Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good leadership
I may be paraphrasing here, but in terms of employee engagement this statement rings especially true to me right now.
Never has the world’s spotlight shone so brightly as it shines on our global leaders today. You can’t escape the country-by-country comparisons that the media is making, and the different leadership decisions and actions taken in the fight to tackle Coronavirus (Covid-19).
It prompted me to think about our own leaders’ responses including those of our managers and our leadership teams at the various companies we work with. What is going to ensure employees remain focused and engaged right now is how their leadership responds to this crisis. The practical side of business, sales/ performance etc notwithstanding, what’s going to help drive productivity is an engaged workforce that will do everything it can to drive a business to success, now, and out the other side.
The mechanisms of how leadership teams reach employees may change over the coming months, but the need to hear from our leaders doesn’t. In fact, it’s needed more than ever.
1 – Have a plan
Yes, it’s changing daily so planning is difficult, but a communications plan doesn’t need to include every word you’re going to say at every stage of the crisis because, let’s be honest, where we are today, who knows? But it is important to control what you can control. Decide what you want your employee takeaways to be, who needs to be involved in decision making, what are the regular touch points for engagement and what platforms you will use for different types of communication – Town Halls, notes from the CEO, manager updates and so on. You also need to understand any trigger points that may prompt chatter or noise among staff that you need to get in front of – for example, earnings calls – and ensure that they are mapped out in your plan.
2 – Speak to your staff
Obvious? Well yes. But is it being actioned? Perhaps not. In times of fast changing information, people worry about getting the facts right, but actually we only take in a fraction of the information. What we do is look to our leadership to tell us that they have our backs, they care and they’re doing everything possible to weather the storm. It’s ok to say we don’t know what the future holds but explain that we’re doing all we can to future proof where possible.
The best example of this I saw recently was with Docebo, the learning management software tool. Now, full disclosure, my husband works here, but the CEO, Claudio Erba held a global town hall via webcast with all staff from his home in Italy – dressed in casual clothes, responding in real time to questions that staff had. Of course, there was focus on how to best serve clients, and how to operate ‘business as usual’ as much as possible, but crucially the focus was on showing his employees that he had their back, that he understood their challenges and worries and that he shared their concerns. There was also advice on staying sane while stuck at home, all delivered with humour and humility.
3 – Communicate more
Ensure that wherever possible, your employees hear about anything affecting the business at the same time as the market. Depending on the size and structure of the business, align your external and internal communications plans and make sure the messages are consistent, albeit tailored to the right audience. If you’re having to make difficult decisions explain why. No news is good news is not the mantra in times like this – the way to a calm workforce is to make them feel that they’re in the picture. If you don’t fill in the blanks, your employees will.
4 – Be seen
This sounds like a contradiction in a time of self-isolation and, in some countries, full lockdown, but showing your face to employees is going to be more important than ever. We’re social animals, so the need to engage is vital. We’ve probably all seen some of the memes doing the rounds – the ones where people are inventing annoying colleagues – but this speaks to a higher consciousness and that feeling of culture and belonging. Thankfully, this is much easier today because of the advances in technology. While sometimes a barrier to face to face engagement, tools that allow us to see our colleagues and interact with them will be more powerful now, and will become even more important the longer we’re asked to work remotely. It’s also important to schedule regular team meetings, face to face over skype/ whatsapp or whatever vehicle works for you. Also, think about doing something more social. Have a virtual lunch with colleagues, for example, and keep 1-1s in the diary, but do it by video instead.
5 – Be human
I know the temptation is to be business-like and formal, and we shouldn’t lower our standards, but now is the time to let a little of yourself in, empathise and build meaningful moments of engagement. If you have children, and your team member has too, talk about how you can best manage working from home. Acknowledge that it’s a challenge – this really is one of the gamechangers in how we organise our working day, how we balance parenthood and keep productivity high. As a mother myself, I know I will get the job done, even if it means longer days, interspersed with breaks while I grapple with my six year old’s education, hoping that I don’t ruin her chances of graduating one day. What I do worry about is how other people may view me at this time, so try to eradicate that worry, acknowledge there will be challenges we haven’t even thought about yet and trust your team to deliver. This extends to your customers, stakeholders and partners. Companies like Pret, and my local coffee shop were giving free coffee to NHS staff before they closed and H&M has just donated $500k to the World Health Organisation to help prevent the spread of this pandemic. These are all great acts of kindness which will make your employees proud. Clearly not all companies can make big gesture like these examples – just reach out, ask how they’re doing and try to help wherever possible.
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