In this 30-minute video Rob Ball and Harry Dunlevy join the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to share best practice advice for employers on rebooting, renewal and workforce change following COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
News - general commentary
After weeks of lockdown, we are now seeing a gradual relaxation of the rules. While politicians are juggling measures to avoid a ‘second spike’ against the needs of the economy, business leaders need to prepare for people moving back into work, in one form or another.
While some people may be hoping for a return to where we were, in practical, psychological and emotional terms the world of work has changed, and will not go back to what it was.
Onboarding returning staff
If you are managing people who have been out of the workplace for weeks, they will need re-onboarding:
- What are the new ways of working?
- How will you keep them safe at work?
- Are there changes to clients, suppliers and partners?
- Have there been adjustments to the management team?
- Who will continue to work from home, at least some of the time?
- Can you reassure them that their job will be safe?
- What communications processes will be used?
There may be attitudinal and behavioural changes caused by homeworking or being seen as a key worker. This may require extra attention as you manage the changes.
Redundancy and renewal
If you need to reduce headcount to adapt to new business circumstances, some staff who were furloughed may now be vulnerable to redundancy. However it is often after redundancies have been made that problems start. There may be legal cases to fight, with all of the exhausting effects on the managers and potential costs.
But more fundamentally, rebuilding has to take place. Although some people may just be happy to have kept their job, the Harvard Business Review reports that within a year of redundancies, businesses typically lose 30% of the people who were retained. It was found that the best people are unwilling to stay if they themselves feel threatened and perceive management as uncaring or unprofessional.
I’m guessing that most of us spend at least part of the day feeling uncertain right now. There are a few questions that run through my mind on most days. What does the future look like for me? For my business? For my family? When will things return to normal?
Beyond Covid-19, uncertainty is a fact of life and a fact of creating change in organisations. And there are some lessons that organisations can take from the current situation.
The impact of uncertainty on the brain
In psychological terms, uncertainty is a state which is caused by an individual’s perception of the environment that they find themselves in. This perception can cause people to experience uncertainty in different ways (Alex Boulting). For some, uncertainty creates an environment of novelty and opportunities to try new things, make mistakes and learn from them (Diana Laufenberg). For others, uncertainty can cause stress and psychological strain. This can lead to a fight or flight response in the brain which limits performance and creativity (The Guardian).
This difference has been attributed to individual factors as every person will have a different response to the situation that they find themselves in (Kaitlyn DeGhetto et al).
In my view (and others agree), we can all flip from one side of the scale to the other. Sometimes, we will find uncertainty difficult to deal with and at other times we won’t. This can be due to the situation that we find ourselves in, our motivations and our emotions on a particular day. Because, we are dynamic and we don’t react the same way all of the time (8connect).
Control makes all the difference
A key factor in the amount of stress that an individual will feel in relation to an uncertain situation is the level of control that they feel over it. A feeling of loss of control can lead to an increase in psychological strain, particularly if this is accompanied by feelings of uncertainty about how the change will progress and what the outcomes will be (Prashant Bordia et al).
This is particularly pertinent right now, as so many of us are living through a very uncertain situation for work and family life, with no clear end or outcome in sight. In a study (Prashant Bordia et al), the researchers found that receiving quality communication during an uncertain time, as well as being given the opportunity to input into the process (and feel more in control) made all the difference.
Most importantly, the opportunity for participation and engagement in finding solutions made the most difference to employee feelings of stress caused by change. Again, this solution finding led to greater feelings of control and psychological safety (Laura Delizonna). Right now, when many employees are working remotely, this is need for engagement is more essential than ever.
So, what can leaders take from this for their own organisations?
Talk more not less during periods of uncertainty…and be visible
A common (and very human) reaction of some leaders during times of uncertainty is to reduce their visibility (Glenn Llopis). For many leaders, not knowing the answer can feel very uncomfortable, leading to them hiding away or speaking from a script. Actually, during times of change and uncertainty, it’s even more important for leaders to show up and be visible. To put themselves out there and be prepared for the awkward questions. And admit when they don’t know the answer.
The Korn Ferry/Lominger competencies offer some useful advice and resources here to support leaders in adapting to uncertainty. In particular, to enable them to be more effective during change and increase their ability to act without having the full picture and effectively handle risk and uncertainty.
Understand what can be controlled and what can’t … and give others the opportunity to think about this too
It can also be useful for everyone to learn about their own preferences regarding uncertainty. For example, thinking about what they can control and influence – to ‘control the controllables’ (Gary Pritchard).
Uncertainty is not a bad thing per se but some people need more help navigating uncertain times than others and understanding preferences is a key part of this. Also, limiting the amount of things to think about, to focus just on what can be controlled, can be helpful in removing some of the fog and confusion during uncertain times (Sean McPheat).
Be curious and create a sense of purpose…what is your story?
There has a been a lot of talk on social media about how lockdown represents an opportunity for everyone to master new skills, get fit and finish all those tasks that they’ve been meaning to do for years. Whilst this might be an opportunity for growth for some of us, for others, lockdown is tough and simply getting through each day is an achievement. It’s back to those different emotions and motivations again.
As we progress through lockdown and the various emotions and motivations that we experience every day, it’s about deciding who we want to be each day, which is summarised very neatly in this diagram:
Being clear of this purpose can support us when things get tough. This can be as simple as asking ourselves:
- How can I look after myself today?
- How can I grow something new?
This growth could be for health, for work, for family. Whatever is most important to you at that moment and makes you feel excited or curious (Work Horizons).
For leaders, it’s also important to create a sense of purpose for others. Storytelling is a great tool for this. Linking back to engaging employees in solution finding, engaging employees in mutually creating the organisation/team story has been shown to be very valuable in creating positive outcomes during change (Roy Langer).
The ChangeStories TM method, developed by me as a result of my PhD research supports leaders and teams in creating a shared story for the organisation. The model is summarised below:
The model can be used by teams to discover more about your organisation by asking these questions:
- What is it like to work here right now? (use words and/or pictures)
- What are your dreams for the future of the organisation? (use words and/or pictures)
- What is one thing that we could do to make things better?
- How will we know that we are succeeding?
Try having some discussions with your teams using these questions and see where you get to. What are the key themes that emerge? What can this tell you about how the organisation/team functions now and in the future? How can you use these themes to shape a story and purpose for the team?
As well as providing an opportunity for team engagement, taking the time to ask these questions also enables some planning to be undertaken to enable your organisation or team to emerge from lockdown with some creative ideas for the future.
Let me know how you get on.
Susanne is an organisation development and change management consultant. She helps clients to improve performance and retain and develop talented individuals through development programmes and performance management processes.
Dick Elsy, from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, was recently interviewed on the BBC Today programme. He has been leading the consortium of businesses producing ventilators for our hospitals and reported a huge output increase from 50 machines per week to 1500.
Dick reflected on the lessons learned as the engineers came together, working innovatively for up to 20 hours per day, and eliminating ‘noise and waste’. Meetings have been 15 minutes long and highly focused. We all need to observe and consider how we adopt them.
More broadly, have you noticed how the true experts such as scientists, medical professionals and engineers have been impressive. They actually have answered questions, explained the issues and the context, and re-assured with their competence even if they aren’t media trained (perhaps because of it). Contrast that with politicians ‘working round the clock’, ‘working night and day’, ‘working in unprecedented times’ and ‘doing our best’.
This is a critical time and we must have people working very hard, but that is the minimum standard. When I create assessments, the first criterion is hardworking. It allows the manager carrying out the appraisal to say the person does get ‘stuck in’. However, the differentiating criteria are creativity, quality awareness, delivery, leadership, communications, and numerous others.
Politicians are, in the main, bright (we all know of exceptions) but scared of going off-script. They go for the lowest common denominator, assuming the general population has become used to being patronised and accepting of simple mantra.
To see a great example of straightforward excellence, take a look at the Andrew Marr interview with Professor Sarah Gilbert from Oxford University.
The new world in which we live is demanding as many people as possible work from home. This means, on occasions, whole departments will be functioning remotely. For most of us, trying to manage a team for an extended period without being in the same room is very unusual.
We need balance: delegation but not abdication, less management and more leadership, greater productivity and lower levels of control. Getting the best from teams is always a challenge because there are so many variables, not least of which are the different personalities of the individuals. For a team to be successful in any circumstances requires certain basics such as an embedded positive culture, clear goals, skilled people, great technology and supportive intentions.
We know that some staff are incredibly productive, in certain aspects of their job, when they work from home. Without the distractions and interruptions of the office, the person can be highly focussed and free to deliver.
Here are ten considerations for our new world:
In any team, it is fundamental that trust exists between team members and, especially, from the team leader. This may be the biggest challenge. If we are honest between ourselves, there are many managers who don’t trust the people, who think the staff will slack and waste time if not constantly monitored.
This goes beyond confidence; confidence that if Fred is asked to achieve a task by Friday that it will be done. This is vulnerability trust, the deep commitment to each other as described in the Five Behaviors of Cohesive Teams which we can facilitate in normal circumstance.
The inevitable consequence of lower levels of trust is micro-management.
The most intrusive and distracting actions is a manager constantly enquiring about progress and activity. There are tools which will allow the micro-manager to monitor people’s time at the keyboard; they are a huge contradiction to trust and leadership.
Most of us have met or endured a micro-manager and know how debilitating he is. It isn’t just the pauses to our workflow, it is the implied threat, to meet his, often unspoken, standards and targets. It is the frustration that the only facet of work which matters is time at the keyboard, that being active in other unmeasurable ways doesn’t count, like thinking and planning or interacting with colleagues, clients and suppliers.
Forced to make redundancies?
If you have no choice but to make redundancies, there are still ways in which you can reduce the impact, as well as showing other staff that you have not abandoned your values and ethical code.
Read our paper, Outplacement in an Online World.
3. Settling Time
Recognise it will take time to get up to speed. It isn’t just the technology that needs to bed in, we do as well. This is different and uncomfortable, and we need to create routine. Perhaps equally significant is making sure the others we share our home with understand we have to work. As a leader we must accept that this means our output may be irregular rather than a nice orderly linear use of time. Children have needs and boredom thresholds which have to be accommodated.
The measure isn’t hours worked, it is contribution. We must change our mindset as leaders.
Everyone will say we need to communicate, and they are correct. In reality, we need to do much more, we must make great connections.
Too many managers think transmission is communication: if they talk it’s enough. But this is a process and a time where listening and observing are critical.
Connection requires a relationship and all relationships require trust, personal connection.
Be available, be a crutch, be the sponge absorbing the issues from the team.
5. Find ways to drive ideas
We all have thinking time and may come up with new ideas.
We can read books, write articles, watch TED talks and podcasts. The stimuli are there, so let’s encourage them.
Hold conference calls specifically to discuss concepts and thoughts. Please remember to be positive about the propositions, even if they aren’t very practical. This isn’t just about business improvement, it is equally valuable as a mental wellness tool.
6. Encourage Development
This is a great time to learn new skills and expand knowledge. Find out areas in which individuals want to develop. There is a tremendous amount online which is free.
With a little research (which is also developmental), people can find extraordinary amounts of content.
If possible, give some financial backing, as it will open up untold possibilities.
Again, this isn’t just about business improvement; it is equally valuable as a mental wellness tool.
7. One-to-one Support
Be available, at almost any time, for a phone call, an email, a video call…
When you are giving this specific help, you must ‘be in the room’, only focusing on this person.
Accept that the discussion may veer into the personal, career and ambition. Not everything is about work in the here and now.
Of course, professional support is available as well.
8. Encourage making connections
A big part of business, of personal development and personal wellbeing is our interaction with other people. This is a fabulous chance to make new links.
Work with the team to plan a campaign to meet new people. It may be a coordinated hunt for new clients or a general spread of social media connections.
Most people are in the same constrained situation, so will welcome an invitation. However, do remember, this is the start of the relationship which may, over time, lead to something more significant. Don’t expect or demand immediate results.
9. Be aware of mental health issues
Each one of us will react to these strange circumstances differently. For a minority it may lead to mental illness. Not being in the same room as your team may make this more difficult to spot.
Recent research showed that it is easier to discern if someone is lying when talking over the phone than in face-to-face conversation. Being distant doesn’t stop us seeing the signs but we need to be aware of the need to be ready to observe and question.
Always ask twice: ‘How are you? No really, how are you?’
10. Look after yourself
You need your leaders to be applying these principles to the relationship with you. Let them see this paper and discuss your needs.
Don’t beat yourself up; don’t expect life to be as effective; do self-observe for the cracks in your own resilience.
If you need one-to-one coaching seek it. If it gets to the point of needing counselling, don’t be embarrassed, ask for the help.
Stay physically fit. The state of your body very directly affects the state of your mind.
Not only will our people be more productive if we approach this time more thoughtfully, but we may also come out of it a better leader for the future. We may learn how to be the leader our team wants and to inspire higher performance. We have enough problems today without our managerial style compounding them.
No matter how tough the job market may seem, there are always people with vacancies to fill.
We have compiled a list of job sites which we are aware of. This isn’t meant to be definitive, but gives you a good start point. Some sites cover all kinds of jobs, others may be more or less relevant to you, depending on your focus, qualifications and aspirations:
General job sites
This is the Governments tool which replaced Universal Jobmatch. Includes all roles notified to DWP across the country.
Broad range of roles particularly in health, customer services, sales, IT, logistics, construction, security, engineering and administration. Permanent and temporary.
Specialisms are education, IT and telecoms, engineering, accountancy, sales, health and administration. Permanent and temporary.
Very wide range of sectors but key are engineering, sales, education, administration and manufacturing. Permanent and temporary.
Broad range but they don’t give numbers of jobs, so it isn’t easy to see where the strengths are. Permanent and temporary.
Again, doesn’t show in which the jobs are but claim 175000 jobs available. Permanent and temporary.
Accessing data requires sign up to the site. Permanent and temporary. Some good content advising about job search.
Sales, Pharmaceutical, HR, Science are included amongst numerous sectors. Permanent and temporary.
Wide range, including railway and animal jobs. Permanent and temporary.
Very wide range of lower level roles. Permanent and temporary.
All aspects of sales and its administration. Permanent and temporary.
Sales roles at all levels. Permanent and temporary.
Sales roles at all levels. Permanent and temporary.
Jobs in finance, banking, accountancy and IT. Permanent and temporary.
Within the finance sector, a very wide range of roles. Permanent and temporary.
Predominantly IT roles. Permanent and temporary.
Predominantly operational IT roles. Permanent and temporary.
Are there any other jobs sites that you have found particularly useful? Please share them with us – email email@example.com.