A seismic shift has occurred over the last several months. The unexpected has become the all-consuming way of life. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, leaders will need to adapt their current ways of doing business to meet the new demands of their constituents — both employees and customers. The workforce has responded with creativity, adaptability and perseverance, navigating through the evolving complexity and changing situation. Some of these responses include:
- Shifting entirely to digital environments.
- Setting up work stations at home.
- Converting on-site programs and courses to virtual.
- Transitioning from on-site to remote learning.
- Serving customers through online hubs.
- Conducting one-on-one and group interviews using digital platforms.
- Moving to virtual office hours.
- Providing health care services via telehealth.
- Developing webinars to inform the workforce.
- Setting up drive-through testing stations.
- Creating volunteer programs to help with immediate needs.
- Conducting research virtually.
- Conducting team huddles, meetings, coffee check-ins and happy hours to connect with colleagues.
- Sharing inspirational or amusing videos.
- Changing the delivery care model for COVID-19 patients.
- Repurposing conference centers and parking lots into clinical space.
- Adapting all sorts of processes, projects and workflows to respond to changing conditions.
In our new book, we write, “In a crisis, people don’t sit back. In a crisis, people get involved!” Leaders are understanding more than ever that in order to bounce back from setbacks, they have to be able to quickly respond, absorb, adapt and recover from disruptive events. Doing so requires harnessing the best thinking and contributions of the many.
Now that employees know it can be done, their expectations have changed. Why spend long hours in boring meetings or commute to work in heavy traffic when other options are available? Why sit in the corner unnoticed when you have something worthwhile to contribute?
At the heart of leadership, moving forward, is the ability to manage complexity. Research into organizational health and complex adaptive systems serves as a guide for leading in what will become the new normal. This type of leadership is not a top-down approach, with the elite few making all the decisions. It is not “business as usual.” It is about promoting more freedom to team members while providing leadership, direction and essential controls. This shift leads to better results, as we have seen demonstrated in spades across the country.
This shift, however, is big. Three of many critical actions for leaders’ consideration as they plan their new normal are as follows:
Drive Responsibility Downward
People want to make a difference. Employees have experiences, skills and knowledge to contribute that go well beyond their role or job description. In order to know how employees can make those contributions, leaders must interact with their employees in new ways that give them a sense of who they are, including their strengths, passions and purpose. It is more important than ever for leaders to nurture relationships with their team members.
Create New Structures That Can Bring People Together Rapidly
Being able to rapidly solve problems and respond to opportunities is critical to survival. Leaders should empower small, disciplined teams to explore and exchange ideas, make decisions, and act. They should invite to the table team members who understand the context, team members who have relevant insights and expertise, and team members with diverse experiences.
Lighten up on Unnecessary Controls
In the aftermath of the pandemic, organizations will need all the help they can get from their people. While some controls are critical, such as regulatory compliance and the security and privacy of information, many are not. Policies too often serve as a straitjacket when a guideline will serve the organization better. Leaders should focus on sharing the “why” behind the necessary controls and find ways to make it easier to do the right thing through the redesign of everyday processes and workflows.
Leading in new ways feels uncomfortable. A leader’s role is made up of multiple daily work behaviors and practices, and when a leader starts changing them, others notice. Now, they are in the spotlight. They may feel vulnerable, but they can talk to their team about it. The team knows the genie is out of the bottle, and they are looking for the leader to prepare the way. The good news? By finding a community of support to help them, they won’t have to go it alone.