Browse Our Archives

May 2020

Beyond the Pandemic

A playbook for managing recovery for people and culture.

Written by Paul Thallner | 0 comment

Leaders across the winter sports and recreation industries have spent the last two months in survival mode. The immediate impact of the global pandemic was fierce: slashing the 2019-20 season by as much as 25 percent; slamming the brakes on summer and winter 2020-21 marketing; containing spending to keep from spiraling into a deep hole; and releasing employees who had expectations and plans to stay with you for the duration.

Now that the initial shock and adrenaline-fueled reactive phase is over, leaders are trying to make sense of what just hit them and how their businesses will change. With a fast-rising unemployment rate and the threat of recession looming, the hope is that by next winter, the economy will be moving back to normal.

But what happens between now and then to recover the resort’s current, former, and future employees? How do leaders restore faith in the resort as a great workplace where people choose to invest their time and are trusted to do good work? Here’s a playbook to get you on the road to recovery.


During the spring and summer, the main area of focus needs to be CARE. Transitioning from an emergency response to a business continuity plan will happen over time and will be based on how much clarity and confidence leaders have. Leaders, employees, and former employees will be carrying an added emotional load of uncertainty. While leaders can’t be personal counselors to every employee, they can acknowledge the emotional reality of the situation and create conditions where employees feel heard and valued.

COMMUNICATION. During times of crisis, it’s critical that leaders communicate clearly, directly, succinctly, and frequently. Current and former employees are making daily decisions to protect their livelihoods, and leaders inform those decisions. Being authentic, honest, and humane builds trust. Good communication applies not only to how a leader allocates work to current employees, but also to the way the leader treats former employees. Unvarnished clarity, an absence of corporate-speak, and regular contact helps both groups. It’s an act of caring that provides relief and reduced stress to those in need of answers.

AGILITY. Teams need to put points on the board, and the more flexibility teams have to execute, the better they’ll perform. Research shows that teams thrive when they are trusted to solve problems their own way. Conversely, when leaders over-prescribe how they want the goal met, teams underperform. Micromanaging kills motivation.

Post-pandemic, leaders may find themselves with smaller teams facing brand new challenges. It’s natural—particularly in high-stakes, high-stress moments—for leaders to be over-involved in a team’s functioning. However, getting out of their way and unleashing the potential of a group’s diverse perspectives will enable more work to be done at a higher level of quality while simultaneously strengthening team functioning. Most leaders learn this the hard way; team coaching can help.

REDESIGN. Most resorts’ recruitment processes are designed to find the precious few available and qualified people in a tight job market. This year, you may have the opposite problem: more applicants, more first-time applicants, more diverse applicants, and perhaps over-qualified applicants. Try redesigning the recruitment and selection processes to attract highly qualified, reasonably priced candidates. For example, a revised employee value proposition can introduce your resort in a new way to a new audience of prospective employees. For senior-level leader selection, include a discussion about leader behavior. Assessments like the Performance Leader Identifier are good vehicles to discuss how candidates engage their teams and drive a positive, results-focused culture.

EMPATHY. To support a people recovery plan properly, leaders and their teams need to develop methods to sustain momentum over a long, challenging period of time. Brain research has shown that the deliberate practice of empathy—the act of thinking from the perspective of another person—lowers stress of both the person practicing and those he/she encounters. For example, leaders can regularly check in with former employees to see how they are doing. Showing a level of genuine concern for their well-being and acknowledging they are still valued is the leadership behavior most closely correlated to trust and engagement.

The cornerstone of the people recovery playbook is leader resilience. To build one’s own ability to bounce back from the ongoing adversity brought about by the pandemic, adopt some simple restorative practices: meditation, prayer, exercise, non-work conversation, reading, or a relaxing hobby. When done for as little as 10 minutes a day, meditation can rewire neural pathways in your brain, making it harder to access habitual (negative) responses to things.


Over the summer and as winter nears (or as COVID-19 restrictions ease and the economy starts to recover), the playbook gets more pragmatic. Therefore, we encourage resorts to CLIMB during this phase. You get to decide the path, but deliberately expanding the circle and venturing out more is important here.

COORDINATION. During this phase, more people will be working at the resort. They will be coming from a variety of sources—some familiar, and some new. You may have new points of contact at your recruitment agency or foreign exchange service. There will be a high risk of confusion, and a very strong need to coordinate. Ensure that you are anticipating the resource load on coordinating recruitment and onboarding activities.

LEARNING. A crisis doesn’t change people, it reveals them. This adage encourages us to note what we have observed in the people around us during the pandemic. Were there gaps in knowledge or skill that the resort needs? Where have the teams acted or failed to act? Where did I/we get stuck? These and other questions are good to ask regularly. Can we incorporate prior action reviews or other strategies to recall our learning, identify risk, and set teams up for future success?

INVESTMENT. Placing smart bets going forward is important. A people recovery plan should include leader retention and selection. The cost of replacing a leader is 10 times his or her salary, by most accounts. One way to support a leader who may be wavering is with executive coaching. When used as a development tool (and not a punitive “last ditch” attempt to save someone), there can be significant ROI. Studies have shown that coaching can produce an 88 percent increase in individual productivity. Additionally, the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching is 7 times their initial investment.

MEASUREMENT. As teams and individuals settle in to the “new normal,” the resort will need a way to ensure its people are functioning well. Companies often turn to digital solutions to gather and aggregate performance data. When selecting a measurement tool or assessment, be aware of what it is measuring, and make sure that the provider gives access to the research base behind the tool. Generally, assessments developed from university research have higher reliability and validity, and measure a specific thing. Commercially produced assessments generally measure lots of things and have spotty research. Do your homework.

BUILDING. Once the leadership team agrees on a game plan based on an assessment of the environment, it’s time to start building. Some important projects in this phase include a solid employee value proposition, a comprehensive recruiting strategy, and an onboarding process that highlights the great workplace you’re creating.


Finally, over the longer term (winter 2020-21 and beyond) when there’s sufficient stability in the market, the resort can begin to transition the people recovery plan to a strategic people plan. In this phase (no acronym this time), the resort should institutionalize the processes it has developed, have a good handle on its intentionally developed workplace culture, and have a strong onboarding (or re-boarding) process for new employees.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, the impact of COVID-19 will unfold in ways we cannot imagine. The uncertainty of the present makes it exceptionally difficult to look ahead. But as past crises have shown, looking ahead is more important now than ever. Companies that do will emerge better and more competitive than they were before.