The pandemic has made 2020 a year of unprecedented disruption and change. You might think this is merely an anomaly, but experts point out that 2020 might actually herald a prolonged era of accelerated change. Advancements in technology in the realms of automation, connectivity and artificial intelligence that we are seeing now are likely to spark continual, pervasive and ubiquitous transformation in the next few years.
While we often discuss how employees need to adapt in order to bring value to organisations during crises and change, it is perhaps even more crucial that leaders set the right tone.
The leaders we come into contact with unanimously agree that today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business environment requires a vastly different style of leadership to bring out the best in each employee.
For one thing, the shift to remote work has necessitated increased communication between leaders and their teams.
As change is set to be a dominant theme for the next few years, here are some ways leadership styles need to change in tandem.
OUT WITH COMMAND AND CONTROL
Jobs today require innovation and creativity. Those who insist on commanding and controlling their employees are likely to kill this spirit and drive the business into the ground. This is especially so if their competitors are evolving to cultivate work environments that encourage critical thinking, creative problem solving and experimentation.
Instead of commanding and controlling your employees, enable them to perform better in the digital age.
SHOW THAT YOU EMBRACE FAILURE
In the past, the fear of failure might have been an effective motivator for people to mindlessly comply with repetitive tasks.
However, in a fast-moving world, the nature of work requires non-compliance – the ability to think and act creatively.
People who are afraid of their supervisor’s wrath will not report problems, suggest ideas or take risks to experiment with new ideas.
As a leader, you need to show your team that you recognise calculated failure is par for the course on the road to exponential success. As a start, share your own experiments and failures.
RECOGNISE THAT HUMILITY ENGENDERS TRUST AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY
Admit that just like everyone else, you are learning how to function and excel in a changing world. Be authentic and open to learning from your employees just as they learn from you. This creates trust and psychological safety among team members. It allows them to be honest about what they don’t know and take the required actions.
This approach tends to create open and caring teams that are motivated to learn and work together while helping each other excel.
SLOW DOWN, EXPLORE AND COLLABORATE
While being decisive is valued, you need to slow down in order to speed up. The nature of work today requires leaders to listen with an open mind, explore the possibilities and collaborate to come up with ideas.
HR leaders we interact with say that having such in-depth conversations with their teams on a regular basis has helped them develop innovative frameworks for work and talent development in the Covid era.
Fostering engagement leads to teams generating ideas and committing to see them through together.
CULTIVATE A MERITOCRACY OF IDEAS
The best ideas should win regardless of who came up with them.
Showing that you’re not fixated on hierarchies encourages employees at all levels to step up. When people come up with solutions from their vantage points on the ground, they are likely to be more committed to following through and getting buy-in from stakeholders as well.
COMMUNICATE REGULARLY, CLEARLY AND ACCURATELY
Whether they’re working remotely or on the premises, continual change can make people feel less secure. These feelings of insecurity could extend to how the company is doing in an uncertain and constantly changing world, their job role, and what’s next in their career trajectory. In the absence of clear communication, people will plug the gap with their own narratives and versions of reality.
Pre-empt this by communicating regularly and clearly about current and upcoming business changes, their effects and overall impact. Silence on important developments engenders a work environment rife with misconceptions and wild rumours that could distract your employees and consequently, hurt your business.
HR consulting firm, Mercer points out that “companies can show strong leadership by providing accurate and clear communication — not just on company expectations, but also on technical information about the health crisis.”
In a recent Mercer survey, nearly 81% of respondents said that their organisation has “developed a regular cadence of communication from senior leadership, as well as company-wide communications that focus not only on data but on practical actions the company has undertaken.”
Also, because information is likely to change quickly, using digital tools that can provide company-wide updates in real time are favoured over e-mail updates.
According to Mercer’s survey, some leaders are sending out short video updates in order to connect more closely with employees.