How Leaders Can Use Data on Stressors to Manage Through Tumultuous Times

In a long-lasting global pandemic and economic crisis, we can use insights and data from the recent past and impending future to craft a playbook that will inform how we lead, communicate, forecast, and develop our teams.

Most leaders have the ability to review and address behaviors in the workplace that are associated with issues such as increased or decreased productivity, team dynamics, or interpersonal conflicts. However, what if the root cause of the positive or negative behavior is independent from the work environment? In these situations, we generally refer to them as rumor or personal issues and simply disregard them.

But what if we can assess what the primary stressors are—at a given time, in a given area—without the need to encroach on individuals’ personal lives? Would that allow for improved communications, targeted support, and increased productivity—and become a strategic advantage in the market?

In a long-lasting global pandemic and economic crisis, where there doesn’t appear to be a blueprint for businesses, we can use insights and data from the recent past and impending future to craft a playbook that will inform how we lead, communicate, forecast, and develop our teams. New analytical tools are becoming better and can do just that, including a weekly index my colleagues at R3 Continuum have developed called the Emotional Comfortability Index (ECI). Regardless of the tools leaders use to assess the stressors affecting their employees, it has perhaps never been more important to understand the outside influences affecting your workforce and adjust accordingly.

Emotions, Stress, and Behavior

Historically, if companies have prepared for a crisis, it’s been with a single, relatively short- duration disruptive event in mind: A disruptive event occurs; the nature of the threat related to that event ends; a level of safety is restored; and management, by adaptation and leveraging coping mechanisms, can re-establish productivity. A common example is a natural disaster.

Because of this more common type of disruption, most leadership and crisis management teams are able to identify a path forward and enter into an adaptive learning period after about 72 hours of a disruptive event. But as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, now in a long-duration, human-centric crisis period with multiple overlapping disruptive events, it is a difficult proposition to manage for executives or anyone in a leadership role.

However, a playbook can be created with available tools. Because behaviors are changing, it requires the ability to translate uncertainty into a management formula for success. That formula requires real-time modeling to generate behavioral insights.

Combining the Data

In order to do this, it is important to overlay all of the potential stressors—at a given time, in a given area—to determine what is most pronounced, and prioritize accordingly. By identifying and managing the stress that is most intense at that time, leadership can delegate less intense issues and equip employees or management to work efficiently within their own support systems. For those working in companies with multiple locations throughout the country, or managing teams remotely, understanding the unique stressors location by location, week by week, can help efficiently understand what different employees may be grappling with and how it affects business operations in that geographic region.

In the ECI, for example, over the last few months and by taking snapshots on a week-to-week basis, it is possible to see when and where the stress of COVID-19 has been most intense—when the stress around schools may be the primary issue, when the call for social reforms took a leading role, and when unemployment generated the most concern.

Within these shifts, trends begin to appear and can be forecasted, such as stressors around elections, COVID-19 testing, stimulus checks, and natural disasters.

How to Put Insights into Action

All of this information can be incorporated into plans for effective communications, shifting employee behaviors, and the creation of tailored solutions, and can be used to forecast the market behaviors in a given industry to proactively create competitive advantages. Here are a few ways to do so:

Communications: For internal communications, whether written or in town hall formats, it is beneficial to know what topics will be important to employees, providing opportunities for questions and answers, and even bringing in experts to provide education. Most people, in general, and most employees do not have a reliable resource to go to for questions and feel valued when the organization can provide support. For external communications, it’s critical to purposefully utilize messaging that will resonate with the intended audience. As the environment is changing dynamically, messaging that was anticipated last week may now at the very least be irrelevant, in some cases become lost, or in the worst case, create unintended conflict.

Forecasting: Forecasting how people will respond to a message, an idea, a new product, or a new increase in COVID-19 cases has significant weight in generating new opportunities for businesses during these times. The fundamentals of tools such as the ECI can be incorporated as part of human behavior forecasting and the resulting behavioral economic outcomes. It is the same underlying stressors that have an influence on the choices people make, and, even in a series of compounding crisis events, they can be anticipated. The data itself can be used to identify significant opportunities, catapult into future markets, capitalize them more efficiently, and innovate faster than the competition.

Leadership training and development: Being in a leadership position at this time or transitioning into a leadership role in the middle of a crisis requires good judgement and a high degree of informed clarity in an environment of uncertainty. Proper support and development ensure executives feel and perform their best. By leveraging available analytics tools, along with individualized executive development resources, it is possible to sharpen the focus on what is needed at the time, maximize executive resilience, reduce fragility, and elevate organizational performance.

Using behavioral insights regarding the demands of the role and the needs of employees and other stakeholders, and anticipating the shifts in the market will allow executives to thrive through this change and those that will happen in the future.

Hart Brown is the senior vice president for R3 Continuum. He has more than 20 years of experience in both the public and the private sector. Known for an ability to grow organizations from inception to international recognition, Brown has expertise in building customer and shareholder value through delivering world-class services in crisis management, risk modeling, security, cyber risk, artificial intelligence, analytics, and insurance. An internationally recognized thought leader and speaker, he holds designations as a Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist (CLCS); Certified Organizational Resilience Professional (CORP); Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP); Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH); Loss Prevention Qualified (LPQ). Brown holds a B.S., Radiological Health Engineering (Nuclear Engineering/Medicine); an M.S., Safety Engineering; and attended the Domestic Security Executive Academy, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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