The pandemic was the strongest catalyst for workplace change I’ve seen in my lifetime. It disrupted the way work was done, which means it also impacted how leaders operate. Remote and hybrid work became the new normal overnight, and leaders had to quickly transition to new processes and systems.
Why was the shift to remote work so powerful? It challenged leaders to think beyond the status quo. As a business consultant, I saw senior leaders shift their teams to fully remote work when, prior to the pandemic, they only allowed flexible schedules on an individually earned basis. Leaders displayed tremendous adaptability during the pandemic—an outcome my consulting company’s been pushing for years.
Luckily, the change seems permanent even as the world opens up again. Some companies are going fully remote while others have drastically expanded their flexible work policies. In many ways, hybrid and remote work created corporate excitement around trying new things. It’s helped leaders reframe their mindset from why something can’t work to how it can work.
According to Gallup, leaders in this new landscape need to “lean on the leadership actions that are empirically proven to stabilize organizations and help them succeed.”
Here are three action steps to better lead your company in an ever-evolving business world:
1. Be deliberate about establishing one-on-one connections.
Building relationships is important, but some leaders deprioritize team development when things get busy. During the early stages of the pandemic, it seemed leaders made extra effort to connect as employees went virtual. Don’t lose that progress.
Sit down with your employees and have expectation conversations. Share what they can expect from you as their leader (proactive communication, interest in their personal development, transparency, etc.). Ask them what else is important to them from a leadership perspective. Then, share the expectations you have of them (client relationships, quality of work, how they engage and support the team, etc.).
After these conversations, you should schedule regular one-on-one meetings. Work with your employees to figure out agendas and cadences that work for them. For example, some of my team members prefer weekly meetings laser-focused on development, and others prefer monthly check-ins to chat about personal updates. These are meetings for employees, so focus on what they want to talk about. Take time to get to know your people personally, and be willing to let your walls down.
2. Stop communicating on a “need to know” basis.
Don’t filter what communication you give employees. You can help people trust you and the company more by sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Paychex reports that more than 84 percent of employees with transparent leaders are satisfied with their employers. If your team doesn’t know what’s going on in the business, they can’t help you solve problems.
Be sure to talk about the health of the company in terms of financials, customer wins and losses, and overall strategy. Position this communication not as a one-way presentation but rather collaborative conversation. By sharing the challenges or problems you encounter, you can leverage the collective group’s ideation power and uncover more solutions. And when you communicate how much you value people’s ideas, they’ll be more likely to make suggestions and work harder.
It’s likely that employees may have questions and concerns when you share information. Even if you don’t have all the answers, that’s okay. It gives you the chance to hear people out and demonstrate that perfection isn’t expected.
3. Boost engagement by relying on your team.
Engagement decreases when employees don’t feel needed or appreciated. Recognition increases employee productivity, loyalty and retention. You must view team members as more than just sets of hands. Their potential extends beyond the jobs they do every day.
There are countless ways to engage workers. For example, Southwest Airlines gives workers control over certain job aspects, such as their uniforms and work-life balance. Encourage your employees to help set department goals, improve productivity, or share hiring responsibilities. When you engage employees, you give them a chance to make a difference. This adds meaning to their work and helps them provide better service to your customers.
Once you’ve engaged your team, you’re going to hear new ideas and recommendations. Whether you consider a team member’s idea good or bad, take the time to listen. Think about what’s truly possible. Instead of saying no off the bat, start asking questions: “How do you see this working? What obstacles do you expect, and how do you plan to overcome them?”
Covid-19 forced businesses to be more flexible—and the workforce responded positively. Now, the onus is on you as a leader to maintain that momentum, hear out new ideas, and believe in employees. Remember: The old way of doing things isn’t always the best way.
Contributed to EO by Gloria St. Martin-Lowry, the president of HPWP Group, which promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem-solving. HPWP is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.