Canada

Fundamentals of leadership are especially important now

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

It has been more than two full weeks since workforces around the world were asked to work from home, keep children from school and practice social distancing. Needless to say, while this difficult experience will likely be remembered by each of us for a lifetime, it won’t go on record as one we want to go through again. However, we can find value in this global crisis in what we are learning from it, and what will be transformed as a result. 

The lessons right now:

What you were struggling with before has gotten even worse — It often takes a severe event or crisis for an organization’s weaknesses to appear on the radar, not unlike what happens to a car with unbalanced wheels. As it gains speed and carries a heavier load, it would begin to vibrate and shake, making it difficult to maintain its course.

Anticipating and learning how to manage a crisis would have been helpful — Some of the best organizations in the world have effectively anticipated, prepared for and rehearsed for a crisis like COVID-19. The disciplines of risk, change and crisis management, emergency response and business continuity were developed for that purpose. Attempting to do so in the midst of a crisis can be a trial-and-error process.

Great team leadership is critical — Great team leadership is the key driver to achieving a high level of employee emotional engagement (and its resulting impact on organizational performance and profitability). It is also mission critical to employees in times of crisis and uncertainty. A leader’s trustworthiness, compassion and appreciation of personal life challenges are paramount.  Their ability to communicate, listen and keep people informed is a critical success factor. Great leaders ensure their people remain engaged during crisis, and remain with the team once the crisis is over. Your employees will remember how the crisis was handled and how much you cared about them.

It is not simply “working from home” right now — A large portion of the workforce includes millennials, who often have young children and possibly a life partner who also works. The children are at home as well. So, effectively, they are expected to be performing employees and parents, childcare providers and teachers, all at the same time. Some of the workforce are also baby boomers, who have aging parents  at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Many employees fear the outcome and duration of this pandemic, and could be at risk of losing their source of income. They worry about their ability to continue under such circumstances for a long period. For some of them, leaving home to go to work may well have been a way to escape an otherwise very stressful environment. For those who live alone, this isolation from work, friends and family can be quite unsettling.

Performance management by “being there”— Too many organizations and legacy team leaders assume  the only way to effectively manage and develop the performance of their team members is to see them sitting at a work station. To have all of their team members invisible to them must be very stressful, and raise concerns about performance. Management executives should already have appropriate output goals and key performance indicators set.

The likely future after COVID-19:

While it is hard for any of us to anticipate or predict what the employment future will look like after this pandemic crisis is over, here are a few thoughts:

Not just change: transformation — A global event like COVID-19 is likely to transform the way organizations look at delivering services and products. This means that transformation will be required. Transformation will affect the culture of organizations, and the values of individual employees along with their emotional beliefs. Your human resources team will play a key role in bringing forward the right competencies, tools, evidence and data.

Digital technology is no longer optional — Having inadequate technology will prevent organizations from delivering and continuing to operate, particularly if employees are not on site, and the systems and data are not cloud-based. This will change processes and require people to acquire appropriate competencies; a remote and dispersed workforce will not be possible without them. Governments and communities may have to invest in internet broadband infrastructure.

Great output team leaders — Most organizations will invest in the development and recruitment of great team leaders who focus on managing the output of each of their team members, and not each member’s time and attendance. This will also likely reduce the cost of physical office space, and encourage organizations to adopt a “hoteling” approach, where employees can reserve a workspace only when they are required to be at the office. This will also allow for reduced commuting time, and provide opportunities for those who choose to live in remote and rural parts of Canada.

Risk, change and crisis management: new competencies — We are all hopeful that another crisis of this magnitude will not affect us in our lifetime. But there may be others. Some may affect a smaller geography, or only one industry or product. The need to be prepared is going to be key to ensure the continuity of operations without material disruption.

Leadership is critical

The true value of a crisis is what organizations and their people learn from it, and what they change once the crisis is over. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of such magnitude that it is sure to transform how we look at our personal and work lives.

Each of us will choose to either simply be subjected to that transformation, or to have some control over what the outcomes and their impact will be.  


Mario G. Patenaude leads our People & Organization team in Canada. He has held several human resources and communications executive leadership roles for admired global organizations. He is known as a business transformation, crisis management, and mergers and acquisitions leader.