In the beginning, we we thought we only needed to work remotely, to be safe. Currently, as we have already entered year two of this pandemic, we realized that it has eventually turned to a prolonged crisis with sea changes for businesses and people. Containment measures of various kinds continue to be in effect in several parts of the world, resulting – after such a long period of time – to an induced social separation which is only a part of the equation, the other being that economies are literally shut down or slowed down thereby increasing uncertainty and – yes – also fear. The business world has been forced to adopt to a new normal which is not well defined as yet, but undoubtedly leads to an unprecedented work experience, anticipated to shape the future of businesses, offices and people. By “people”, we mean our people. So, how do “our” people fit into this new context? How much fragile they are after encountering all this extraordinary reality of health issues and how do they really interpret it? Are they showing signs of anxiety or even depression? How can we work together from now on, what do they think of all that in terms of disruption and to what extent have they shifted their behaviors as a response to their new work environment in these challenging times? How did they manage to “install”’ their office at home amid family life? Do they all share the same anxiety and concerns as we all are, and to what extent do these factors really hinder their productivity and well-being? We – either as leaders or not, certainly need to discover the answers to all these questions or “in essence” to re-discover our relationship with our people, as much as we need to re-discover the ways of doing business, in general. More specifically, we need to re-focus on our people and the ways they work, alone or in teams, to what extent they can be safe, and in what ways can we communicate with each other so to yield satisfactory results. This in effect means to listen more, to gain whatever feedback possible and provide the necessary feedback on our part, as well as to include great amounts of empathy in our everyday practices. On top of all that though, our people need to be informed: about the company and the challenges it faces as well as to what extent it is prepared or getting prepared to face these challenges. The pivoting it needed to make during the pandemic and the set of requirements that will help it to succeed and the elements of risk that stand in our way. How much more difficult is now to plan for the future and how much less valid is to use historic information to form assumptions in business models. About the business environment and the way that its changes affect or may further affect the running of the business and its profitability levels. About the drastic and long-lasting change expected in the labor model as we used to know it thus far. What’s more, we should also care to spot what they don’t know; to be vigilant enough to understand what bothers them and identify the different sources of concern among various employee clusters. To understand if and why these sources of concern are truly related to lack of knowledge and provide the knowledge that they are actually missing. The challenge for organizations irrespective of the size and the kind of business they are in, has always been to be able to retain their people, or more specifically the people that are considered to be “key” for their operations. Nowadays, this is tremendously more important as it is “them”, that will help rebuild the organization when the conditions will allow to do so. To this end, we need – first to know them and – second to develop them. To know the real “performers” – the Self-Reliant Achievers© in each and every division, department, or work-team, those at a high level of development as well as those at lower levels i.e. the ones with lower competence and commitment. We need to re-enter the goal setting stage with all this people, carefully and SMARTly and re-agree on what needs to be done for each task and goal at hand. To re-assess their level of development together and finally apply the leadership style agreed as most appropriate . Finally, it is equally important to follow closely this major – at global level and for a number of months work-in-progress, the so called “re-design” of the workplace; the re-design of this very area – physical or virtual, where this people work and perform, collaborate and create, communicate and behave, in order to move the businesses forward. Although the word “design” suggests more to action than observation, it has become evident that during this period of the last 12 months or so, workplaces have already “redesigned” and transformed themselves, somewhat automatically. Virtual work environments substituted the actual office spaces, methods of communication improved towards digital and on-line platforms absorbed an unprecedented overload of activity, training, filing, streaming and so many other things. That said, we tend to realize that “re-imagine” might be a more correct term rather, in order to reflect the whereabouts of this whole new setting where talents will be attracted and recruited, eco-systems will be designed and developed, and technology will be upgraded and applied. After all, we will always need a setting that will be healthy and energizing, inspiring and engaging, passionate and innovative, transparent and trustful. Yet all these characteristics refer to people, aren’t they? Precisely! because it is people we need to continue to rely and focus on. DIMITRIS P. EFSTATHIADES *Copyright by the Ken Blanchard Companies
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