A fact about leading an organisation during the pandemic is that leaders around the world don’t have any valid reference point from the past to relate to. In such times, spearheading an organisation becomes even more challenging for leaders—you bootstrap, you gain experiences from successes and failures, and you learn.
When you are confronted with times like these, speaking from the experience I have for over a year now of leading a young and energetic organisation in the pandemic, a leader must balance the see-saw of these two-pronged objectives and develop the associated leadership traits to successfully usher their workforce into a new era:
It’s in the unlikeliest of circumstances that people-centric objectives take center stage as the business-centric objectives sidestep. The pandemic turned out to be such an event and offers the perfect time for leaders to own the responsibility of their people’s well-being.
According to a recent research paper by American Psychological Association, exposure to the reality of death and mortality triggers extreme feelings of anxiety and withdrawal from life-expanding activities like taking up new projects. Basis another study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, 70% of employees feel more stressed out now than at any other time, and 42% of workers said it affects their productivity and results in poor decision-making.
Additionally, with remote work, we are not getting the visual cues and activities that are part of day-to-day work in the physical setting, such as water-cooler conversations, face-to-face meetings, and daily lunch and tea breaks. These random workplace chatter sessions extended far beyond the actual activity and allowed each one of us to read so much into our colleagues, develop trust, and form personal bonds.
The role of a leader in such a time becomes vital in better understanding their workforce, connecting with them often, and employing a higher degree of emotional intelligence and empathy. They should conduct one-to-one video sessions with managers, who in turn should conduct those sessions with their team members. Such sessions are critical to understanding any overwhelming feeling your people are undergoing and offer them the requisite support.
Another aspect of people-centric initiatives is employee benefits. The conversation has suddenly shifted from ‘how to open the offices in a safe manner’ to ‘how do I support my employees in this health crisis so that they have the right resources when it matters the most’. It’s the perfect time for leadership to invest in impactful healthcare benefits. Organisational ecosystem needs to be created that acts as a safety net for people- an open space where they feel safe to enjoy the flexibility, take additional time off for caregiving, and feel physically and emotionally healthy to work.
With continuous disruptions, organisational leaders need to be agile in adopting new-age technologies, embracing business transformation, and recalibrating strategy according to the changing market priorities. Organisations must keep the lights on not just for sales and business numbers, but also for their customers and employees. Leaders must listen to the changed customer expectations and have a finger on the pulse of transitioning market trends. They must be able to gauge what will work, what product lines and legacy systems aren’t working, and quickly pivot the business by creating innovative solutions for customers. Deciding what not to do is as crucial for business continuity as deciding what to do. When you deliver on the new challenges of your customers, you can turn disruptions into opportunities for business growth.
Now, business realignment can create doubts about its sustainability as well as job security for employees. Leaders must effectively communicate the change in business strategy and the reasons for the same. By doing that, you inspire confidence, convince your workforce to believe in your vision of the business transformation, and execute successfully on the plans.
To achieve active employee participation in organisational plans, you have to ensure your workforce is also moving in tandem with the changed business landscape through unlearning, learning, and relearning skills needed in a post-COVID-era. Equip your people with the right technologies, skills, and training to bring them on par to deliver on the business challenges of tomorrow.
Successful leaders are always invested in creating a sense of belonging in their employees and finding ways to shift from managing to enabling people, which entails decentralizsng power. Empower your people to decide the best course of action, so that business decisions, operations, and processes can move swiftly from point A to B.
Offering people both- the support and work that has meaning, value, and purpose- result in a higher work engagement. According to Gallup, engaged employees are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable. What leaders help create and how they lead in this once-in-a-lifetime event will serve as the blueprint for future crises and stave off any inadequacies and unpreparedness- basically, the wrong foot that this crisis caught us on.
Views are personal. the author is CEO, Mercer | Mettl