Getting Back to Business: Most Companies Are Not Prepared to Do Business in an Ongoing Pandemic

Provo, UT – May 26, 2020 – While business success in coming months requires safety masks and sanitizer, a new study by VitalSmarts, a leader in social science-based behavior change, says that’s not enough. Successfully doing business in an ongoing pandemic also requires a culture of 200% accountability—where everyone is 100% responsible for their own compliance and 100% responsible for correcting anyone else whom they see deviating from healthy norms. And yet, employees say their organizations are failing on both accounts.

According to the April study of 1,062 employees, only 14 percent say their organization is COVID safe, meaning leaders have appropriately identified crucial moments of risk as well as employees who are at special risk, created precautions and workarounds to address those crucial moments and added layers of protection for employees.

What’s more, even if appropriate precautions were in place, employees don’t feel able to enforce their widespread use. Specifically, 2 out of 5 feel nervous about infection risk when interacting with their colleagues. And when they feel nervous or uncomfortable, 7 out of 10 admit to saying less than they wish they could to keep themselves and others safe.

This scenario recently played out on a national stage when Vice President Pence entered Mayo Clinic—one of the most COVID-conscious organizations in the country. During a lengthy tour on May 3 provided by Mayo leaders who all wore masks, Pence proceeded barefaced without reprimand.

According to Joseph Grenny, leading researcher and author of Crucial Conversations, Pence’s visit illustrates what leaders across the country are facing as they attempt to reopen their doors.

“The problem was not just Pence,” said Grenny. “It was the silent consent of dozens of others over a period of hours. I know first-hand that Mayo has worked hard to create a culture where protecting patients is a higher value than pampering egos. And yet, even there, they failed to make a simple request.”

Grenny says that ultimately, the real leadership challenge in coming months is ensuring employees hold each other to strong norms of responsible behavior.

“We have spent thirty years studying what it takes to create rapid, profound and sustainable behavior change,” said Grenny. “Our central finding is that the speed with which norms change is the speed with which it becomes normal to give correction. If noncompliance is rarely addressed, healthy behavior becomes a joke.”

Grenny shares five practices every leader should implement in order to get back to business. These five practices ensure leaders can quickly and sustainably create a culture of 200% accountability as it relates to being COVID safe. Each practice is crucial to the success of the others. Unless all five are practiced in combination, the odds of meaningful change drop substantially.

Five Practices to Safely Get Back to Business

  1. COVID Boot Camp. The idea of “Boot Camp” is to break down old patterns and introduce new ones. Use this powerful leader-led socialization ritual when you first introduce new behaviors. Leaders must instruct people on new safety behaviors and focus on deliberate practice – not PowerPoint. Make the moral case for changing behavior by telling stories of affected friends, family or clients to bring the risks to life.
  2. Please and thank you. 200% accountability is the only way to create and sustain change. Instruct employees that when ANYONE sees ANYONE violate safe practices, they are to remind them with a proper, “Please.” Then, even more importantly, the one reminded is to respond with “Thank you” and comply. Period. After someone takes a social risk to remind you, you have an obligation to muster the humility to say thank you. It’s all on YOU. Leaders can reinforce this new reminding/thanking ritual by teaching, “It’s kind to remind” and “When reminded, show gratitude not attitude.”
  3. Fire Drill. Hold daily fire drills in the first week. In the weeks following, twice a week is sufficient. In an effective fire drill, leaders walk all employees through the motions of each new safety behavior, including please and thank you.
  4. Daily Rounding. You don’t get what you expect, you get what you Just like in a hospital, leaders must use a checklist to do “rounding” and measure compliance results. They must walk the work area and observe the degree to which proper behavior is being practiced. They score it every day for the first 30 days. Rounding should be done at unpredictable times of day. After a month, rounding can happen every other day.
  5. Public Scorekeeping. Leaders must post the rounding scores publicly, every day. Above the score they place a large circle with colors denoting whether the organization is in: Green = 95%+. Yellow=80-90%. Red = <80%. They must commit to post the results no matter what they are. Embarrassment is a powerful motivator for improvement.


About VitalSmarts: Named a Top 20 Leadership Training Company, VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations®, Crucial Accountability®, Getting Things Done®, The Power of Habit®, and Influencer Training®, and New York Times best-selling books of the same titles. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 2 million people worldwide.

CONTACT: Josh Bird at +1-801.461.9783, or

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