As the Coronavirus situation evolves, organizations are being forced to consider a number of changes that affect every one of their stakeholders—suppliers to employees to customers. It’s critical that leaders not only focus on making the right decisions but that they also focus on how they implement those decisions. Experience design plays a key role in this area.

This global health crisis requires leaders to make a different set of decisions than they are used to making. This situation is particularly difficult because:

  • Leaders have no control and little visibility over a fluid environment.
  • There are broad social and political implications to the decisions.
  • Stakeholders are concerned about both health and professional issues.

As you think about the myriad of operational, risk management, and business continuity decisions you are making, keep in mind that the way you implement those decisions can be as important as the decisions themselves. And while this emotionally charged environment may be unique, the needs of human beings remain the same.

With all of that context, I’ve identified four experience design-based tips for leaders to keep in mind throughout this crisis period:

  1. Don’t be shy with bad news. You are likely to make some decisions that will negatively impact some people. While it may be uncomfortable to share this information, you need to overcome that discomfort and let people know the information right away. It will not make the news any better, but it will give people more time to deal with it. In the long run, people may not appreciate what you’ve done, but it’s much better than having them hold you accountable for the impact of any delays.
  2. Choose certainty over uncertainty. We often think that people are just looking for leaders to make decisions that benefit them as individuals. But people are more complex than that. As an environment becomes more complicated, people often thrive for order and certainty. In many cases they are best served by hearing negative news rather than being left in a state of uncertainty. One of the great ways to mitigate some uncertainty is to provide regular and clear status updates — even if the situation hasn’t changed. You should also bias your process towards making definitive decisions as proactively as possible.
  3. Always share exact next steps. No matter what decisions you make, be very clear about the activities and timing of what follows. This does not mean that you must have everything worked out before you share information, but you can at least let people know exactly when they can expect to hear from you next with more information. The clarity of setting and meeting these expectations will likely have a significant impact on how people remember your decision.
  4. Stay empathetic. You’re going to be under a lot of stress, so it’s easy to lose sight of how your decisions may affect other people. Make sure to take a moment after you make decisions and think about the people who will be impacted and consider ways to mitigate some of their loss and discomfort. And remember, even if you believe that you are making the right decision, people have the right to feel badly about it.

One of the key lessons in my life came from when I worked at GE and CEO Jack Welch would regularly tell us, “Deal with the world as it is, not as you’d like it to be.” I think those words of wisdom are particularly important right now.

The bottom line: Use experience design to help navigate difficult situations.