More than two months into lockdown and some leaders report a sense of powerlessness. For the first few weeks, the talk was of a quick ‘bounce back’ to normality, but the reality is becoming clear. There is no simple reset button that restarts organisational life as it was in February. The impact of Covid-19 and lockdown will influence working practices, use of technology, office culture and much more for years to come – all within a context of much greater levels of employment insecurity and financial hardship.
In such circumstances it is not unreasonable for people to feel overwhelmed and powerless, and leaders are not immune to these feelings. There is much that is out of the control of any individual – but not everything. This is a time when leaders need to find their agency to make things better for their teams, for their stakeholders and for themselves. Listening to our clients, here is a short list of practical steps that leaders are telling us can make a difference now.
Encouraging time off – after two months, energy levels are spent. With holiday plans on hold, people still need some time to rechange, but individuals might not feel they are allowed to take time for themselves. Leaders can be role models for this and encourage others to do likewise.
Getting tech support organised – everyone is depending on their own home technology to do office work at a level greater than could ever have been expected. For some team members, getting reliable connections for Teams or Zoom can be a major frustration. Leaders can sanction the resource and support needed to reduce the technology stress on some individuals.
Review the pattern of team meetings – the crisis meetings from early lockdown may no longer be useful. But there is a new requirement to deal with a more complex, longer-term agenda that requires more debate. Leaders can prompt new thinking on the content and format of team meetings.
Reset everyone’s personal objectives – with a new situation and new ways of working comes new personal performance. Some team members may now be struggling and others flying. It’s a good time to for leaders to review team members’ personal objectives to match the new reality.
New situations demand new skills – and this is a time to ensure that teams build the capabilities required to achieve their new objectives. Leaders can encourage more individual and collective learning, using whatever mechanisms are available and motivating team members in the process.
Give space to disagree – virtual communication tools don’t encourage voicing of disagreement and dissent, but differences of view haven’t disappeared since lockdown. Leaders can pick up the early signs and handle this disagreement through more personal one-on-one communications.
Engage with your stakeholders off-line – some stakeholders may have been overlooked in recent weeks as leaders focused on getting their organisation on an even keel. It’s time to accept that while face-to-face stakeholder meetings aren’t yet possible some personal attention is still required.
Listening to your team – and most important, the crisis phase of lockdown was driven by adrenalin and action. There was little time for reflection. Leaders can now engage with their team, listen to their needs and identify the actions that would make a difference and provide everyone with a sense of control.