Your return to the workplace is a tremendous opportunity to reflect, re-set, and revitalize your leadership.
I’d be shocked if our current global situation hasn’t caused millions of us to reflect on our lives, realize what’s most important, and start to think about how we may do things differently moving forward. Pandemics have a way of doing that.
The impacts to our personal and work lives are unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, for sure. For most of us, the only trip we’ve made outside our homes, is either to the supermarket, or to exercise, or maybe to a necessary or emergency medical procedure. But that’s largely it. And like many of you, I’ve never seen so many families around the community taking a walk together, riding bikes, and I’m sure engaging in all kinds of long-lost activities within their homes as well.
The Corona Virus, or COVID-19 as it’s called, is literally the largest disruptor to the global economy that we’ve ever seen, certainly in our lifetimes. And of course, the worst of this is truly those that will lose their lives and suffer from the illness, as well as their families and friends. All of our hearts go out to those in the workplace that have been impacted through furloughs, layoffs, and are struggling to make ends meet. There are also many of you that are working reduced hours, extended hours, or working remotely. For some of you, working remotely isn’t new, and we should recognize that for many more people, this may indeed become the new normal.
Specific industries and operations that require a physical presence – manufacturing and assembly operations, most of the service industries, products and services performed and/or delivered at customer sites – will undoubtedly still need you to show up, albeit with some new work protocols. For those of you in leadership roles at any level, responsible for others, that will return to a familiar workplace sometime soon, I offer a few thoughts and ideas below on what you can do now and in the near future, to prepare for a re-entry into the workplace, whenever that may happen.
First things first…this is a perfect time for a bit of self-reflection. Now, I’m the person that actually chuckled, if not laughed out loud, when consultants suggested self-reflection many years ago. After all, I was running operations almost my entire career and was too concerned with getting things done and running the business. But hey, we all evolve, mature and grow. So do yourself a favor and take stock of where you are in your life and work. Do you enjoy coming to work every day? Is it truly fulfilling? Are you energized when you meet with your team? Do you think they are energized by you? What about your boss, your peers, and employees at large? Is it fun interacting with these folks? Is the work you actually do, of value, is it exciting? And ultimately, did spending the last several weeks at home, wake you up to some of the good stuff, the stuff that just maybe slowly slipped away over the years – family time, home time, and other simple, but profound pleasures?
Look, we all have good days and bad days, both at work, and at home. I’ve always thought and shared with others, that when it comes to work, it’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride. And as long as there are plenty of thrills, as long as the good days outweigh the bad ones, you’re more likely to stick around. So once you’ve made the decision, that you are sticking with your current gig, at least for now, then go ahead and assess your own behavior, your performance, and the leadership you’re providing to your team.
I guarantee there are many things you, your team, and your department are doing really well, in terms of making positive contributions to your company. Yet, if you’re honest with yourself, there are probably things you wish you had said and done differently in the past, or are currently frustrated with as they are not producing the expected results. Now, is the perfect time to hit the re-set button, examine your behavior and actions, how you’re running the business, your level of engagement with employees, and whether or not you are meeting goals and objectives, delivering for customers, and truly enjoying the work. No doubt that you will make some positive changes in work and your life, as a result of this exercise.
When the time comes for you to actually to go back to the physical workplace, meet with your team, just as you might have when you first started in your current role. And if you didn’t then, now’s your chance. In fact, whenever you get a new assignment, start a new job, change companies – one of the first things you should do is connect with your team. They are the people that will get things done for you and the company, every single day. Meet with them face-to-face if you can. If they are in different locations, do it via video or conference call. Let them know who you are, what you value, what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Believe me when I tell you, they want you to take charge.
The organizational responsibility for others is huge – don’t take it lightly. If you’re new to the company or in a new role, recognize that your direct reports are waiting, anticipating, and even gossiping, about what the new boss is like. Don’t let gaps in communication fill in the blanks. Like it or not, they are looking to you for direction, guidance, inspiration, challenges, and fulfillment. You have the most important position in the company, to them. You are an influencer, and you literally have a pretty big say about how and if their career progresses.
Assess each individual relationship as well. Set up one-on-ones, level with people about where you think the relationship is good, and where it isn’t, own up to where you may have not have been clear on expectations, or how you can be more supportive of their success, be clear with where they stand on performance, and commit to support and work with each team member to help them get to where they want to go.
Perform an after action review (AAR):
Borrowing a term from the military and other industries, perform a lessons learned or what is called, an After Action Review. Obviously, this is an activity to be performed once you all get back to the workplace, but take notes now, of new ideas, practices, that might be a step change improvement over how things used to be done. You don’t have to execute this with the military rigor and following a strict protocol. I’m talking about having an open discussion with your team on what all of you did while away from the office, both personally, and professionally. Talk about what worked well, what didn’t, what you learned, and how that can be applied moving forward. Make real and substantive changes based on these learnings. That’s when people will know that it’s real, that you’re genuinely interested in putting into action individual’s ideas and making improvements to the team and the business. Maybe some remote work could continue, especially if deliverable productivity, quality, safety, and customer service, are as good as, or better than before.
Give back time:
When you’re responsible for people, you have a key role to play and your team has a contribution to make. Maximize the time they have to do the job right for you and the company. What does that mean? Well, you probably have some kind of governance structure or leadership meeting calendar in place to keep the team aligned, review business performance, and ensure goals are being met. If you don’t, then get some good governance in place now. It’s not micro-management, it’s called prudent management. Review the governance structure and specifically, the time spent in meetings for all. You may find that more time is spent in meetings than on actually allowing people to perform work and manage their teams. And these are just your meetings that you require them to be at. Think about the meetings that your direct reports have with their teams, and so on. Look, meetings are important and necessary, however, validate the need, the frequency, the length, and the audience. If you can eliminate the meeting, do it. If you can decrease the frequency and length, do it. If you can limit the attendees, do it. Your team will be thrilled and more importantly, respect you, for giving back, the gift of time.
In the past, it was the rare leader that could articulate both the good and bad, skills and gaps, about performance of the company, and themselves. Admitting to mistakes or bad decisions was not popular. Yet I always admired leaders who weren’t afraid to admit when they made a bad decision, or where they could provide a bit more information, direction, and support in order to positively effect an outcome. It showed that they were human, just like you and me. So be vulnerable, admit where maybe you haven’t been as visible or supportive as you would like or that the project needed, own up to and be accountable for things that you could do better, ask for feedback, and when your team provides it, don’t get defensive! Don’t bite their heads off, otherwise, you will never hear feedback again. Feedback is a gift, and sometimes we simply can’t see what others see.
Make commitments, follow through:
So if you didn’t take action yet, and just talked about what could be done differently or better moving forward, now is the time to make commitments and execute. And it’s not just you. Tell your team what you’re committing to, and document it, and then ask them to do the same. Add these commitments to the action items section of your staff meeting minutes or summary. Review the status of action items at the beginning of each meeting, especially these renewed commitments. Follow through and execute on these commitments. Communicate to the larger organization commitments made and changes implemented to do things differently, better. Nothing builds credibility more than committing to substantive actions, and then doing what you said you will do. In the workplace, it’s all about execution.
Energy and enthusiasm:
Lastly, bring a new sense of passion and energy back to the workplace, so much so, that your team notices a difference, and so do others. And if they ask what happened to you, tell them the truth. Own up to where you’ve not done as much as you should have, and come at it with a new sense of urgency and focus. I guarantee they will appreciate the new you. If you want your team to bring energy to their work, then model it for them. That’s what leaders do. If you work for a good company, and like and/or love what you do, it shouldn’t be hard to show it.