Workplace Trends to Engage Now & Beyond the Crisis

The last 11 months have brought the most significant broad-based disruption to all aspects of life in more than 100 years. Some have been in survival mode while others have pivoted and regained traction. But for the most part everyone has been in crisis mode. Maintaining a thriving work team in crisis mode indefinitely is not sustainable. 

As we head out of this long, dark tunnel, let’s build on what we’ve learned to continue growing. The road ahead is not straight forward. Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken with many of you from financial services to manufacturing and construction to technology services. All have shared in their own way that although change has happened at the speed of blur we need to hold on, there is more to come. To come out of where we have been successfully incremental change will not be sufficient.


Mindsets for Creating Normal

Through the COVID experience, many have felt an awakening to deep interdependencies within their organizations that until now have gone under the radar screen. The next steps in emerging out of crisis mode and creating “normal” for them all include:

  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable; change will continue to be quick and comprehensive.
  • Being nimble and focusing on taking calculated risks; understand what business no longer fits your footprint and what new business lines you need to capitalize on in order to create stability.
  • Understanding your efficiencies and operational productivity changes; identify your vulnerabilities, what’s sustainable and what needs to be recalibrating.
  • Leading and inspiring: counter fatigue by providing everyone with a clear understanding of their individual purpose and the big picture of the “why” behind your organization’s solutions.


Big Thinking to Actions

How will your organization intentionally shape its future?  How will you take big thinking and bring it to life? I see five big buckets that will help you translate big thinking into actions that will shape your culture, engage your stakeholders and create an experience with your organization. 


1. Build Implementation Muscle

Too often we are overly anxious to just start doing the work. Taking a big step back and exhaling, and planning will be important. Assemble a small team from different areas and at different levels within your organization. Create a comprehensive list of the big-picture actions that must happen to bring stability. Based on the actions, define milestones and stakeholders who must be on board to make the actions successful. Now it is time to get into the nitty gritty, create a priorities list and sequencing processes. Finally divide the work into smaller tasks and bring more people into the fold, this will bring greater ownership and more champions.

With sequencing and priorities in place, everyone in the organization from a shipping clerk to a CEO needs to:

  • understand exactly what the priorities are and what success look like;
  • whom is responsible;
  • and by when.

This specificity will enable people to determine when they can work autonomously, work collaboratively, and, most importantly, create a closed-loop accountability system. 


2. Innovation in How Work Gets Done

Some remote working was taking place before COVID. But for the most part,  organizations needed to determine overnight how to enable their entire workforce to be productive remotely. Use of video platforms and collaboration tools have soared. We have learned how to conduct business digitally, from simple tasks (turn on our video, mute and unmute, share screens) to the more complex challenges (develop engaging virtual national sales meetings, virtual events to connect with clients and the like). 

How work gets done has fundamentally changed as McKinsey’s global survey (October 2020) points out:

  • Acceleration in the use of technology, digitization, and other new forms of working will be sustained. 
  • Leaders across the board have reported record speed, 20-25 times faster than they thought possible, in building digital solutions. 
  • Some systems put in place in crisis mode are clunky and need refining, so they can be institutionalized.
  • Organizations are 3 times more likely than before COVID to conduct at least 80% of their customer interactions digitally.

Most organizations are not focused on how fast they can get their people back under one roof every day. Work may get done from your home or from your home away from home, satellite offices or headquarters. Conversations are focused on:

  • How to provide tools for people to get work done from wherever they are;
  • How to be present with the people they need to be with, when they need to be with them; and
  • How to shape a culture of engagement and a positive stakeholder experience — all in a way that is sustainable without the “office” as the hub. 


3. Skill-building

A McKinsey Survey (May 2019) revealed that 90% of surveyed executives and managers said that their organization faced skill gaps or expected to in the next five years. COVID has highlighted and accelerated the need to reskill or upskill teams. Automation, digitization, and other technologies have accelerated automated checkouts, increased telehealth visits, made virtual conferencing the norm, and more. 

As a leader, your choice is letting people go and rehiring, or reskilling/upskilling from within. Choosing to reskill/upskill your current team comes with benefits:

  • Tribal knowledge that leaves when people are let go;
  • Understanding of your culture and brand; and
  • Financial outlay that, typically costs less than onboarding new employees.

In order to reskill/upskill successfully a commitment from leadership and gaining an understanding of:

  • What skills are needed;
  • Who inside has them and can mentor and be a champion;
  • What is needed today AND what is needed in the next 1-3 years;
  • How to create meaningful reskilling/upskilling learning opportunities; and
  • How to share upskilling/reskilling successes.


4. Recognition
You may also need to reconceptualize how you use rewards and simple recognition to inspire people to make these important changes. Pre-COVID recognition often happened in face-to-face moments from a simple “high five” in the hallway to a team-wide office cheer when a big target is accomplished to receiving your recognition moment on a stage at a company-wide event. Throughout COVID some have shined by accepting new challenges, and mentoring others to create incredible value.

Post-COVID recognition will look different. The office may not be the gathering place for everyone each day. Consider:

  • My research data shows that a simple “thank you” (expressed frequently) that acknowledges specifically what was accomplished, why it was important and delivered in a timely manner is highly effective:
  • Using digital recognition where all can contribute interactively:
  • Making it meaningful by recognizing meaningful accomplishments that contribute to company objectives AND engages the recipient; and
  • Developing impactful and visible recognition that can be seen and felt by the recipient and their colleagues both inside and outside of your organization.

Post-COVID this sentiment remains the same: what gets recognized, gets repeated.


5. Communication

From my perspective, communication has always been the foundation of an organization’s success for engagement and creating stakeholder experiences. Successful key communication mechanics always include:

  • Frequency. Whether it is your direct reports, your department, business unit or the company, establishing a continual flow of information from top-to-bottom and from one side-to-the-other. 
  • Consistency of messaging. Delivering the same message to everyone in language and terms based on their role in the organization (senior leaders, managers, front line). 
  • Through multiple-channels, multiple times. It takes approximately seven times for a message to be processed by the brain. Delivering messages through different means (spoken, digitally, old school on a bulletin board, etc.) multiple times embeds them.

Many people are more fragile at this time and require extra care:  

  • Eliminate uncertainty as soon as possible: What do you know is definitely happening, what is definitely not happening, and when do you expect to have firmer answers? Share as soon as possible.
  • Bring compassion and empathy to the conversation. Many have lost much, leaving an emotional elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged with compassion that will strengthen bonds. Make a point of reaching out to those outside of your direct circle of communication and checking-in. 
  • Inspire people. Survival mode has meant working harder and longer which has created fatigue. You too may feel it too. It’s important that we all dig deep to inspire others in this moment. Your words can empower them to be their best. Knowing you trust them to do the right thing and offering support them when they fall short will go far. 

Go forth with these buckets and create a culture of best practices in a post-COVID world. COVID has not changed the basic tenants that create engagement and the stakeholder experience. How you engage through these tenants will take creative thinking and resilience to deliver sustainable results. 

What are your key priorities and plans? I would love to know. Drop me a note or pick up the phone (952-933-8365). We can learn from each other.