One year ago this month, the COVID-19 crisis turned our lives, and the business world, upside down. Over the past twelve months, leaders have faced unpredictable challenges accompanied by many lessons learned. In particular, lessons about how leading, managing and interacting with our teams.
Companies often say they greatly value their employees. While it’s easy to say that when things are going well, it matters most during hard times. Here are a few things that our managers learned while leading our teams through the stress of the last year.
Ask What They Need & Listen
When external stressors ramp up, leaders may need occasional reminders that our first responsibility is to the people we lead. As the head of a team or organization, it’s our job to create a culture where employees feel cared for, valued and respected. This means ensuring that their concerns are heard and validated, and that they’re offered the necessary support.
Leading begins with effective communication. Without open, honest two-way communication, leaders often struggle to offer teams the support they need. In “normal” times, but especially during crises, leaders need to put forth the extra time and effort to interact with team members, listen to them and take an interest in them. This isn’t about solving their problems or being their counselor; it’s about extending genuine interest in and care for them as human beings.
Caring for our people is essential to everyone’s success, from individual employees to the organization as a whole. A little empathy goes a long way. By prioritizing their needs you can create a culture where they can flourish.
Leading With Compassion and Accountability
As individuals adjusted to their new work environments at home, our teams faced an entirely new set of challenges. While it’s vital and necessary to offer employees compassion and understanding during difficult times, it’s incredibly easy for compassion to morph into something unproductive: complacency.
It’s difficult during those transitional periods to balance showing employees compassion while maintaining professional accountability. Good leaders know that part of caring for our teams involves holding them to a standard. In the long-term, failing to uphold accountability isn’t helpful, compassionate or productive.
While recalibrating expectations may be helpful and even necessary at times, eliminating all expectations potentially sets us up for failure. Show your team that you know they’re strong and capable by showing compassion while also holding them to a solid standard of work.
Consider the Customer Impact
When we see our first priority as taking care of our customer, growing our bottom line or any other business objective, we’re making a mistake. Think of it this way: If our teams don’t feel safe and valued, how will that translate into how they make our customers feel? Believe it or not, there’s a direct correlation between the two.
If we don’t take care of our employees, they won’t be able to effectively take care of our customers and, ultimately, our bottom line will suffer. Good customer care stems from ensuring our employees are taken care of, too.
Embrace Change & Grow Together
Times of crisis are never “easy” to weather. They may negatively impact our businesses, sometimes in significant ways, but in these times of struggle there’s opportunity for growth.
When a crisis first hits, your first instinct may be, “Put your head down, hold on tight and just figure out a way to get through this.” This was true for our team, but we quickly realized that we needed to change our perspective into something more productive.
Instead of hunkering down or fighting the challenges, our teams embraced them. We took each challenge as it came, working together to learn, adapt, grow and improve as a team. Through facing these challenges head-on, we found that our team came out stronger and more capable than before, with far greater bonds holding us together.
Keep in mind that this isn’t just about improving your team’s relationship and collaboration with each other. Your leadership and example-setting also has the potential to greatly improve their relationships with you, strengthening your organization as a whole and setting you up for future success. These are important things to keep in mind as you work towards building a positive company culture.
Crisis has a way of focusing us, pushing us to reevaluate what’s most important and make changes that benefit our business and our teams. Don’t wait until “things are back to normal” to start prioritizing your team. Even if this wasn’t a priority for you in the last year, it’s never too late to start.