Low Tide in the Management Harbor

Paul Hebert COVID-19, Good HR, Hiring Managers, Managing People, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert

I know. Every post on the internet is now focused on how to respond to these weird and franky, unprecedented times. And as this is a predominately HR-focused site I’m sure you’re seeing all the ways HR should, could, would handle things. Nobody really knows. We are all making it up as we go along because no one has had any experience dealing with this. No one. 

So… major props to all you HR folks doing the work. Reacting to new information everyday. Being the voice at the end of the CEO’s red phone. Thanks. 

While we’re all reacting to what we should do, one thing I think is being lost in the discussion is all the things that are revealed in times of stress. 

Low Tide Reveals the Rocks

I remember in the early 90s, the company I worked at was going through some business slowdowns and financial problems. The CEO did his best to calm the crowd but I always remember him discussing the fact that when the water is high in the harbor all boats can get in and out. The depth of the water made it easy for boats large and small to move without concern. However, when the tide was low the tops of rocks became visible and navigation became problematic. It’s not that the rocks weren’t there before, it’s just they weren’t visible at high tide.

What will be visible now will be things like leadership, vulnerability, perseverance, work ethic, caring, morality. 

And things like incompetence, arrogance, laziness, duplicity will also now pop up out of the water.

I truly believe in times of stress people reveal their true self. And if HR is paying attention, they will be able to see who is the real manager, and who is the poser. This event will separate those who understand the real function of management and those who see being a manager as a power trip. It will reveal who is a politician and who is a true leader.

I always think of that whenever I’m assessing new ideas and expense outlays. I try to think in terms of extremes – both good and bad. Even promotion and hiring decisions go through that lens.

We are arguably at the lowest tide any of us will face with respect to business. 

And all those months and years of smooth sailing are coming to an abrupt end. All the poor managers in your organization are now going to be showing up in droves.

The managers who can’t lead will be obvious. Managers who can’t keep their staff focused and on task will be front and center. Managers who play politics all day won’t be able to do that remotely in our new WFH world. The informality of the new “virtual” conversations and meetings give courage to the rank and file to talk about their lack of inclusion with those further up the corporate ladder. Drops in team performance will show up quickly in areas where poor managers live. 

So I urge HR to keep your eyes open. You can’t necessarily do anything about it today – you need to triage your business. However, keep a list of what is going on so that as things settle down (notice I didn’t say return to normal cuz that ain’t happening again) review your list of observations. Make a plan to fix those problems that showed when the tide was low. And then put in place processes to make sure  you don’t have to do this again. 

Because as much as we think this won’t happen again. It will. It might be different – but it will play out in a similar fashion. The tide will drop. The rocks will be exposed. Those that mapped their location will do better than those that ignored them.

Start mapping the rocks. 

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.