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How to keep people engaged during a crisis


When the current crisis first began it felt like the world was shutdown overnight. At the time, I was in the middle of critical transformation rollouts for organisations both locally and globally. These were immediately put on hold as leaders and organisations scrambled to respond to the crisis and ensure their people were safe.


While this was understandable, these programs of work were extremely important and, in one case, the survival of the organisation depended on it. And yet, leaders did not have the time, headspace or even the physical ability to complete the rollouts due to lockdowns and social distancing. In order to keep these transformation programs alive, we needed to find a way to keep people engaged.

What I discovered is there are 5 critical things a leader can do to keep people engaged during a crisis:


  1. Separate the urgent from the important

While we agreed that the transformation work was important, responding to the crisis was critical. So we agreed to hold the important work we were doing until they knew they were safe. In almost all cases it took at least a month for organisations to work out how they could continue to safely operate. Creating that space ensured that leaders weren’t overwhelmed and could focus on what was most critical first.


  1. Keep it simple

The rollouts we had begun delivering were mainly town halls with groups of 100 or more. They were also half-day events where we spent considerable time engaging people in the content. Due to the crisis this was no longer an option. We had to find a way to deliver this content in 1 hour and still keep people engaged. The key was to get clarity on what was most important and, above all, keep it simple.


  1. Lean on your leaders

When we began the rollouts, they were led by the leader of the organisation with leaders supporting during the sessions. This was no longer possible as we needed to engage up to 1,000 leaders who were on different rosters and in some cases in different time zones. This meant we needed to rely on leaders to run sessions with their groups and play the role of their senior leader. While this was not comfortable for some, it was critical that we create an environment where they could step up and confidently assume that role.


  1. Set up a game you can win

Switching from large town hall style sessions to small digital sessions led by individual leaders, meant we had to refine our entire approach. As we were also asking often junior leaders to step into senior roles for the sessions, many were reluctant or lacked confidence. It was critical that we set the leaders up for success, so we spent time preparing them to lead and facilitate the session. By doing this we kept leaders engaged and set up a game we could win.


  1. Focus on the best outcome possible

As the initial town hall style sessions had been so positive and engaging, some leaders questioned if the digital sessions would work effectively and even if they were worth doing. What we asked ourselves was what would 80% look like? By doing this, we were able to keep leaders focused creating the best outcome possible.


By following these steps we were able to effectively continue to rollout these transformation strategies during an ever evolving crisis. While it wasn’t perfect, it was effective and meant that people remained engaged in the critical work we were doing, even during a crisis. What it also did was give leaders a chance to step up and connect with their people in a meaningful way, at a time when many of them needed it most.