Disruption abounds. Many companies have shut down travel and enacted mandatory working from home, where they can.
What can organizations do at this critical moment to keep work going – and importantly, to care for, and guide their people at a time of tremendous stress?
As leaders, the key to addressing both organizational and employee concerns is to act with empathy and understanding - and not only engage but also enable employees to succeed.
Engagement is the “want to” of work. Are employees committed to the organization, and are they willing to put in extra effort for the good of the organization?
Enablement is the “can do.” Are employees’ skills and abilities fully utilized in their roles, and does the organizational environment support them in getting work done?
Keeping teams motivated and positioned to succeed today is already a demanding task, with business environments evolving rapidly and the workforce becoming increasingly diverse, mobile, and remote. Challenging times make engagement and enablement even more critical – but also more difficult to sustain.
I recommend these ten approaches as you rally your team behind you, making sure that you can build upon existing goodwill or bring flagging engagement up.
- Frequent, candid, consistent and personal communications - There’s no such thing as overcommunicating right now. Things are changing fast, and leaders must connect with employees in real time – as real people. Candor is especially valuable, as everyone’s “honesty radar” is on high alert.
- Put health and safety at the top of the agenda - Engagement is an exchange relationship. If organizations want employees to do and deliver more, then employees must feel valued as people. That’s especially critical when health concerns intersect with work responsibilities.
- Be realistic about the promise and reality of technology - Digital technology provides employees with lifelines for connection and productivity in an isolating time. But today’s technology causes frustration almost as often as it alleviates it. Be forthright about technology’s imperfections, and if possible, show a sense of humor about these blips.
- Take employees’ personal challenges seriously and provide true resources - Personal challenges abound right now, and most employees lack an adequate understanding of their benefits. As they struggle with personal issues and worries, emphasize medical options through health insurance, available employee assistance programs, and company support for addressing child-care needs.
- Rethink time management and rearrange workday if needed - Working parents – and others – may struggle to balance challenges during the traditional workday, with its often randomly scattered meetings. Teams can work in “chunks,” so people can be on for blocks of meetings or work, and then off for blocks of hours to address personal needs. Meetings may need to get shorter, be consolidated, or cancelled entirely.
- Hone in on what’s critical and what can wait - A moment of crisis and overload can really highlight how much “clutter” exists in everyone’s working life...how many tasks we each do every day that are truly not that important. Leaders need to give employees permission to focus just on what’s really essential to navigating the crisis – including reporting to them just around crucial priorities.
- Acknowledge that employee’s experiences may be very different and ever-changing - A common crisis highlights how diverse employees’ experiences are – some may be energized by the crisis, some may find themselves with free time to fill…while others may be deeply stressed and overwhelmed by personal demands. And some employees may be in the former camp on some days and the latter camp on other ones! Making zero assumptions about how people are experiencing the COVID crisis is the right starting point for any effort.
- Address rewards and performance metrics - Leaders need to rethink what success looks like in this new situation. In challenging times, when companies most need the energy of engaged employees, they likely will be constrained in their ability to reward them. Take a considered approach to show commitment to your people. Non-monetary recognition, like openly acknowledging employees who lead by example during the crisis can have just as much impact especially in the short term. Clarifying for employees how the organization plans to manage reward and performance amid present disruptions both reinforces a sense of equity and eliminates a source of distraction.
- Acknowledge and tackle the gap in informal interaction - Research shows that productivity can be the same or even better while people work remotely. That said, a number of studies also point to the critical role of informal connections within the office – e.g the random conversation in the office kitchen – in generating innovative ideas. Organizations should acknowledge this gap and provide ways to create informal interactions. Scheduling informal meetings (“virtual lunches”) can be helpful in this regard, but removing formal interaction is the greatest driver of informal interaction – which means pulling meetings off the calendar. Let’s say a given group spends 80% of their time in meetings. Bring their meeting time down to 60%, and informal interaction will start to spring up. ways to create informal
- Most importantly, give people a voice - Taking all of the above steps meaningfully will improve engagement and productivity during a crisis… but they will fall flat unless you implement a final initiative: giving employees a real, palpable channel to express what they think, feel, and experience. Some of this can be done formally, with top leaders reflecting back the feedback they receive, but much of this work is done at ground level, with managers staying in true dialogue (not “messaging monologue”) with their direct reports. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers. The best ideas will often come from far-flung corners of the organization.
Virtually no one had a “global pandemic” on their 2020 plan, and this crisis will touch and change virtually every business. But you can protect loyalty and prepare your teams to be ready for recovery when you engage them meaningfully and enable them with the right resources to carry your organization through these difficult times.
Join us to learn more about employee experience at People Matters EX: A Virtual Conference on 19th June.