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PODCAST: Managing change as we transition to the new era of work

By: Alex Fraser, Group Head of Organizational Change on June 17th, 2020

Many employers have switched gears and are transitioning their staff to return to the office. However, according to Hays’ recent survey 41% employers are still working on their return to office plans.

 

 

As a result of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the world of work is undergoing unprecedented long-term change. Our professional lives will never be the same again, and that presents a huge challenge for leaders. So today I'm joined by Alex Fraser, Group Head of Organizational Change at Hays. Alex is here to talk to us today about how leaders can anticipate and manage the significant changes that are on the horizon, as we gradually transition to a new era of work post-crisis.

1. Before we begin, please could you introduce yourself to our listeners, explaining a little bit about your role at Hays and your previous background?

So, as Megan stated, I am currently the Group Head of Organizational Change for Hays but sitting behind that, I have over 20 years of experience working in management consultancy, supporting all kinds of businesses from a diverse range of industries to implement all manner of change successfully. So, that's really been organizational or systems change and that was with both KPMG and PwC.

I joined Hays last year as the Group Head of Change, having worked with them previously to design and implement the Hays change management methodology. I really wanted to join this progressive business, it's changing at pace and my role now is really focused on making sure that the business is able to do this successfully and consistently, so that all of that change will stick, and the benefits will really be realized.

2. Now given we're going through so much change at the moment due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I'm assuming you've been incredibly busy recently. What's been high on your agenda?

It’s been really busy, but I have to say it's been one of the most challenging and interesting periods of my career. Every day has brought a new challenge and a new way of looking at things, which has been great. But really high up on my agenda has been first of all, mobilizing our workforce to work remotely, making sure that they are upskilled in the new ways of working, and also have the tools available to them that they need to collaborate and communicate with each other.

We've also been helping our leaders to recognize and address some of those additional challenges of managing a remote workforce whilst also looking after the motivation, engagement and wellbeing of our people. We've been designing lots of materials and support for leaders and customers around how to lead and adapt to change effectively, and most recently, we have been supporting the business to think about and carefully plan how we can safely start bringing our people back into our offices.

3. Would you say that this has been the largest and most impactful change to the world of work that you've ever experienced in your career?

Without a doubt, the scale and the pace of this has just been incredible and relentless. I think we've rarely, well, have we seen, or will we see a change that really and truly impacts everybody not just now but forever?

4. How has the pandemic changed the way that you work personally?

So, my career as a consultant I think, has given me a real advantage, it has to be said. Most consultants are used to remote working and the need to be flexible and agile, pivoting attention at a moment's notice to address whatever the critical agenda is for that day, and of course we all love a good problem to solve.

All that said, I am a mother of two and a carer of my own mother. So, trying to do my work and manage all my personal commitments has been really challenging. I, like so many others have been working entirely from home, which is again a change, as the choice has kind of been taken away from me. And I think that is the point that causes the most frustration for many people.

All that said, I have found that this has given me a platform to work even more closely with my global colleagues. There's been lots of knowledge sharing and learning from each other's lessons and a real sense of us all really being in it together. I've also found that I'm having to really focus on prioritizing my time effectively and dealing with challenges in the right order. So, the right people get the right support at the right time.

5. During the relatively early stages of the pandemic, business leaders around the world were forced to set up vast infrastructure to allow their people to work from home pretty much overnight. What do you think were the main challenges leaders face during this initial period, and do you think that there's anything we can learn from it going forward?

So, for us at Hays, the biggest challenge was that immediate switch from having everyone in the office to everyone at home and ensuring that they had everything they needed to operate effectively. For us, this wasn't just a logistical challenge, but it was a real culture shift where so much of our culture is really based on those high energy, open-plan sales floors where there's a real buzz of energy.

Our leaders had to get used to managing their teams remotely, ensuring that they knew exactly what they needed to do and how it was all going to work, and for many this has meant a big shift in leadership style. I mean, what do you do when you can't walk the floors anymore just to drum up that buzz. Beyond this, some of the biggest challenges have been around helping people to let go of the way things were. Some of the big cultural signs and signals that people truly believed were the cornerstone of how we stayed productive and replacing them with new ways of working, collaborating and sharing success.

Dealing with the concern of anxiety of our employees over what's been happening has also been a real challenge and helping them to think about what might happen next. We need to be ensuring that we're looking after their wellbeing and that we're really in tune with how people are feeling and where they may need some support. Obviously for us as a recruitment business, we have had to pivot significantly in terms of how we support customers. So, we've also had to look for new opportunities for our candidates and new ways in which our customers need us now.

In terms of going forward, I think it has taught us all that nearly anything is possible. The lines that were previously set and we assumed couldn't be moved are moving, and if the case for change is compelling enough, we can redraw those lines in any way we want.

6. What have been the positives that you've taken away from this time from a change perspective?

So, I think the point for me is when we need to, we can adapt and change really quickly. Traditionally people say that as humans we find change really difficult. But we have seen that if the case is strong enough and we all work together, we can all do it and we are capable of great things. It's also taught me that just because you're doing it quickly doesn't mean you can't do it properly. So, it's been a great privilege of mine to see so many of my colleagues making sure that they are working through changes carefully and doing it in the right way to make sure that the outcome is successful.

7. And as government restrictions start to ease around the world and business leaders begin to contemplate how they might transition their people back to their workplaces. What do you think are the three areas that leaders should be turning their minds to from a change perspective right now?

The three things for me:

  • Firstly, is the logistical angle. So, the who, the when, the where, the what. How do we get people back into the workplace?
  • The second angle is really around the psychological wellbeing of our people. So how do we help them with their concerns and make them feel safe and ready to return.
  • And then finally, what is that new era of work going to look like? Is it going to be the same?

8. Well let's start with the logistical element, as you said, the who, the when, the where, the what of transitioning back into the workplace. What are the key changes that leaders need to plan for? How can they manage this change and what challenges will they typically come across?

This will differ largely by where you are in the world and the local government guidelines which have to be your starting point, but it is likely that we need to plan to be working differently for months or maybe even years to come and it's really complex. There are so many different factors to think about, but for me the most important thing is that the right people are involved in the planning and that sufficient time is being taken to ensure that it's right. This is definitely not a time for taking shortcuts.

Trust is also so important right now and your employees need to feel and be able to see that adequate thought has gone into the planning, so that they really believe that the business is doing all that they can to keep them safe. We at Hays have actually built our own risk assessment for our business and some guidelines to make sure that we are really confident that we have covered everything that we need to and it's very, very complex and a large document. But let me see if I can break that down a little bit to bring out some of the key factors.

So, the first point we cover off is thinking about how we get our workplaces ready for people to come back and work safely, which really means understanding who's going to be responsible for what. Understanding how you can best use the space available whilst observing social distancing guidelines. Thinking about how people will need to enter and leave and move around the workplace. Identifying key points where risk may be higher, like high traffic areas, kitchens, bathrooms, high touch point areas or maybe shared resources. So, there's printers or maybe you've got shared tea and coffee somewhere and you really need to plan for how they can be managed effectively.

You also need to be identifying what you'll need individuals to commit to keep themselves and their colleagues safe when they're in the office. You need to think about what PPE and hygiene product needs to be available, as well as the protocols around how you're going to get people to manage their personal hygiene and keep a sanitized workplace.

And finally, you need to be thinking about it and ensuring that all the systems and equipment will be up and running. So, with that timeframe that we've had away from the office, there may be updates that need to be done, we may need to reroute telephones, et cetera. So, lots of planning around that. Of course, once you have confidence that the environment is safe, and it follows all of those local guidelines set out, you need to start thinking about the order in which people can return to the office, how many there can be there at any one time. And of course, whether they feel ready and able to do so.

So, this means ensuring that there is clear understanding of who falls into high risk categories. Those who have caring or childcare responsibilities and also factors such as how people get to work and how much they need to use public transport. Unless you have the luxury of large amounts of space, it's likely that you're going to need to cut down the number of people in the office at any one time. And that's actually quite challenging because there are so many different ways in which you can approach the problem. For example, you could choose to create teams or cohorts of people who alternate days or weeks in the office. You could choose to introduce a booking system which shows the number of places available and people can book onto them on a first come, first served basis. You could also choose to stagger start and finish times. The options are endless, and this really requires some careful thought.

And what about external visitors? So, for us at Hays, our candidates and our customers often come in to see us in the office and we need to decide how we keep not only them safe but our people safe in the offices. So, we need to decide whether you're going to allow them on there and what precautions will need to be taken. Then there are the policies and the processes that need to be placed to ensure everyone can work safely no matter where they are. So, this includes travel, how people can travel between offices or between countries even. How will you share transport? Do you have car shares? How's that going to work? How to deal with absence or people falling ill while they're on site and how you keep your desks clear, and whose responsibility is it to keep them clean and keep all the equipment clean that are on the desks.

Last but certainly not least, you need to consider how you're going to review and monitor the effectiveness of the measures you've put in place. Your plan should be a living document. It needs to be reviewed and if needed, amended regularly to make sure that it addresses the challenges not only of today and tomorrow but of the next few months. As we have alluded to a number of times, every day is bringing a new challenge, so we have to really be prepared to amend our plan when we need to. We also need to make sure that we have some clear escalation routes for any issues that arise, so important decisions can be ready really quickly and that you're prepared to make those changes if necessary. And you also need to think about how you're going to deal with non-adherence to any of the measures set out.

9. Going back, the second area you mentioned before was the need to address the psychological concerns of your people. Can you please explain a little bit more about what you mean here? What changes should leaders anticipate?

So, given everything that's happened for the last few months, people are going to be experiencing a huge range of emotions about coming back to the workplace. There will be some who are really excited, there may be some that have found this time, has given them time to reflect and reassess actually how they want to work going forward, and there will be some who are simply scared and don't feel like they want to come in.

Now as leadership, we need to make sure that we are addressing each one of those different reactions accordingly. We need to be really mindful that even those who are going to be looking forward to getting back will be met by a very different workplace than the one they left a few months ago. Particularly to begin with, the restrictions that will need to be in place around the number of people in the office, where they can sit and what they can do are going to make things feel a little bit strange and awkward. So as leaders, we really need to make sure that we're preparing our people for this.

I mentioned before, the importance of trust, and this is really key. We need to safeguard our people's sense of wellbeing and safety and make sure that they trust us as employers to do the right thing and keep them safe. We need to communicate with them constantly about what's in place, about how we're working to review it constantly and the fact that we will make the changes that are required to keep it where it needs to be.

We also have to be mindful that if people are genuinely anxious about returning to the office, it may be that we shouldn't be forcing them. This actually could become highly counterproductive. Certainly, within Hays we will be looking for people to agree to say that they are happy to come back rather than saying they have to in the initial phases.

As leaders, we need to make sure that we're having really open discussions with our people to understand and work through how they're feeling about returning and therefore what support they need. You can't judge, and we should never assume. We have to be aware of our unconscious biases, so just because someone is young and single, doesn't mean they want to come to the office. Just because someone has children doesn't mean they don't and just because someone is working from home, it doesn't mean that they are not working as hard as those in the office.

10. And how important is it that leaders have their finger on the pulse of their people when navigating through this change?

It's critical, so how people feel will change day-to-day. I think we have all experienced a real roller coaster of emotions over the last few months. We've all had good weeks and we've all had bad weeks and as leaders we can't take for granted that our plans are working, that people continue to feel safe and that we are doing all that we can. We need to really make sure that we are asking those questions on a regular basis and that we're really listening to the feedback and amending our plans accordingly. It's really important that we do that as transparently as possible so that people understand what's working, what's not and what we're doing about it.

We also need to be having an ongoing dialogue with our people about how they're dealing with the new ways of working either in the office or at home and we need to be listening really carefully to explore how our people are, and make sure that we understand the signs of someone not coping as well as they need to and how we can support them.

11. With even more change coming down the road. What can leaders do to alleviate some of the change fatigue that we're all experiencing at the moment?

So that's a really interesting question. Even during normal times, research has found that change fatigue is one of the top two challenges that leaders actually face. I think many of us experienced a rush of initial adrenaline when COVID-19 hit as we all rallied around to ensure that our business could continue despite lockdown being put in place. In this phase, we saw lots of people really rising to the challenge, making extraordinary things happen in record time, but that adrenaline only lasts so long before we start to feel the effects. It can become really overwhelming and tiring as the change after change means that we can't get ourselves into a routine and that really forms the bedrock of making us feel in control, making us feel confident and ultimately able to perform.

So, as leaders we need to do a few things:

First of all, we need to make sure that we are prioritizing and planning. It's really tempting right now to try and boil the ocean, but actually we need to take time to consider what needs to be done now and what could be introduced later and that will really make sure that the changes will be introduced in a way that means they can be sustained. If we try to do too many things simultaneously, the likelihood is that none of them will be truly successful.

We then need to make sure that we are communicating, communicating, and then communicating some more. Uncertainty and ambiguity is only serving to frustrate and confuse people, so we need to keep on talking. We need to keep telling people what's going on. We also need to make sure we're listening because in times of change people often need to get their feelings out. They need to feel as if they're heard, so as leaders, we need to afford our people some space to do that.

We need to be framing the vision for the future, explaining the rationale behind it and be managing expectations. They need to understand where we're going and why. It also really helps to give people a role and a responsibility. It makes them feel involved, it creates engagement and it makes it feel like it's not being done to them, but they have an opportunity to actually control some of it. We need to be breaking it down and making it real to people. So, often as leaders, we get carried away in talking at a high-level strategy level and that means very little to many of our people who are on the front line. So, we need to make sure that we are thinking of these changes collectively and explaining to people what that really means for them in their day-to-day role. So, when Joe comes in on Monday, what will his day look like? We also need to create a drum beat and routine that people can stick to. So, as soon as possible, it's really important to get people back into that groove and back into that comfort zone.

12. And the third area of change that you touched on was what the new era of work will look like post-crisis. Many commentators predict we will see the largest change of a generation to our world of work. Do you agree? And what do you think that some of these changes will look like?

Absolutely, I do fully agree, but I don't think that anyone knows the answer yet. It's going to be dependent on so many different factors. It won't just be about what we as a business want, but also what our customers want and how they are changing that we need to really be thinking about. Some of the things I do think will become more prevalent, however, will be, there'll be more flexibility around how people work. There will be more remote working or hybrid working models. We'll start questioning the need for people to have fixed desks and maybe being in the office at all. I think we'll be reframing what we see as really critical and important. So, you may see a lot of people's strategies changing.

It'll also challenge the way we structure ourselves as businesses. Digitalization and AI has long been on the top of everyone's list and I think that's going to be accelerated even further now. And I think just how we work on a day-to-day basis and where we focus, will see us getting rid of some of those lazy habits that we've created over time, around meetings for the sake of having meetings. I think we'll be getting much more focused on what we need to do. I also think it's going to impact who we look to recruit as I think we are going to be placing more importance on skills like change agility, the ability to work independently, but also be willing to work as part of a team.

Interestingly, people will also spend some time revisiting and fixing some of the basics. So, this time has highlighted a lot of things that aren't working as well as they needed to, and we've had the time now to reflect on that and people are starting to think about how we can change that for the better.

13. Now, a key role of a leader is to build and communicate their vision. Do you think this will become even more important as we try to navigate through the major changes ahead?

Yes, as I mentioned previously, one of the key roles a leader plays here is helping people to see the light at the end of the tunnel and show how we will be able to get there. People really need a North star and a sense of purpose to enable them to stay resilient and bounce back. They need to know there is a clear plan and that it will enable them to be successful going forward.

I think one of the hardest things about this pandemic has been that no one really knows when the end will come and what the world will look like after. But as leaders we play a really vital role in reminding people of the one certainty, and that is that we will get through this and we will progress.

14. And how important do you think it is that leaders try to re-establish cultural norms in the next era of work and how should they go about doing that?

Cultural norms are hugely important in building a sense of belonging and stability in people. So yes, attention does need to be paid to keeping these in place wherever possible. They may well need to be adapted slightly, but the premise should stay the same, whether that be about how we reward and recognize successes or how we socialize together. I think this is an area where you can really get your people involved, ask them what they think should happen going forward, and then make sure you act on it.

15. And will this be more difficult given that it's likely on a practical level, that many of our teams will change, possibly transferring to a hybrid model whereby there's a mixture of remote working and office space working?

So, it will be different, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be difficult. We just need to recognize the challenges and proactively plan to address them and enable people to adjust to them. As leaders, the one thing that we need to focus on is keeping inclusivity, consistency and transparency at the heart of everything we put in place, so that employees feel that they are being treated fairly and equally, no matter where they're working. It has to be one rule for all. But this just can't be the responsibility of the leaders, the new ways of working will need to be built on a strong foundation of trust and collective responsibility for making it work.

And there will undoubtedly be some teething problems as people get used to the new world and it will be really important to make sure as leaders, we address these really quickly and openly, otherwise bad habits and divides will develop, which will be much harder to reverse.

16. You've touched on this before, but do you think that robust communication and training is key when implementing such monumental change? Do you have any advice you can share with our listeners to help them get this element right?

Yes, absolutely, communication, engagement and training sits at the heart of any successful change. We've all been bombarded with information for the last few months, but I wonder, if we really reflect on it, how much has actually been helpful? How much actually gave us what we needed and helped us to cope with the changes that we've been faced with? I would be willing to bet that many of us still feel like they don't know what's happening and feel frustrated and anxious as a result.

It is critical to make sure at times like this, that you have a clear plan to make sure the right information is getting to the right people in the right way at the right time. It's invaluable to take time to really understand your audience and put yourself in their shoes to identify what you want them to say, think, feel and do, and therefore what, and how you need to communicate with them to achieve it. People have different communication styles and preferences, so don't just revert to an email, but consider other ways in which you can engage them and make sure you give them an opportunity to give feedback or ask questions. It's important that they feel that they have a voice.

Right now, people are also hypersensitive and will be reading into everything they are told, looking for hidden messages of what it could mean for them and their role going forward. So therefore, we need to be really careful that the messages that we are sending are clear that they aren't open to interpretation and that we're using the right language. A very crude example, if you going to have to split teams to work in shifts because of space, be careful not to talk about team A and team B but give them names or colors so there isn't a sense that one is more important than another.

Who communications come from is also a really important factor to consider when making sure that it has the right impact. People really want to hear from their leaders, they want to have a sense that there is someone strong at the helm. However, they also need to hear from those closest to them who they know understand their role and what they need to do on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, in terms of communications, it's important not to assume that just because you mentioned it in an email or a presentation once, that people have actually heard the message and they've understood what they need to do or how they need to work differently. You need to continually reinforce that messaging and check for understanding. Similarly, it could be that the new measures and new ways of working you've introduced will require people to have some new skills, so it's important to take time to identify where this is the case and make plans accordingly. It's also important to let your people know that you have recognized this and that you have a plan so that they feel reassured that they will be given the support they need to be successful. You may even want to introduce some form of simple knowledge testing to give you some reassurance that people understand what they need to do.

17. For those listeners who may be leaders at multinational organizations with each of their regional operations at very different stages of this crisis and following different governmental advice, how would you recommend leaders manage this and what are the main challenges they'll need to overcome here?

So, work together, learn from each other and don't waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. It's really important that they follow the local guidance, but also to have a central guideline or point of view to support countries where the guidance may not have been set or maybe unclear. It's really helpful to have a set of minimum standards that you expect all countries to follow, it's not going to be a case of one size fits all. So just think about the social distancing rules as an example, in the UK, it's two meters, whilst in Asia it's one meter and elsewhere it's 1.5 meters.

The next thing for me is making sure that you've clearly assigned people in each country as the point of contact for coordinating or managing the local plan and ensure that you have some kind of mechanism in place to review progress collectively. We've used this approach in Hays and it has been really invaluable in helping us to not only share ideas, but also work through problems together in real time.

It's also worth mentioning that it's still likely to be tough for some countries to see other regions forging ahead when they still have no idea about when they're going to be able to get back to the office. I think it's going to be really important to use the success stories from those countries who may be further down the track to really inspire those who may be struggling to believe that there's light at the end of the tunnel. I think it's really important. We all remember this isn't a competition to see who comes out first, but rather a time to come together.

18. Other forms of change may come when those employees who may have experienced a shift in normal working patterns during the crisis start to come back to work. How can leaders ensure that these people return engaged and that an ‘us and them mentality’ doesn't manifest when teams are brought back together?

I think this is a really important point. Many of us have seen some really dramatic changes in personnel over the last few months and it's been really difficult for everyone. Those who have continued to work full time may feel like they have had to shoulder all of the work, while those who may have been working on reduced hours or not at all may feel completely out of the loop or concerned as to why they were singled out rather than colleagues. When all of these people return, it's likely to be difficult at first and as leaders we will need to be really vigilant that divides aren't developed.

So, some of the things that we should think about doing, first of all, address the issue head on and encourage an open conversation on what people feel needs to happen to bring that team back together. It's important that we are treating everyone the same and that we are being really wary about having side conversations with people who may have been around making those who haven't been around feel excluded.

We need to reinforce the value that everyone brings to the team and reiterate that changes in the working patterns were largely not a reflection on personal performance and it was actually about protecting jobs in the long-term. We need to think about how we can help those returning to hit the ground running, maybe using specific tasks or projects that you know, play to their strengths to help rebuild their confidence and maybe you could buddy people up so that they can get back up to speed quickly. So those who have been in the office with those who haven't been in the office, let them work together. And lastly, but really importantly, deal with conflict as it arises, don't let it fester, I think that's really important.

19. In a post COVID-19 world of work, listeners may find that the focus of our team has pivoted. With much of this change likely to be permanent, how should leaders manage this change in focus and help their people adjust?

There are several steps that you can take:

First of all, I would say let them talk, and I've mentioned this before, let them talk, understand concerns, but don't judge. Help them to work through all of the issues that they have mentioned and show them that they will be able to do it, identifying on what support they may need.

Set out the vision, provide the rationale and paint the picture of what success looks like for them in the new world. Show them the opportunity and show how you feel their skills are going to be invaluable in the new model. Make it real for them, we talked about this before, but show them what it means for their role. Show them how their day will be different and how key tasks that they do regularly will be different.

Think about where they need to be upskilled. Nobody comes to work to do a bad job. So, make sure that if they need to be upskilled, they're getting the support that they need to be successful. It's really important that we are building a constructive development environment. And by that, I mean that we have an environment in which people can make mistakes as they get used to things and that they are treated as learning opportunities as opposed to an opportunity to point the finger of blame.

We also need to be harnessing the positive energy of some of our people. So, there will be people in our team who truly relish the challenge of a change in direction and they will dive in head first and this can be really infectious as long as it's channeled correctly. Take one step at a time, so rather than aiming for 100% first time, it's really important that you set realistic targets. If they don't make that a one hundred percent target first time, it can really discourage them, and it can set you back much further, rather than move you forward. So, setting realistic targets that you can celebrate with your team to help them see that they're progression is really important.

20. Now to pivot slightly, unfortunately some organizations will likely have to make reductions in headcount. What can leaders do to prioritize the wellbeing, morale, and motivation of their remaining team members?

So, I would say the first thing that we need to think about is making sure that we handle the process of headcount reduction and communication around the process really carefully as it can really impact those who remain and how they feel about your business longer term. We need to be sure that we're being very transparent and respectful and it's critical that there's some really careful planning around how we have the conversations, when we have the conversations and who has those conversations. Of course, the current situation has meant that many of these conversations have had or will have to happen virtually, which no doubt makes it more challenging but in terms of those who remain, many talk about survivor guilt. So, initially you may see an upturn in performance, but this is fast replaced by low morale, engagement and poor performance, but as a leader there are some really practical things that you can do to mitigate this.

Firstly, it's really important that you stay visible and approachable. Again, they need to see that a steady hand is in charge, but that they can connect with you, so make sure you're creating those opportunities for them to be in contact with you. Keep communicating, it's really important that you don't go quiet after these decisions have been made. They need to hear from you, they need to know that life is continuing. Again, let them vent, it's quite possible that you will face some anger as they are projecting the feelings from their colleagues but remember, this isn't personal, this isn't actually focused on you, this is about the situation.

Let them know they're valued, let them understand how their role plays an important part of your business and give them clear targets to work towards to keep them focused on the job at hand. Give them a role and get them involved in shaping how the team will work going forward in this different guise and once you've done that, really actively rebuild the sense of team. Losing people can have a really dramatic impact on the dynamics within the team, so try and ramp up the regular team activities and get people into a new source of normal and make sure you don't make it all about work.

Also show that you understand the impact on roles and workload. Many fear that redundancies mean that they're going to have an increased burden, that they're going to be expected to do more and that can make it feel daunting and unmanageable. It's really important as leaders that we acknowledge these issues and that we work with those people to understand the perceived and real impact and then find practical ways of managing and monitoring that workload so that it feels achievable. Finally, it's really important that you stay vigilant and ask questions. Take each day at a time, proactively look for signs that there may be issues brewing and address them quickly and make sure that any negative emotions or behaviors are addressed.

21. And in keeping with that, for those leaders listening who are concerned about people maybe feeling worried about the future of their roles, what advice would you offer to help support them through this difficult and uncertain time?

So, no one can offer any guarantees right now, which is hard and giving false assurances is definitely not a good idea. I would suggest that honesty is always the best policy. Stick to the facts but keep people informed and always give them the opportunity to air and talk through their concerns rather than keeping them pent up inside. You may not be able to give them a definitive answer, but you can give them that emotional outlet. Try to keep them focused on the task at hand and make sure you're celebrating the successes you see day-to-day, however big or small.

22. Adaptability and agile working are going to be key to succeed in the future as you touched upon earlier, how can leaders work with their teams to develop them in these areas?

This is a difficult question, but there are a number of things that I would suggest we all get used to doing. First of all, I think we all need to think about how we normally react to change and what sits behind that. So, some people will be very cynical, some people will be very supportive, but we need to understand what drives that in ourselves and whether that's a helpful reaction to have.

We need to teach our people to be able to break changes down for themselves and make it personal to them and really important that they can keep it in perspective. Something can easily get blown out of proportion in their mind and it's really important that they're able to frame it in the right context. It's really important that you get people into the mindset of looking for and reframing any change as an opportunity to progress. So, if we can get people into that mindset, they're more likely to be receptive to change going forward.

I mentioned this earlier, but the other thing for me is having that really open team environment where questions are expected, and the mistakes are seen as learning opportunities for all, because I think that's a really important bedrock to have on which to build.

23. Finally, it goes without saying that leaders have their part to play in helping their people navigate massive change as we enter a new era of work, but surely the responsibility shouldn't lie solely with them. Should leaders be encouraging and empowering their people to take some personal responsibility here and how can they do that?

There absolutely has to be a collective sense of responsibility for shaping the new normal and making it work. One of the key success factors in any change is ensuring that anyone who will be impacted by the change feels involved and as if they have some degree of influence. This is a great opportunity to get employees to suggest their own ideas for what the new normal should look like and what those critical success factors need to be. It can't be seen as something that is being done to them, rather it's a future that is designed for them by them. People need to see this as part of their role, leaders need to reward and reinforce the right behaviors and you could even consider building some of it into formal performance objectives.

24. We would like to end this podcast with a question that we ask all our guests. What do you think are the three qualities that make a good leader and crucially, do you think these qualities have changed as a result of the pandemic?

I think that's a really difficult question, there are so many important leadership skills and it's really how they all marry together that is important. However, there are three for me that have really been projected into the limelight as a result of the pandemic.

  • Firstly, empathy; the ability to put yourself into someone else's shoes and to really think about what they need, how they're feeling, and supporting them effectively.
  • Communication skills have become so important, so the ability to engage people when they are speaking, but also the ability to listen carefully and take onboard what people are saying.
  • And finally, for me, there is something about a leader and their ability to remain calm in the face of real change and make some really reasoned decision making, which everyone can appreciate and follow.

 

Want more advice on key considerations when planning your return to work strategy?

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