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Getting off to a good restart – reconnecting after Covid19

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30/06/2020

The experience and impact of the Covid19 pandemic on you personally will be different than it has been for your colleague. Keep this notion top of mind as restrictions are being lifted and we are gradually seeing workplaces open up again. This mindset will facilitate the necessary journey of reconnecting and reviewing purpose with your team. In this article we outline the 3 ingredients that will allow you to accelerate change and improve performance.

Pause and reflect

A couple of months ago we collectively went into crisis mode. Instantly our freeze-flight-fight instinct was triggered and where some entered this period of isolation by grinding to a halt, others got into crazy action mode. This trigger in our brain – our amygdala – is activated in response to threat.

We need to make sure we reset ourselves to no longer be in survival mode. Survival mode is driven by fear and focuses on control and it puts our thinking into tunnel vision. What we need now is the part of the brain that allows us to think creatively and fundamentally.

The required level of change may vary and your natural response may be very different to that of your colleague. Your amygdala will have hijacked you initially, but then your personal preferences will have come into play, making it easier or harder to move forward.

Some thrive on change – others don’t. We have heard from business leaders that where one person has disappeared off the radar and is underperforming, another is reaching out actively and wanting to brainstorm new business ideas. Reflect on who in your team is energized by change and who not. You need to foster that energetic drive for change, whilst making sure those on the other side of the spectrum are engaged in a non-threatening way. Support this latter group by seeing all the challenges as problems to be solved, not roadblocks.

As a leader you will recognize your own response. You may be an extreme version of the change driven and action-oriented personality just described. Many leaders around the globe are seizing this crisis as a time to accelerate change and they are wise to do so. If you are doing this with an impatience and a frustration when others don’t follow your speed, then slow down and focus on getting people on board. By being centered, calm and constantly communicating a sense of purpose you will find your team and organization pick up an accelerated pace that will surprise you. Don’t forget, they are looking to you for that sense of we’re in this together. That’s when people come together and collectively come up with creative solutions to complex issues.

 

Review and renew purpose

Since Covid19 uprooted the world, most of have felt unmoored, without a clear picture of the future. Many of us are navigating uncharted waters which can leave us feeling unsettled. Combined with the recent period of the isolated working from home and the broader impact of Covid19, on us personally as well on us as society, our sense of purpose has been affected and most of us are reviewing our personal purpose. We are hearing people valuing the time they have had with their family and saying that they will not go back to the office full time. There are people wanting to work more from home after realizing how the lockdown has improved our climate. There are people who have lost loved ones or have vulnerable people at home and are reevaluating the value that they attach to their careers.

Assume that everybody will have their own experience and their own thoughts about how personal purpose still fits the organizational purpose. As a leader you will need to spend time surfacing these personal stories. Starting with your own narrative will create the safety for others to follow. Be courageous when sharing your own and be open about uncomfortable truths you have uncovered. If individual narratives can turn into a dialogue, you will collectively be reviewing your purpose and in that process and you will be recalibrating the organizational values and vision. This process will take time and will require stepping out of the daily pressures. However, if done with regular and dedicated focus, you will see the engagement in your team and organization shoot up.

 

Agree on new ways of working

As an outcome of the reflective review of values and purpose, you will find you will come to new agreements on how you work together. This is about bringing the fundamental dialogue to practical outcomes. After all, in our daily lives we experience behaviors that reflect the underlying needs, values and emotions. Aligning the team on ways of working, from team culture to lifestyle to decision making to conflict resolution and whatever else is relevant in your context, will be essential.

Leaders are fooling themselves if they assume things can go back to normal. Those leaders who are asking their people to pick up old routines – most common at the moment is work from the office, not from home – will see short-term results of an uplifted performance but will be confronted with a longer-term loss of talent and engagement. Making sure to retain high performing talent requires a flexible stance towards new ways of working.

 A first and important step to make as a leader is to take 4 visible and easily implementable actions:

  1. Shorten meetings to 30-45 minutes and have them more frequently with a more focused and clearer mandate for the team. This will not only increase efficiency, it will motivate a stronger sense of ownership.
  2. Discover your team profile and enable everyone to drive for results more effectively. This will not only engage colleagues to work from their own strengths, it will boost an inclusive culture that acknowledges complementarity of personalities.
  3. Organize peer consulting sessions that enable action learning. With the picture of the future having become very hazy for most, we are running into new challenges. Organizing facilitated sessions whereby everyone contributes to problem solving to each other’s challenges will not only increase performance, it will also foster collaboration across silos and potentially across sectors.

Set up 1-to-1 calls with colleagues without a business agenda. Ensuring you continue the regular check ins to hear how people are doing, to listen to their perspectives on ways of working, their careers and their ideas about the future will enable trust-based interactions to grow and will foster their resilience and grit.

 


Lead compassionately

The prerequisite to doing this well is to lead compassionately. This is easier said than done, because compassion also requires being forgiving of others as well as of yourself. And as leadership expert Chris Argyris already pointed out 30 years ago, allowing failure and learning from it is something many professionals have little experience with. Instead, they are almost always successful at what they do.

Gaining a growth mindset that experiences failure as an important ingredient of growth will be challenging and needs to be a conscious effort. The Covid19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern day and leaders don’t have the training nor the experience to sail through smoothly. Leaders will find their teams looking at them for guidance and direction. Experimenting aimed at success should allow for failure, so being forgiving to oneself is an important basis to allow others to do the same. As Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. That is the mindset that will build great organizations in the uncertain years to come.


Spark for Growth is working with organizations who are starting the process of reconnecting after Covid19. In those experiences working through this process of Pause and Reflect, Review Purpose and Align on New Ways of Working is allowing teams to come together and rebuild their foundations. This coincides with the individual coaching of leaders who find it challenging to lead effectively in the current crisis.

This article was written by Sonya Richardson – founding partner with Spark for Growth.
If you’d like to hear more, please get in touch.