President Joe Biden has had some important successes in managing the Covid pandemic, including exceeding his goal of having 100 million people get a Covid shot within the first 100 days of his new administration.
Biden’s efforts have been rewarded with high public approval ratings. The Washington Post reported today that “Biden receives the highest marks [for his first 100 days in office] for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 64 percent of adults —including 33 percent of Republicans—giving him positive ratings.”
Given his recent successes, this is a good time to highlight some of the best practices of his administration for managing and communicating about the Coronavirus crisis and the lessons business leaders should remember when they have to confront a crisis.
Have A Plan
When he ran for the White House, Biden outlined on his website a plan for dealing with the pandemic. After he became president, he unveiled a more detailed blueprint for managing the crisis.
One of the strengths of Biden’s approach to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is that “… he has maintained a clear set of objectives that are easily communicated and easily understood,” according to Matthew Crayne, an organizational psychologist and assistant professor of management at the University at Albany School of Business.
Sobel said, “The Biden administration and the president are emphasizing that safety precautions related to the pandemic must be followed or there will be personal or societal damage and pain. Examples of Biden messaging: If you don’t wear a mask you could get sick and you can make loved ones and others in your community sick. Wearing a mask or getting vaccinated is not a political statement, it is the right thing to do.”
Biden “… hasn’t wavered on his vision for the future, and consistently communicates that progress is being made but the mission is not complete. This imparts both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of urgency into the population, both critically important to motivating long-term collective action,” Crayne said.
“[The] Biden administration made success in vaccine distribution quantifiable, setting his “100 million shots in 100 days” objective as a measuring stick that the average person can use to assess how well the program is doing, “ Crayne said.
Set Good Examples
“[President Biden] has used the power and attention of his office to take symbolic actions. Gestures like wearing a mask during public appearances and publicly receiving his own dose of the vaccine may seem like small and obvious actions to take, but they can be powerful symbols that motivate collective action,” Crayne recommended.
“Business leaders should take from this the lesson that leadership in times of crisis is about creating a collective understanding of the problem,” Crayne said. “In times of the greatest uncertainty, leaders should articulate a vision for the future that is simple, actionable, and measurable, and engage in the symbolic actions that reinforce that vision,” he advised.
Brenda Neckvatal is an HR and crisis management expert. She said Biden is reminding corporate executives that the larger the enterprise, the harder it is to build trust during a crisis. “Leaders can’t be everywhere. Employees need to see and hear from leaders early and often to make that trust connection and move forward,” she said.
Michael Hamburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group, said, ”One lesson that business leaders can learn from Biden’s crisis management strategy is to assign roles and make it transparent for the public. This allows people to develop their trust because they believe that a leader is better at working with a team who can carry out solutions such as, in this case, encouraging them to get vaccinated.”
“Biden encourages us to hear and pay attention,” observed Rebecca Maxwell co-founder and principal consultant with Asentiv New York.
She said that by “…. paying tribute to the losses and pain of the country [he] adds credibility and creates much-needed community. Demonstrating compassion encourages us all to look beyond our individual circumstances and understand our contribution to the greater good of the overall effort.”
Kasey Lynn Thompson is an associate professor who teaches crisis management at Michigan’s Ferris State University and co-wrote the first crisis management course for the University’s College of Business.
She said Biden’s initial response in recognizing the severity of the pandemic was critical in influencing Covid vaccinations. “He strategically addressed the dynamic nature of vaccination uncertainty by targeting specific groups and managing their particular concerns individually (i.e., African Americans, seniors, essential workers).”
Control The Narrative
Biden empowered action by providing the resources required to distribute vaccinations across the country efficiently and expediently, Thompson said. “[He] leveraged the expertise of credible sources to help control the narrative on his behalf.”
“[Biden’s] attempt to control the narrative by using credible sources other than himself lessoned the skepticism that vaccinations were politically motivated and that they were in response to addressing a universal health crisis,” Thompson observed.
The president strengthened trust and support by communicating short-term wins, including the number of vaccinations administered daily, according to Thompson. His “…sharing short-terms wins is an effective strategy worth noting, given the flurry of global articles that questioned and pressured their own countries to become more aggressive with vaccination rollouts.”
What Biden Could Learn From Business Leaders
Although Biden and his team have gotten many things right in managing and communicating about the Covid crisis, observers say there are two areas where he could take pointers from the business world.
“The president and his administration can take many lessons from the business community in terms of handling crises,” according to the University of Albany’s Crayne, whose recent work explored the impact of different leadership styles on the global proliferation of Covid-19.
“Perhaps the most significant [lesson] is that of flexibility and philosophical adaptation. Business leaders are aware that managing crises effectively often requires a sudden and dramatic revision of their current operating model,” he said.
“To respond successfully to an unexpectedly changing environment, businesses must rapidly shed preconceived notions of what is ‘normal, ‘right’ or ‘our way’ and identify the idea that simply works best,” Crayne observed. “This requires a process of experimentation and a willingness to introduce and explore ideas that may, under different circumstances, seem contradictory to the organization’s model or mission.”
“If President Biden were to learn the value of flexibility from the business community’s response to Covid-19, he would be well-armed for crises of the future,” he concluded.
Don’t Mix Messages
Kevin Dominik Korte is president of Univention North America, Inc. He noted that “We are currently experiencing multiple crises at once, a vaccination rate crisis, a vaccination equity crisis, and a crisis in racial equality in general.”
But on various occasions, he said, “… President Biden linked these issues together, [presenting] one big problem instead of multiple small ones and muddling the message on each of them. Thus his message became less clear.”
The Covid crisis is far from over, of course. This means there could be more crisis management lessons to be learned by business leaders—and Biden—in the days ahead.