It is difficult to think of an aspect of our existence that the Covid pandemic has not impacted in some manner. Our working lives have certainly been impacted, for some that meant loss of jobs or permanent closure of businesses. A recent HBR survey entitled "What Covid-19 has done to our Wellbeing" gives stark data on mental decline in general and burn out in particular. Now that organisations are reopening, leaders must address an unprecedented challenge; how to rebuild their businesses in a manner that is safe and culturally adapted to reflect the new world but also takes account of the often unspoken elements of stress in the workplace.
Every crisis intensifies the need for strong leadership competencies. Our own talent assessment stages have changed over the last 18 months accordingly to reflect this. The quality of people leadership during this challenging period will centre around agility, communication, clarity, security, purpose and care. If you are a new or recent leader, it will be a rapid learning experience. Here are five steps to get you started on your path:
1. Re-connect your team to the vision or create a new compelling ambition
Operational recovery as a purpose is short term. It creates initial buy-in, but fades quickly. Your employees want to know that what they do today, matters and fits with the organisation’s long term objectives. If your team’s mission has changed as a consequence of the pandemic, redefine your mission, communicate it clearly and work carefully to create engagement.
2. Recognise and celebrate small wins
What we took for granted prior to the pandemic are often key successes during a challenging return. Small wins matter, they are often achieved against greater adversity when in a recovery mode. Small wins help to raise the bar on what your team believes is achievable. Hunt out daily progress, even small moments of recognition ignite an employee’s engagement.
3. Be honest about challenges and failures
Create a two-way communication forum and make it safe for employees to share their concerns and perspectives. Be clear about the challenges, talk about what has and what has not worked and why. Encourage contribution. Don’t let ill feelings or worries fester, it can turn small personal concerns into large team disputes.
4. Keep what works and worked well
Not everything you did before the pandemic was perfect or but some of it is still fit for purpose. If your team works or worked remotely, reflect on what you did differently and any efficiencies you achieved. Work with your team to find the best blend of “before” and “during” phase activities to create the right “beyond” plan. If your team is hybriding, ensure time is set at least once a week for the team to meet safely and discuss any issues they wish to raise and those that can grow performance.
5. Be clear to them that you care
Your employees may have different personal priorities now, from those prior to the pandemic. Their experiences during, and continued navigation through, the pandemic has created anxiety and altered expectations. Bridge these new needs with the needs of your business, through a clear focus on employee wellbeing, transparency in all matters and alignment with all public health directives.
It is easy during these times to fall back on old ways of getting things done. The strongest leaders will avoid that trap and take this opportunity to grow engagement and performance. These are the leaders who really know the difference between survive and thrive.