Leadership has its challenges – there’s no question about it. Add in a pandemic, racial challenges across the United States, shifting public sentiment about energy production and other divisive issues that seem to lurk around every corner and leading employees becomes increasingly difficult.
As the country returns to the workplace, leaders have to adapt their styles to meet these new challenges. From my perspective, there are five steps companies and their leaders can take to ensure they are set up for success in the months and years to come amid this climate of uncertainty and change.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
When employee engagement and sentiment surveys are conducted, there are often disparities between how management and employees see their relationships. An effective leader will always try to understand an employee’s point of view rather than telling them how they should respond.
Understanding can come in many forms. Individual conversations, employee surveys and group discussions can each bring a different level of clarity to managers and supervisors. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. The key for any relationship is trust; employees need to trust their manager if the manager has any hope of receiving honest feedback.
As James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner said in their book “Credibility,” “the more leaders and constituents comprehend each other’s perceptions, concerns, and values, the greater their ability to work together.”
Not Business as Normal
Leaders who return to the workplace without taking into consideration the changing circumstances around them will likely fail, in my opinion. It’s no longer business as normal. In fact, the word “normal” is getting harder to define. The way we work has changed. The way business is done has changed. The way we interact with each other has changed.
Managers need to understand the need to evolve along with the situations around them. Adaptability is key for leaders; however, many struggle with it. Employees have acclimated to working from home or having a flexible work schedule. Those who used to travel regularly have learned to do their work via video conference or by phone. Gone are the days of face-to-face meetings and the occasional drop-by in the office. Successful managers have adapted to managing their teams remotely.
While we may get back to more travel and in-person meetings, not everyone will be excited about the return to “normal.” Managers must take each situation and evaluate it individually to determine the best outcome for both the employee and the company. Consistency, with some flexibility, will produce the best outcome. “My way or the highway” mentality will lead to strife, conflict and turnover.
In addition to the changes directly impacting the workplace, the world around us is also continuing to evolve. Black Lives Matter, workplace and community violence and gender issues are impacting companies more regularly. Leaders must recognize that these significant cultural movements influence the day-to-day lives of employees. That influence flows into the office and can have ramifications on their teams.
Leaders don’t have the option of ignoring these situations; rather, they must confront them. Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have a place at work, and leaders need to learn how to recognize potential issues before they get out of control.
While a company doesn’t need to take a political stand on every issue, it must recognize its employees may be looking for a voice. Acknowledging their concerns and recognizing the personal impact it may have on their lives will help a leader better understand how to navigate employee interactions.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) offer individuals an opportunity to gather with like-minded or similarly situated employees to address common issues. This also allows employees to work together to recommend changes in organizations rather than the company taking the lead on every situation.
Training for Leaders
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Different backgrounds, experiences, socio-economic circumstances, and education all play a part in shaping a manager. Companies should prioritize training for supervisors and identify the competencies that are best suited for their organization.
By providing a leadership development program for managers, companies can ensure that all are treating similar situations in an equitable manner. This training also has the benefit of strengthening teams and providing a higher level of creativity and productivity. It’s usually said that an employee doesn’t leave the company; rather, they leave their manager. This is true in many ways, and it is incumbent upon the company to ensure their managers become leaders the employees want to work for.
Change is the One Constant
Finally, change management must be a part of any leadership development program. As we have seen over the past year, change is constant and to be expected. It’s a normal human condition that people tend to avoid; however, leaders who help their employees navigate the evolving environment regularly produce better results.
A successful change management program will consist of five parts: motivating change, creating a vision, developing support (buy-in), managing the transition of change and sustaining the momentum. Each part is equally important; without one, change is neither sustainable nor will it be effective.
Leadership in today’s workplace is a challenge. Done right, it will result in more effective teams, greater productivity and higher profitability. Done wrong, and an organization could face even bigger hurdles.
About the author: Chad Sorenson is the President of Adaptive HR Solutions and has over 25 years of diverse business, communications and human resource experience.