COVID-19 exit – Are you ready?
What has determined and will continue to determine each organization’s success is the caliber of its leadership and management.
READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: COVID-19 Rages On: Are You Ready?
Organizations that responded best to the onset of the pandemic, and especially the lockdown, were those with managers used to forward planning, used to risk assessment, and used to create innovative solutions rapidly with their teams. Those same organizations will cope best with the potential exit from the lockdowns.
But, let’s be clear. It has not been solely the prompt adoption of work from home (WFM) policies or the use of virtual networking platforms such as ZOOM, MS Teams, Blue Jeans, etc that enabled some to excel while others have struggled. Nor will it be the decision to remain with WFM, or to go for a hybrid approach, or even to demand that everyone comes back to work that will determine a successful exit from lockdown. Those decisions are relatively trivial and societal pressure will play as big a part in them as any business analysis.
What has determined and will continue to determine each organization’s success is the caliber of its leadership and management. If organizations believe that going into lockdown was a huge challenge, they should wait and see what trying to come out of it will be like!
To quote the WHO’s May 11th report, “… Case and death incidence … remains at the highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. … While India continues to account for 95% of cases and 93% of deaths in the South-East Asia Region … worrying trends have been observed in neighboring countries …” This isn’t over and it won’t be for some time to come. We need to learn to work with it!
We now know that there have been unforeseen consequences of remote working:
- Cognitive disconnect – the informal flow of information all but ceased. Even our attention levels have dropped and we do not consciously hear anywhere near as much in virtual meetings as we did face-to-face.
- Emotional distance – while many of us have more meetings and meet with more people, there is increasing evidence that being blobs on a screen does not generate the emotional connection that face-to-face, full-body visibility, produces. We are having more but far weaker relationships
Organizations thinking of running talent reviews (which have always suffered from poor quality data about people) are now threatened. Some people-managers are being asked to profile and review people whom they have never met and rarely even seen on screen.
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Globally, organizations now face uncertainty about:
- When they will be able to achieve a new normal – while Europe and the USA, among others, are preparing to come out of lockdown, cases of new variants are rising rapidly and threatening to create new waves of infection and deaths;
- How to fund current operations – many are worried about the businesses already lost but those may prove to be in the minority as already cash-strapped businesses face supply shortages and increased costs of raw materials;
- How to fund the transition to a new modus operandi – high levels of tolerance have been shown during the shift to WFM but the pressure will build for organizations to recognize their responsibility for the working environments in which home-based workers find themselves. They will also need to address the issue of productivity – is it really as high as some of them claim?
- How to prepare for the next crisis - because there will be one. The pandemic has distracted us from many other issues any one of which could trigger a new global crisis. In addition to the risk of a new pandemic, we see increasing social unrest across the developed world and political instability globally.
Climate change effects are increasing fast, and we now see military conflict erupting in various parts of the world. Financial markets are starting to be more volatile and there is a risk of serious inflation in many parts of the world.
How their staff will respond in the longer term. Moving to WFM was exciting for many; commute times were eradicated overnight; working hours flexibility swept in; incidents of interpersonal conflicts crashed; for many of those still employed disposable income increased.
But what next?
The new world of work, especially for managers, will be a quite different place. It’s time to set better norms that will instill a holistically healthy, productive, and inclusive workforce into the future. Whilst urgency will focus most organizations on reacting to the financial and legal pressures, importance will demand that they take dramatic action to increase the quality of their people-managers. They need managers capable and committed to forward planning, risk assessment, to creating innovative solutions rapidly with agile teams.
We also know that individuals require people-managers who care:
C - They provide Clarity. Clarity around expectations; clarity around future needs; Clarity around how the individual and their performance is viewed.
A - They provide Assurance. Managers cannot assure that any job will survive. But they can provide assurance that they will support their staff, fight for their positions, and be there to support them no matter what happens.
R - They provide Recognition. Specific recognition for who they are, specific recognition for what they have done, and specific recognition for what their actions achieved. All too often, we only attend to the latter.
E - They provide Empathy. Taking time to ask about each employee’s circumstances and well-being and providing empathetic responses and decisions.
Those all require each manager to spend more one-to-one time with staff, asking questions and genuinely listening to their responses before stepping in with statements, advice, etc.
So, are you ready? In your organization, are you taking action to achieve a step-change improvement in the caliber of your people managers? Are you equipping, supporting, and developing them to build strong relationships in an increasingly noisy, virtual world? Are you equipping, supporting, and developing them to continuously look ahead, perform risk analyses, and prepare for the next crisis?