The world has changed. Work has changed. Your leadership style might have to change. I am not suggesting you show up as a different leader who now yells at employees for not working hard enough. Employees can see right through that sort of “panic pivot” by a leader and it can damage your credibility. Changing your aggressiveness during difficult times can be seen as non-authentic. My suggestion is that you may need to change what you are focused on as a leader due to the new world around us. COVID-19 has changed the landscape for most companies and NOW is the time that true leadership must emerge. Times like these allow true leaders to make their marks. Below are a couple actions I’ve heard great leaders are taking.
Help your team see their true purpose, their true “why”
At Versique, my team is responsible for finding HR roles to fill and finding applicants for those roles. What value do we serve if hiring is extremely slow and we do not have anything to offer to our candidates? Your employees may be struggling to see their true value right now and this can really affect employee engagement. Leaders need to remind employees of the “why” behind the business. Yes, Versique is a staffing and recruiting firm. But our true value is people connection. Every day we have intimate conversations with people and hear their stories, struggles and dreams. We share people’s stories and create connections. We help console people in stressful moments in their lives and often we simply offer a sympathetic ear. Our value during this downturn is to provide connection amongst people. We help people understand that they are not alone, by sharing what others are experiencing.
- What do you love most about your job at its core?
- How does your employee’s work change other people lives?
- When are you at your best while at work?
Understand what your employees are experiencing
If your company is trending in the wrong direction, a typical first reaction could be, “Sales activity needs to double!” or “Pricing needs to increase to make up for lost sales.” The first step a leader should take is to understand what experiences your frontline people are seeing right now. What are they hearing from customers? Let me repeat that…what are they hearing from the customers? Is nobody buying right now or is nobody buying the same way that they used to. Customer’s concerns are different, sales pain is different, so solutions you offer need to be different. Understand what your front-line people are struggling with first, then let them help to create a solution that solves the customer’s problem, knowing that the problem might be vastly different than it was two months ago. It is your job as a leader to make changes to your approach, but do not make assumptions and do not make the decision in a vacuum.
Questions to ask your people:
- “Why isn’t our old approach working?”
- “What has changed with our customer’s needs?”
- “What would you recommend?”
This is the time to be seen and heard by your employees. Err on the side of over-communication. Without consistent communication, employees may start making up stories in their head about what their leaders are thinking. Typically, when people make stories up in their head… those thoughts turn negative. Do not give your people room to make up stories. Be as transparent as possible as to how you are feeling, your concerns and when possible talk about company performance. When trying to put together a plan moving forward, you may not KNOW if your new direction is the best solution, but you must BELIEVE it’s the best solution under the circumstances and help your employees believe it as well.
- Set a consistent cadence for communication
- Let them see you through video or a the very least hear you vs. an email
- Be honest with how you are feeling. Your people need to hear you say, “This is hard.”
No one knows exactly when things will turn around and that is OK to admit as a leader. What a leader needs to be focused once they have stabilized things, is how to slingshot out of this downturn when things start to trend the right way. You cannot be focused on the layoffs that happened or the numbers from Q1, that is in the past. Honor what has happen in the past but focus on what is in front of you right now. What does your current situation allow you to do, that you would not otherwise have done? That is best question we can be asking ourselves right now. Once you find that answer (with the help of your team), make the final decision and ask your people to move on that decision. Your decision may not be guaranteed to be the correct decision, but you must BELIEVE it is the best thing for your company and your people at this time, and it is a leader’s role to help others believe.
- Create a mantra for your team. “We can do hard things”
- Be clear on your expectations of others
- Be consistent in your vision and communication