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How leaders can manage change in the new era of work

By: Alex Fraser, Hays Group Head of Change on Nov 19th, 2020

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 challenge for leaders. We spoke with Alex Fraser, Group Head of Organizational Change at Hays about how leaders can manage the significant changes, as we transition to a new era of work post-crisis.

How important is it that leaders have their finger on the pulse of their people when navigating through this change?

It’s critical – I think we have all experienced a real roller coaster of emotions over the last few months. 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 well and determine how we can support them.

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?

Yes, 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. As leaders we play a really vital role in reminding people that we will get through this and we will progress.

What can leaders do to alleviate some of the change fatigue their people may be experiencing through these times?

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. 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.

Adaptability and agile working are going to be key to succeed in the future, how can leaders work with their teams to develop them in these areas?

This is a difficult question, but there are a few 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. It’s important that they can keep it in perspective because something can easily get blown out of proportion in their mind, so it’s critical that they’re able to frame it in the right context. 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.

Leaders have their part to play in helping their people navigate massive change in this new era of work, but how can they encourage and empower their people to take some personal responsibility here as well?

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.

Looking for more insights into the new era of work?

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