As flights and airports the world over are shut down in a bid to stem the global COVID-19 pandemic, airlines are having to lay staff off just to stay afloat. Singapore Airlines (SIA) has set a creative example in staff retention amid the Corona Virus outbreak.
Instead of serving passengers on a plane, 30 cabin crew members will be caring for patients in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). They are the first batch of now grounded cabin crew to be redeployed as "care ambassadors" in KTPH. According to reports, they will be assigned to non Covid related low-risk wards to carry out basic caregiving procedures, nutritional care as well as patient service management. This is a novel way of not only ensuring that cabin crew still have a job but will also help alleviate the pressure medical staff are currently under as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Job retention aside, there are also mutual skill exchange benefits and an opportunity for both medical staff and cabin crew to learn something new. As Ms Shirley Heng, chief nurse at KTPH, was quoted as saying: "This is also a good opportunity for our nurses to exchange knowledge and skills on service with the crew of SIA, who are top service professionals."
SIA's job retention innovation and KTPH's openness at trying something new to alleviate pressures on its staff is a show of great leadership on both ends. Both industries had problems – one with a staff well trained at hospitality with nothing to do and bills to pay while the other had a staff that is facing the gargantuan task of looking after COVID-19 patients. Instead of simply laying off staff (where SIA is concerned) or allowing staff to be needlessly overworked (in KTPH's case), both industries are exploring new ways to solve each other's problems.
As business leaders in unprecedented times, your ability to think boldly outside the box may mean the difference between survival or not. As an employer, you also owe a duty of care to your employees. Even as your business may be struggling, they still have bills to pay and are wholly dependent on the paycheck you pay them.
Are you looking around for ways to redeploy your employees so that:
1. You don't end up losing all of your trained staff at this point (only to have to re recruit after the crisis ends) ; and
2. Your staff is able to remain on the payroll and earn a living without you having to fork out additional money?
A little bit of creative leadership could make all the difference here.
As human beings, we have an innate capacity to be creative, to put things together in new and novel ways. And yet, this capacity is often weakened or hard to reach because the mind is over-taxed with internal and external distractions.
Those courageous enough to propose an idea still have hoops to jump through. For example, if you work in a large corporation, you may have to go through immense red tape and bureaucracy to answer questions like "Can you prove to the CFO how this will generate an immediate return?" or, "Will the CEO like this?"
In a smaller company, it may be easier to make decisions but then it boils down to questions like: who shall execute these steps of re-deployment and new business undertakings? Are we able to be financially committed to these new changes and still keep the return on our investments intact?
How flexibly and mindfully are leaders and business owners approaching the Covid 19 challenges?
It is an intrinsic motivation that explains so much of the heroism and innovation we are seeing around the world today, fuelled by a desire – or sense of duty – to save lives during this pandemic. Problems are being solved precisely because people have an inner passion to apply their talents meaningfully.
Here are 2 main components in leading creatively and mindfully during these pandemic days:
One Goal, One Purpose.
Like all skills, mastery of creative thinking requires practice and an encouragement to play, experiment, fail and persevere. However, it is hard to attain such mastery given a usual work setting when constraints such as bureaucracy and lack of funds and time are in the way. These hurdles though, are more creatively overcome when the goal is certain, particularly when the world is facing a relentless pandemic.
And we do see it now, in this Covid-19 situation, how the fear of this unknown enemy has propelled leaders from all walks of life to take action on decisions that might typically take months and emerge from the treacle of bureaucracy.
Take a look at this example from Mercedes AMG. "In the High Performance Powertrains department of Mercedes AMG, experts typically apply their technical excellence to power Lewis Hamilton to F1 World Drivers Championships. With ventilators in short supply, they asked themselves, how can more patients be kept out of intensive care? Collaborating with engineers from University College London and clinicians at University College London Hospital, the Powertrains people created a new device, the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), secured the approval of health regulators, and launched it in less than a week."
Another heartwarming example: Encouraged by an early invitation from Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip, South Korean health authorities, businesses and students have used their technological expertise and creative thinking skills to produce – at pace – a drive-through test for the Coronavirus; a body steriliser that sprays people as they enter exhibition halls; a mobile app to keep track of the health status of overseas visitor. A 27 year old student established the Coronamap website to counter fake news of cases around the country.
This is creative and mindful leadership at its finest. Re-deploying your staff by maximising your resources, saving jobs for your employees, as well as doing good for humanity. What could be more uplifting?
Execution - Not Just Words
Another component of survival during these difficult times and that merits explicit attention – is the ability to make something happen. Ideas are just words put on paper without the ability to execute and to put it bluntly, are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action.
It takes a special kind of talent to solve a problem on paper and produce it in the real world. And now is even more so the time to expedite all these solutions and strategies leaders and teams have been putting on paper, and applying it to real life and death situations. This has been evident in the past few months as we have been seeing on the news with so many people, teams, organisations – large and small, commercial, not-for-profit – all propelled by their own intrinsic motivation, in a climate of collaboration and a spirit of insurgency, to overcome this pandemic.
Leaders have the means to ignite that intrinsic motivation in their people every day. They only need to look at the remarkable problem-solving going on 24/7 around the world and re-apply the same principles to their own contexts: set challenges from which meaning can easily be derived; foster an environment in which fluid teams are matched to the task, innovate and build ideas from inside and beyond the organisation; inspire teams with the autonomy and resources to solve the problem; and accelerate implementation with swift, transparent decision-making.
We have been so encouraged to be working with clients who are co-creating people-centred solutions with Engaging Leaders , be it in rethinking internal communications, innovation and decisions for product re-design or having sustainable tools to coaching and developing teams. Putting aside all agendas, we ought not to wait until the worst of the crisis is over to energise creativity in your organisations and restore hope and build resilience in your employees. Let us shift this historical pandemic event to our advantage, as a revelation and a turning point in our working and personal lives, to become more mindful of what is intrinsically meaningful for this new norm.
Monica Tan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Tan, Engaging Leaders, leads our clients through a journey of performance and change. With more than 15 years of client and project management experience, she serves as a key advisor to our clients.