COVID-19: The O and the I of a global pandemic

COVID-19: The O and the I of a global pandemic

The current situation regarding COVID-19 gives us cause to stop and think about how we, JE, maintain the perfect balance of the “O” and “I” to achieve “Integral Performance” in such a way that ensures we weather the storm and prove ourselves to be a high performing organisation.

As a reminder of the two elements, the “O” characterises structure, systems, procedure and operations.  The “I” is the individual; the “heart and soul”, the attitude and behaviours of our people.

Levels of employee engagement, it could be argued, are indicative of the balance between the two.  We know that our engagement levels are good and individuals within JE are not only highly skilled but also want to do a good job to “keep the lights on”.  What about in times such as these, when a global pandemic creates an unprecedented situation that tests discretionary effort from the “I” side and more than kicks the tyres of the “O” when it comes to testing Business Continuity plans?

What happens to the O?

Quite simply, it rallies.  Checks are put in place, new technology is explored and implemented, projects are prioritised, policies that were hitherto put on the shelf are dusted off and pushed through, rules are made and enforced, communication is pulled into the limelight.  Those in senior positions meet more regularly.  Conditions are created to ensure operations can continue.

If the O happens to be bigger than just one organisation; for example, a local government or society at large, new rules and regulations become enforceable and the “system” begins to contain itself by increasing restrictions and prescribing what is “right” and what is “wrong” behaviour.  All done, ultimately, for the benefit of the I.

What happens to the I?

It isn’t sure.  There is heightened anxiety and stress (which the O may be trying its best to address).  There is a lot of questions. Questions which, if unanswered by the O, lead to the I forming its own opinion which then turns into rumours and spreads amongst the group.  Uncertainty leads to further anxiety and inconsistency of information.  Senior Management is seen to be holding lots of meetings behind closed doors and online.  Managers (themselves individuals) are unsure how and what to communicate so messages are distorted and front-line workers feel misled and mis-managed.  Messages, however well-intended, start to be met by disbelief because people tend to believe opinions that most closely mirror their own.  Disengagement sets in.  Demotivation erodes performance (Herzberg’s hygiene factors of “security”, “working conditions” and “personal relationships” become inappropriate).

If we take the I to be members of society at large, it becomes anyone’s guess as to how people will behave.  Ignoring warnings, flaunting governments restrictions and stocking up on toilet roll and pasta seem to be en vogue.

If we consider our leadership as extending beyond JE and into society at large, there is a number of key questions to ask as we navigate these uncertain times:

  • How, as leaders, do we ensure that individuals take 100% personal responsibility for the ongoing high performance of JE or the continued protection of vulnerable members of society?
  • How can we support the necessary shifts in mindset to allow individuals to embrace new methods of working?
  • If our employees knew that they were 100% responsible for how we are perceived to be performing during this situation (especially given our place in the local market), what would they be doing?
  • What is the O prepared to give the I to get the best possible levels of performance?

Taking a McGregor’s Theory Y stance, if the O truly sets itself up in a way that allows creative thinking, flexible and productive working, the sharing of ideas and a culture that entrusts its employees to perform at a high level, the I will outperform the expectations of the leadership team and the legacy of this situation will produce organisational benefits in the long-term.

We know that the tech works.  We know that we can keep in touch with employees and customers.  We have worked towards facilitating home working.  How do we ensure we use these things (the O) to get the best out of employees (the I)?

From a personal leadership point of view, if we knew that it was incumbent on us all as individuals to offer support to each other, what might that support look like?


Some ideas:

  • Whilst obviously encouraging home-working, pay attention to team members who seem to be constantly “active”. Check in and make sure sufficient breaks are being taken.
  • Think about imposing an evening “switch off” time during which you don’t expect employees to be working.
  • Set up “check ins” with teams and/or individuals each day. Not as check ups but as a genuine opportunity to chat about work and anything else.
  • Remember that our employees want to do a good job and will likely find ways of completing tasks. Concentrate on the end result rather than the method used to achieve it.
  • Recognise good behaviours – focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.


 Written by David Crossland | Head of Organisation Development | Jersey Electricity plc