Protecting Your People During a Merger in the Middle of a Crisis

Joining Hands

A Point of View by Aron Ain, CEO of Kronos Inc. and Ultimate Software.

This has undoubtedly been the most unpredictable and busiest time of my life and 40-year professional career. It has been weeks of non-stop conference calls, video chats, emails and messages–woven together with many restless nights–as I work with leaders across Kronos and Ultimate Software to ensure we are taking care of our people, their families and our customers.  

As I finally had a moment to reflect on these past 2+ months, one thing has become abundantly clear: The call for compelling and compassionate leadership has never been stronger.

.@AronAin: "The call for compelling and compassionate leadership has never been stronger." @UltimateHCM @KronosInc #HR #HRTribe Click To Tweet

We are traveling through a dark and winding tunnel. The COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching impacts on families, workers and the global economy is changing so fast that it is difficult to come to a conclusion that is not wrapped in emotions of being worried, scared and confused. The uncertainty allows our imaginations to run wild.  

If that is what you are feeling as a leader, amplify that tenfold for your employees. The less you are in a spot of influence, the more acute the sense of worry and uncertainty.

As a leader managing a major organizational transformation during this pandemic, I’ve been moved tremendously by the overwhelming need for compassion and understanding. Last month was meant to be a festive one–for our employees and me as a very grateful CEO. We closed on a historic merger of Kronos and Ultimate on April 1, bringing together more than 12,000 employees from two remarkable organizations known for incredible cultures.

We had grand plans for celebration–yet COVID-19 had different ideas.

No one could have perfectly planned for this pandemic. Like many other organizations, Kronos and Ultimate activated the most comprehensive business continuity initiatives in our respective histories. We have practiced and trained for various crises, focusing actively on keeping our systems up and running to continue serving our customers and keep the business moving forward.

What we did not anticipate in our business continuity plans was just how much focus and care we would have to put on our people and their families–because who could have imagined employees could be at this level of risk all around the world?

COVID-19 has reinforced that business continuity is not just about protecting the business systems and our customers–it’s about protecting our people and their families. My number one priority is ensuring every employee feels safe. I am unbelievably focused on that for all 12,000-plus.

Listen Deeply, Respond Thoughtfully and Over-Communicate

We have sent out dozens and dozens of communications over the last few weeks both about the coronavirus and our merger. We have launched new programs, communicated specialized resources to help employees navigate this new normal, and supported individuals in expected and unexpected ways. I have recorded regular video messages for our people, secluded at my home (thanks to my wife behind the camera). These efforts resulted in more than a thousand emails, direct messages, and posts from employees worldwide–and I have read and responded to them all.

The hours and hours it has taken to communicate and respond to employees has been worth every minute. These messages shared their emotions and gratitude for my transparency, honesty and active communication. Some messages brought me to tears. Others provided me with hope. And together they made me even more deeply understand what an incredible honor it is to lead in times like these.

I’ve learned so clearly that leaders have a role to play in helping our teams and their families through difficult periods. And the opportunity for inspired leadership has never been more in demand.  

Managing is Not a Spectator Sport: You Must be Elbows-Out

Employees are juggling children, family obligations, pets, community needs, ill family members they cannot be with, and very personal and individual situations, including those living in complete isolation. This isn’t a time to keep score or rate who has it worst. You have to focus on all your employees by listening to their various needs as individuals. They are looking for managers to provide direction and a blanket of understanding.  

Managing is not a spectator sport, and right now it’s literally the only game in town. This is not a time for leaders to be timid or uncertain. You cannot be passive. It is time to be strong and lead–even if you have never had to do it before. Go that extra step. Be overly visible. Respond thoughtfully and with care. Tell the truth. People look for us to provide guidance, protection, comfort and hope.

We can sort out the economics in the future, but right now focus on keeping your employees safe and ready for a brighter day, which will come. Yes, tough decisions will need to be made–more in some specific sectors than others. Yet when we protect our people and their families, and inspire them through caring and thoughtful actions, they perform magical acts for each other and customers, and will be ready to reengage at remarkable levels when we come out the other side together.

Develop Policies and Responses on Top of a Caring Foundation

Policies matter, and generosity matters. Yet, as business leaders, let’s do more than the bare minimum–both with the easy and hard decisions. Those who care, thoughtfully listen and over-communicate will build a stronger foundation of trust for their future.

The businesses in the fortunate position to retain staff, pay full salary, take care of each other and protect their people could be our economic silver lining. Employees are not spending as much on personal travel, childcare, dining out, entertainment, commuting to work and more. When we care for them, providing the resources they need, they will be more inspired to use these savings to help others now and, ultimately, spend actively when this situation gets better.

If they do, their consumer spending and generosity may just help pull us all through this.  

Caring and Earning Trust Today and For Your Future

Yet as we navigate this dark and winding tunnel together, remember one thing: A culture of caring isn’t a one-time policy or process. It’s not like a business continuity response plan that you dust off when you need it, then stow it away when the going gets good again. Now is an opportunity to pause, reflect on how trust and caring for each other are present in your organization today, and make changes not just for the crisis we’re in now, but for the long haul–to build a better place to work for all when life gets back to normal.

Generations are often defined by times of crises. The last couple of months and the months ahead will define leaders and their businesses–for better or worse–for the next generation to come. Now more than ever, we should leave our own footprints as leaders and organizations that lead by caring for their people and their communities, while celebrating those who forge the path. Who are those leaders inspiring you? Let’s leave a trail of compassionate leadership that we can be proud of.

Aron Ain is CEO of Kronos Incorporated and Ultimate Software, which merged on April 1, 2020. Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report. This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Publisher. Click here to see original article and engage in the discussion.

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