We find ourselves preparing to head into the summer months shortly and if vaccination efforts are successful, coming back to some semblance of ‘normal’ in the fall. That being the case, there are a few important things that those in leadership roles should be considering now, as you plan to transition your teams into whatever post-COVID may look like.
If there was ever a time to be thinking ‘strategically’, this is it. Everything has become more complex, difficult, and uncertain since March of last year, but the pandemic will end. Not with the flip of a switch, but likely in a bumpy, protracted manner, simply because there are so many variables involved. The key to coming out of it as successfully as possible, is to keep one eye on your work and the other on the big picture. The world around you.
We’re not talking about ‘strategic planning' which is the responsibility of the senior leadership team. We’re talking about leaders and managers further down in the organization thinking in broader more long-term time frames than usual. Thinking strategically at all levels allows teams to work more efficiently and effectively because they’re focusing their time and effort where it will have the biggest impact.
When times are unpredictable, we need to be able to shift and change course quickly. That becomes much more difficult if we’re heads down. Strategic thinking is a mindset that takes intention and practice. So, encourage your people to think beyond their internal tasks and consider what’s happening in their clients’ worlds, their markets, and their industry. That higher-level information will be well worth the time it takes to gather, because it will allow them to plan and execute in a more responsive relevant way.
Listen to Your People
After more than a year of COVID-19, our workforce is transitioning back unhealthier than ever before. The pandemic has taken its toll physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. People are fragile and worn down, so it’s up to you as leaders to acknowledge this and begin by listening.
The sense of safety many of us had prior to the pandemic has been shaken, directly or indirectly. Make the effort to understand where people are at. Ask them if they feel differently about their roles at work now than before, and if so, how and why? Depending on their job, it may be some time before they feel secure again at work, so it’s important to take that into account as you plan for a return.
Make sure that when you survey them though, you do it in segments- front line, management, etc. because they will have had differing experiences and it’s important to consider those when you’re weighing decisions.
Resist Making Immediate Sweeping Changes
Again, listen. And then question and listen once more. Try not to make significant policy changes any sooner than you absolutely have to. The worst thing you could do is set unrealistic expectations of your teams. Time heals some things and shifts others. The more information you can gather before you make decisions, the better. And while you’re listening, keep your personal preferences to yourself to avoid influencing people in a direction that may come back to bite you later.
This includes being swayed by technology and all its ‘solutions’. There’s no question that technology pulled us through having to work remotely during lockdown. But there’s also no question that after fifteen months of Zoom calls, technology is not a substitute for face-to-face contact, conversation, and teamwork.
Regardless of what the big tech companies would have us believe about the future of embracing remote work, we need to do what’s right for us, our teams, and our organizations. And that will take time and experimentation to figure out. Ask yourselves ‘what won’t we be able to do as well, if we move too far in this direction?’
Appreciate that Change is Difficult
The familiar is comforting. That’s human nature. And we can all relate to that now because every single one of us has been impacted by the unknown since March of 2020. Whatever work will look like in the upcoming months, now is when we need to double down on our efforts to communicate. The success of any change depends on how well stakeholders understand the goal, the plan, and the risk.
And those changes are more likely to stick if your people have a say in what the plan looks like and what the outcomes will be. Remember all that listening you’ve been doing? This is where it pays off. 😉
Be honest and transparent. Admit what you don’t know for sure, and what the process will be if plan A doesn’t work out. Your team needs to feel that you have their back during this period of change.
No one is going to get it perfect. The only way to get it right is to experiment. Try what your information is telling you makes the most sense and if circumstances change or the plan isn’t working, shift and adapt. The bottom line is people will need time to adjust, so a little patience and kindness will go a long way.
Uncertainty is not an indication of poor leadership; it underscores the need for leadership.