Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result.

Since the world turned upside down in March 2020, managers and their teams have exhausted themselves moving to remote operations — for many, while supervising their children and their education. It should come as no surprise that every day, managers are drained from trying to find ways to help their teams.

For many months, our attention has been — correctly — focused on how to transition our businesses to survive and even thrive, but it’s time to shift gears. For business to be sustainable, we must train managers on how to take care of themselves and their teams.

The year 2021 will hopefully be the one when employee mental health takes center stage. Managers used to check in to check a box, but today, the stakes are too high for cursory efforts. If people don’t feel safe sharing what they’re going through, they will hide and miss deadlines, and, before you know it, important work will fall through the cracks.

In other words, it’s not enough to ask if people are OK. Managers need to want to know if they are OK. They need to care. They need to connect. To that end, here are three ways for managers to connect with teams: starting with themselves, then their team and, finally, with the purpose of their organization.

1. Connecting With Themselves

Executive coaching used to be only for the top leaders of an organization. Today, more and more companies are offering coaching to employees throughout the organization, because leaders know that people who are developing themselves personally are good for business, because they’re better in relationships.

Managers with self-knowledge are more effective connectors, because they know themselves. They know what baggage they bring to a situation, which makes them less reactive and more attuned. As a result, helping managers develop self-mastery benefits everyone. If managers can’t see their blind spots, their employees suffer.

Alisa Cohn, whom Marshall Goldsmith crowned the No. 1 startup coach in the world, shared that the best way to coach employees is to coach their managers. She has been working with the president of a financial services firm during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As the company moved to remote work,” Cohn says, “he and I talked through how he could address his employees’ tactical needs … along with their emotional needs during a stressful time.” Through their coaching together, “he has learned to ask more questions and listen and share some vulnerability rather than problem-solve in meetings, which has helped his employees feel more connected and supported.”

Feeling “connected and supported” — it’s what we all need.

2. Connecting With Their Team

We used to assume that managers would figure out how to connect with their teams, but those days are over. Dave Hanrahan, chief human resources officer of Eventbrite, put it this way in an interview on the podcast “HRD Live”: “Results and performance are important, but we think that the way you unlock people’s potential is to start with self-awareness to build empathy through trust.”

Eventbrite doesn’t take any chances. It explicitly trains its managers for empathy, giving them exercises to help engage with their team. One such exercise is called “How are you really, really doing?” It involves redesigning the one-on-one meeting to ask that question and provide “time and space for a real response to play out.”

Teaching people how to reflect and connect is the best place to invest your training dollars.

3. Connecting With Purpose

As much as humans need to connect with ourselves and one another, we also need to feel connected to a larger vision. It’s important to provide opportunities throughout the employee journey to connect with an organization’s purpose. One of the most effective ways to do so is through rituals, which help us feel psychologically safe and connected to purpose, which improves performance.

One of my favorite companies is Chipotle — not just because everyone in my family loves its food but because it is so good at connecting its employees to its purpose and values through rituals.

There’s one area of life where rituals always work like a charm — eating, of course — and Chipotle has ritualized the team meal before each shift. This shared sit-down meal isn’t just about feeding the employees; it’s about connecting with the company’s mission: “real ingredients, real purpose, real flavor.”

Marissa Andrada, Chipotle’s chief diversity, inclusion and people officer, says, “For us it’s about what we’re doing to cultivate a better world and what we’re doing to live our values. We tie it back to that, and we communicate it in that way. I think people see it.” Perhaps that’s one reason Chipotle has thrived during the pandemic.

As we enter 2021 with the world still upside down, kids still home from school, and parents working right alongside them, we have no choice but to be serious about connection. Giving managers the skills to engage — with themselves, their team and their organization — just might save your company.

Share