Covid-19 has presented leaders with a huge amount of challenge and organisational change. Getting your teams and services functioning during lockdown alongside handling the related upheaval has not been easy or straightforward. However, as we move through June and restrictions start to ease across the UK and Europe, it would be tempting to think the crisis has eased.
It may be true that initial surge of energy to get things sorted has dissipated. However, charity and non-profit leaders can see that the road ahead is still filled with uncertainty and there will be more changes to come. Stability could be a long way off yet.
As a CEO or senior leader this presents another conundrum: people are looking to you to show the way ahead, provide direction, a steady hand and a calming presence that reassures. Which of course is really hard if you can’t exactly see into the future and there are many potential scenarios in front of you. But saying you don’t know what happens next will only serve to demotivate and disempower your teams.
Getting your people through this ambiguity can’t be left to the CEO or Senior Leadership Team alone. Everybody at every level has a role to play in navigating this unfamiliar path. Leaders need to have input from the front-line staff to help them make their strategic decisions. In turn, front-line staff need managers to interpret the decisions made at the top and turn them into actions that ensure operations continue. Managers will continue to play a pivotal role in the next few months as workplaces continue to evolve.
So, what is a leader to do? You might not be able to predict the future, or even the next six months, but you can provide direction and support for your managers now to be ready for the next set of hurdles. Here are five strategies to help:
Covid-19 has transformed workplaces and work processes for many organisations. Not all of this has been bad. Some organisations have been able to unlock work practices that had been stuck for years. For others, the shift to homeworking created new work patterns that wouldn’t have been possible in the office. We’ve seen steps forward in supporting parents with flexible working hours. And most of us have embraced new collaborative working technologies (Zoom anyone?) Ask yourself: what are the benefits of the changes you have made? How can you build on those? What are the emerging needs of your beneficiaries? What do you want your organisation to look like in three, six or twelve months? Now is the time to inspire your managers and teams to look further by sharing this vision with them. Ask, what do the people who work for me need to hear from me? What would help them move forward and look to the future? You are not going to get there alone. It’s part of your role as a leader to inspire people to come on the journey with you.
There may be many factors beyond your control right now. The one thing you are in absolute control over is your behaviour. Be a role model to line managers, show them you understand how uncertain they may be feeling and that you need to persevere as best you can. Celebrate the successes you have had so far. Help them learn the value of flexibility, creativity, and adaptability. Set up experiments, identify risks and put in place mitigation plans. This will help to ease any feelings of helplessness. Explain to your managers that right now you might not have all the answers – but you are open to questions and ideas. You may have to accept some failures along the way – turn this into learning and celebrate bravery as well as success.
Your role as a leader is to look ahead, scan the outside environment, and make strategic decisions. This can be hugely difficult when you are being pulled in lots of operational directions and managers are expected to seek your permission ahead of every action. Consider how much authority you really need over operational matters and challenge yourself to delegate as much as possible. Empower your managers to make decisions, give them broad parameters and ask them to keep you in the loop. They know their teams best – help them to be effective in that space by being a sounding board.
Managers are a great source of information. They can see things that other groups can’t. However, it is all too easy for managers to get sucked into handling the day-to-day demands of a busy team and workplans. Give your managers permission to take time out and reflect. Let them know they don’t need to fill their days with emails and video calls to prove they are at work. Managers need time to focus on important areas of work and plan ahead. Ask them questions to prompt their thinking: what is going well? What might we need to differently going forwards? What is the impact of further change on your team? Help them to give you useful feedback and listen to it.
Many managers are in their roles because of expertise in their area of work. Few people are promoted or hired because they are an expert at managing people. And even fewer people would have had to deal with the scale of change that a global pandemic has brought us. Therefore, asking managers to step up and handle change could be a daunting prospect. Help managers to develop both the skills and tools they need to be continuously change-ready. Help managers to learn from you – take the time to explain your approach. And recognising how busy you are yourself, better yet – set up ways for managers to learn from others. Consider action learning networks, peer mentoring, reverse mentoring and coaching. Bring in external expertise when you need to. Managers are made – invest time and energy in tooling them up.
If we had a crystal ball that could tell you what further changes lie down the road, we would love to share it with you. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. But what we do know is as leaders, people need you to show them the way forward. You will need managers who continue to be essential in making change and adapting to evolving situations. Helping them, is helping you too.
If you or your managers would like to discuss ways in which we can provide learning, ideas and tools please call 020 7978 1516 to speak to one of our consultants, email Charlie Scott, =mc Director on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us online.