy to lose sense of timing due to the rollout of non-programmed activities coupled with wanting to do things right.
Here is what I learned that was important in the process. I’ve narrowed it down to three critical actions that are necessary during a crisis. It requires being informative, supportive, and flexible.
During a crisis, timely, up-to-date and accurate information is a necessity. Leaders are obligated to inform members of their organization of what is going on regularly so that they may prepare to respond based on their roles. It is expected that updates will come on a daily basis and sometimes two to three in a day. No one should feel guilty about filling up an employee’s inbox with up-to-date, relevant and important information. Thus, it is important to identify legitimate and credible sources of information. A leader is responsible to ensure every member of the team is informed. There are instances where the same information may be redundant, but wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution? Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
It is important to be supportive during a time of change — in this case abrupt and ambiguous change. With social distancing comes the challenge of transitioning face to face processes, projects, and operations to an online platform.
How soon could this be done? It depends. The sooner teams are created and tasks assigned, the sooner the new plan can be rolled out. This will involve trust; it means allowing for valid and seemingly stupid questions to be asked. (Honestly, there is no such thing as a stupid question, it’s our reaction to the stupid question that makes it such.)
Being supportive means embracing it all. It means providing the necessary resources that would allow people to fulfill their obligations and continue their work in as seamless a manner as possible. For the transition to an online platform, it is essential to ensure every employee has access to hardware, software, connectivity, and structure. Consider providing training as early as possible to help those who were neither technically nor technologically savvy. Identify the “go to” person who will be available at the employees’ “beck and call.” This is necessary at the onset. Employ a communication strategy to reach every employee, every customer, every partner, every stakeholder. Being supportive means that every communication would be thoughtful, respectful, and sincere. There should be no question that the core team is accessible and that they authentically care.
As for flexibility, with every organizational change comes resistance. It is important that teams anticipate this and prepare for it. A team ought to imagine themselves in the shoes of every customer they serve. Teams must embrace the reality that they will be challenging the status quo. This is an opportune time to call on resource experts and partners that will help navigate the new path and the transition — in this case toward a virtual office structure.
This may mean activating dormant or untapped technology features and employing software licenses to support digital signatures, operations workflow, meetings, and other business support. This means acknowledging that certain policies and procedures may be bypassed, new mindsets would need to be adopted, and allowances for the unknown had to be embraced. This requires teams to be flexible, to explore new ways of doing things that may not have even been imagined.
Along with the three critical actions I shared, mindset is an important component of each. One must recognize that nothing will be perfect. You just have to dive in and work out the kinks as they arise. Work it out together with your team. Ask for help. We survive a crisis best, when we pull together. It’s called inafa’ maolek; it is our island way. Crisis situations remind us of what is important. It reveals our true colors, our real purpose, and our sense of commitment. mbj
— Annette T. Santos is dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at the University of Guam. She can be reached at