Building the Future in a Post-Lockdown World – The Vital Role of the Leader
Across the economy, teams and individuals have shown extraordinary agility in adapting to the COVID-19 lockdown. Now, as the crisis evolves, they face a new challenge – making the transition to a new way of working. One that will combine working from home with, for some, a flexible return to the workplace. By providing individuals and teams with the support they need, leaders will play a vital role in making that transition as successful as possible. Based on the work we are doing with our clients, here are nine practical actions to take in relation to the people you lead:
Fulfil your duty of care. Ensure everyone is briefed on, consulted and engaged in the personal and team practicalities of the return – social distancing, seating arrangements, cleaning protocols, using meeting rooms and wearing masks. People need to know that you and the organisation are taking a thoughtful, coherent approach to ensuring their health and personal safety. Acknowledge, above all else, people’s essential needs for health and safety, empathise and validate those needs and ensure they are met.
Create time for reflection. In one-to-ones and in team sessions, engage your people in a reflection of the experience they have had since the lockdown began. Again, empathy and acknowledgement are essential. Each person will have a story tell. Each experience will be different and may range from the traumatic – a loved one who suffered from a serious COVID-19 infection – to the positive – someone for whom freedom from a difficult commute has been a revelation. Every story needs to be heard.
Speak truth, get real. Make no claim to certainty where none exists. Recognise that the process of moving to new ways of working will be gradual and experimental. It will be fluid and evolutionary and not a simple, linear progression – and it will be affected by factors beyond your control, including government policy and the spread of the virus. The same principle applies to other areas of uncertainty – for example, the impact of restructuring or cost reduction. Speak only what you know to be true – help people to navigate the inevitable ambiguity they will experience as your organization adapts to an uncertain future. Preserve your precious reputation as the source of messages that are credible and reliable.
Provide a bedrock. In a time of radical and transformative change, state with total certainty the things that are stable, consistent and unchanging. The values at the heart of your organization and culture. Your commitment to your clients or customers. Your promise that people will be consulted, and engaged, that their voices will be heard as the process of change moves forward, that they will be treated fairly and well.
Give people a sense of agency. On a massive and unprecedented scale, people have been deprived of their freedoms and forced to conform to onerous restrictions on everything from their leisure activities to their social life. Giving people the sense that now, in the workplace, they can exert influence, agency and control is a powerful way to energise and to motivate them. Engage them in building the future of your organization, even as they tackle the emotional and cognitive fatigue the pandemic has wrought. Involve them in the process of evolving new ways of working. Consult them on the impact of the changes that are made – on their aspirations and concerns and in their sense of purpose and value.
Coach and support. People experiencing dislocation, disruption and change on the massive scale caused by COVID-19 often feel less confident and less competent. Old certainties have disappeared, old habits and routines rendered obsolete. Accept that a great deal of coaching, support and one-to-one attention will be needed – and that each individual will need a different combination of those things to achieve a sense of agency, to take on greater autonomy and to rebuild their confidence in their own competence, skills and abilities.
Focus on performance. Nothing is more motivational than success. Create opportunities for individuals and teams to excel – and to see that what they achieve has a direct impact on the success of their organisation. Set goals that are personal, passionate and practical. Encourage innovation and then, in a team spirit of proactivity and urgency, turn concepts into fully-formed ideas, ideas into plans and plans into execution. Celebrate the success you achieve. And then use the energy and momentum you create to further increase individual and team performance.
Get personal. One global pandemic, countless different journeys through the crisis. Leadership now must be focused on the individual – and how he or she contributes productively within a team where work and the workplace will look very different. Recognise how the meaning of diversity and inclusivity has changed as you get to grips with personal circumstances in ways that are unique and new. Paradoxically, we know more about our people now than ever before. We have seen the inside of their homes on Skype or Zoom calls. We have seen members of their family bring them banana bread or a cup of tea as they take part in an online discussion about Q1 revenues. Leaders must be deeply understanding in embracing how each person is making a different journey through the crisis, in different family circumstances and with different challenges and with different concerns – about health, using public transport, their career, their finances.
Maximise collaboration. Sometimes, lockdown has felt that we have all become ‘sole practitioners’, atomized individuals working in lonely isolation from team members and colleagues. Now is the time for radical collaboration. Discuss with the team – how can we make collaboration happen in the new world in which office work is blended with working from home? How can we ensure everyone is involved and kept in the loop? How can we learn from the way we used technology in the crisis? How can we create new networks, new connections within our team and across our organisation?
And then there’s you. Taking the actions set our above will demand a great deal from you – your energy, focus, empathy, and time. You will need to be positive, resilient and forward looking. So, the final practical action is about looking after yourself. Looking after your own physical and psychological health. Developing your self-insight and self-awareness. Letting your team know what you need from them. No one has done this before. No one knows if they are doing the right thing. So, talk to your colleagues across the community of leaders and managers in your organisation. Share experiences, insights and concerns. Ask for the support you need to make your own journey to the future as successful and rewarding as possible.