The Chief of Staff Role During Crisis Response


Given the World Health Organization’s recent declaration of COVID-19, the Coronavirus, to be a global pandemic, it has organizations and individuals reaching for their crisis communication plans. While the nation turns to medical professionals and leadership to guide us through these uncertain times, our teams turn to their organization’s leaders for guidance and protocol to manage staying productive without jeopardizing the health or safety of its employees. It is critical for teams to demonstrate cohesion in their action plan and communication efforts surrounding any crisis; and Chiefs of Staff can step in to provide support and guidance, not only to the leadership suite, but also to the organization at large. 

Consider the topics below to help facilitate a calm, direct approach to managing a team through any unforeseen, or uncertain, circumstances. 

Stop the spread of misinformation

Be careful not to overstep your role and start offering medical assessments or advice. Direct individuals to follow credible expert sources such as the World Health Organization and the CDC for guidelines in terms of travel advisories and your local government guidelines in any cities/states with declared public health emergencies. Also, direct employees to utilize precautions published by the organization’s health insurance provider. Try to evaluate all information with a calm and rational mind and avoid drawing attention to rumors if they are circulating. When possible, check with more than one reliable source before passing along supposed ‘verified’ information. 

Keep Calm and Embrace Common Sense

As much as possible, refrain from indulging in the COVID-19 hype and media frenzy. During this time, especially, your leadership’s “voice” is important. Globally, 92% of employees agree that it’s critically important for the CEO to respond to challenging times and crises. Chiefs of Staff can encourage leadership, and themselves, to stay calm and reflect it in their demeanor and in their communication. In these times of uncertainty, if we cannot control the situation, we can at least control our response to it. There is a wealth of information surrounding this particular pandemic that is useful in any time of crisis.  For instance, review this Forbes article outlining “five key practices to implement, encourage and successfully manage through these unusual times.” Use common sense to mitigate risk; identify and follow the direction of experts on the subject. 

Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

In this current case, focus on prevention and minimizing the risk of spreading germs by following basic hygiene as outlined by The Red Cross. Encourage employees who are feeling ill to stay home, and celebrate their decision to do so. The option of staying home cannot be met with frustration or disappointment from colleagues. Remind your teams that their health and wellbeing are of utmost importance, and ensure your policies live by that.  When leadership makes their own health and wellness a priority, it filters down to everyone in the organization and, thus, others are more likely to prioritize their own health and wellness. 

Check your tech

While we cannot predict the future of a pandemic, or any unforeseen event effecting business, we can set up technological infrastructure to support our teams, and allow them options to protect themselves and others from risk. Telecommuting and remote work are on the rise, yet many organizations may not be able to offer this as a full-time benefit. Without telecommuting as an option, employees might feel burdened by their work and overlook their health and potential symptoms – setting off a chain reaction. Remove the stress of burning through sick/personal days and stay productive by exploring options that allow employees to work from home.  If your organization finds itself under-prepared for telecommuting during this crisis, do not wait for the next one to enact changes. Make it a priority now so that you are prepared in the future. If your organization is set up with good telecommuting policies, you can still learn what worked well (and what didn’t) to make the next crisis run even smoother. 

We live in a global world and we should do our part to plan accordingly when crises occur. If you are a Chief of Staff looking for additional resources, The Chief of Staff Collective is an exclusive membership community for Chiefs to connect, engage, and ultimately benefit by leaning on like-minded peers. Learn more about the benefits and how to join this fast-growing community here and join the discussion on COVID-19 response happening now. 

How are you addressing this growing health concern in your organization? Please share any helpful tips and resources below. 

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