We are living in unprecedented times. The pandemic has had a huge impact on individual and collective health and prosperity, and no one knows when our economy and our society will be healthy again. We may be optimistic that both will emerge stronger in the future — but it will likely be months before we see significant positive traction.
The world that businesses operate in is changing. Some businesses will come back stronger. Others may not come back at all. Only those organizations that can adapt to new demands will succeed in the short term and thrive in the future.
Working from home will likely be a norm for many knowledge workers and their team leaders. Companies may not need the physical space to house as many employees as before.
Service industries like hospitality, restaurant and retail face restrictions, including social distancing guidelines and employees and patrons who wear masks. They’ll have to limit the number of people using their services, which will reduce productivity and profitability.
Yet opportunities exist. If companies and leaders can inspire team members to proactively solve problems, set aside old practices, test and prove better ways to work, and pilot new products, the likelihood of those organizations surviving — and, indeed, thriving — is much greater.
The single most important component in this formula are caring leaders: leaders who adapt to serve their employees and their companies and create positive traction. These leaders cannot depend on antiquated practices to inspire employees under the stresses of the pandemic. They must evolve and adapt, and these three powerful behaviors can help them inspire others:
Leaders must proactively communicate with employees and explain the state of the company. Transparency is of vital importance when employees are working from home or waiting to be called back to work once the business reopens. The rules are changing constantly, and county by county, guidelines and restrictions are different. As a result, communicating the company’s plan is critical.
Leaders also must communicate performance expectations for individual team members and for the whole team. Creating visual dashboards to track progress on key tasks and goals will help employees see where they stand at a glance.
In addition, it’s important for leaders to communicate — and demonstrate — the company’s core values and measurable behaviors. The stresses created by the shutdown impact everyone to varying degrees and in different ways. When stressed, employees may act out by demeaning, dismissing or discounting others. Leaders must not allow disrespectful treatment of team members at any time, from anyone.
Leaders should proactively validate others’ efforts and accomplishments daily. Rewards and recognition are always appreciated, but validation is a more comprehensive and valuable approach. It requires leaders to observe and learn how teams and team members work through challenges to do the right things the right way, while demonstrating the company’s core values.
Every human needs validation. Describing how well employees solved a problem, found resources to address gaps or teamed with peers to meet difficult deadlines, and thanking them for those efforts, communicates the leader’s authenticity, care and enthusiasm for the team and for each team member.
On most teams, there are a lot of good things that happen each day, but western, industrial thinking has led many leaders to pay greater attention to misses than successes. Leaders are not used to seeing or validating the good. The challenge in appropriately validating others’ efforts daily is that leaders can’t be everywhere at once. They need peers to report great work by colleagues so no good deed is ignored.
Leaders must coordinate efforts across their team daily. When working remotely, it’s more challenging for team members to access resources, and it takes time and energy to connect with a peer who may have an answer to a question.
Coordination isn’t common when everyone is in the office or plant, particularly in the western world, where we tend to emphasize individual accomplishment and competition. Today, however, individual accomplishment isn’t the only necessary outcome. Team coordination boosts productivity and helps keep people connected when working in a solitary environment.
These behaviors require leaders to lead differently. Old ways of “command and control” will not lead to engaged employees, superb customer service and expected results. Some leaders may need training to build skills in these three practices. Others may have had training to demonstrate these practices in the past but need to dust off those skills and demonstrate them daily.
If team members experience these behaviors from their leaders every day, they’ll be able to fully engage in whatever is necessary to adapt, survive and thrive.