The word “unprecedented” is used a lot these days, but maybe it’s the right word. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our world has changed a lot in the last few months, and it continues to change. Companies are beginning to operate as usual again, but the environment is anything but usual. It’s been called the “new normal” or “next normal,” but what it hasn’t been called is “business as usual.”
Change has always been a key part of business, but have we ever seen change on this scale and this magnitude, affecting virtually every company in the world?
Bringing people back to work is sometimes called “reboarding,” because it bears surprising similarities to the onboarding process people go through when they join an organization. Our teams may be returning to the same company and the same jobs, but many of them are returning to a very different environment, and it is almost like starting a new job. How are organizations making room for reboarding? What is the leader’s role in this new environment?
Leaders are always important in change, but in reboarding, we have unique and challenging roles. We need to blaze new trails, draw new maps and find ways to inspire our colleagues to join us on the journey. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but there are some actions we can take to make our success more likely.
This article was originally titled, “10 Simple Rules for Being a Post-pandemic Leader,” but there’s nothing simple about being a leader. Leadership is work, but it has remarkable rewards. So, here are 10 difficult rules. They will take some planning, focus and perseverance to succeed — but isn’t that what leadership is all about?
1. Lead With Compassion
We are in a new world — terra incognita. We are asking everyone to change, and that change is often challenging. It requires patience and understanding, especially from leaders. Show you understand what your team members are going through. We must move forward, but we can move forward with compassion.
2. Accept That You Can Lead Without Knowing Everything
When organizations undergo significant change, employees often look to the leaders in the organization to set direction and provide answers. However, in the new normal, it will often be true that the leaders don’t have any more experience than anyone else. Accept that you don’t know everything; your job is to facilitate, not direct.
3. Communicate More
You may be asking team members to change lifelong behaviors. Be clear, be consistent and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Sometimes, leaders say, “I’m afraid I’m overcommunicating,” but in a change environment, there is no such thing.
4. Maintain two-way Communication
While communicating frequently is important, remember that communication goes both ways. Leaders need to listen, not just talk. Some of the best ideas will come from your team members. Create a safe environment for them to share their thoughts. It can be as simple as responding, “What do you think we should do?” when someone asks you a question.
5. Be a Role Model for Change
When people aren’t sure what to do, they look to their leaders. They should see you doing what you want them to do.
6. Hold Accountable, and Be Accountable
Some people will “test” the change by pushing back to see if you really mean it. As tempting as it may be to let some behaviors slide, demonstrate that you’ll hold them accountable for change. And, show them you’ll be accountable, too; if someone calls you out on consistency, accept that feedback, and be open to change. (See rule 5.)
7. Support Your Stakeholders as They Go Through Change
Your stakeholders are going through everything you’re going through. Adapt your processes to meet their new environment.
8. Provide Ample Social Support
Your team members need to feel like they can ask questions, raise issues and feel a little uncomfortable. Some people will need to talk it out, maybe more so than usual. Don’t confuse reluctance with resistance. When the path is dim, provide as much light as you can. Often, people aren’t really looking for answers; they just need the opportunity to voice their fears and concerns.
9. Start Early, and Don’t Stop
Begin communicating to team members as soon as possible what the new normal will look like. Don’t wait until they are back on the job, and keep reminding and reinforcing long after they return.
10. Focus on the Future, Not the Past
Reinforce the possible in the new normal, rather than mourning the loss of the old normal. Sure, it’s tempting to talk about the “good old days,” but it’s counterproductive. Stay in the now, focus on what needs to change and celebrate your successes.
And, remember: “Leader” is a role, not a title. Everybody in an organization can be a leader, and your company needs leaders right now. It may not be easy, but the long-term success of your business could very well depend on it.