As the pandemic keeps employees remotely located, furloughed, and (in the cases of essential employees) working in fear, is it possible to keep a WOW culture going? Deb Boelkes, author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture shows us how. No doubt about it: Great leaders drive the creation of great cultures. That's why now is the perfect time to work on your leadership abilities and commit to lifelong learning. Here are some things leaders can do right now to improve themselves while working to create a culture of WOW in these unprecedented times...
Be more visible and engaged. This makes it less likely that team members will mentally check out or become frustrated and depressed. Garry Ridge, chairman and CEO of the WD-40 Company, shared in Boelkes' book Heartfelt Leadership, "In hard times, as a leader, you need to be more visible than ever before. We've got to be there, in the moment, when people need us…Leaders need to make sure in times of war, and in times of trouble, they are visible."
Ask techno-savvy team members for help, if needed. If you aren't used to working with Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, call on team members who are more comfortable and proficient with using such technology. Not only will it make them feel needed, it can help them become more comfortable in communicating with those above them, especially when they see you behave in an unusually humble way. This, in and of itself, can help build new bridges with more team members.
Make sure everyone understands the mission. No matter what world environment we face, in good times and in bad, the leader's role is to define and communicate the organizational strategy and the objectives to be achieved. Not understanding why things are being done, or the intent of the mission, is a big demotivator.
Remove roadblocks as quickly as possible. To create engaging environments, great managers know how important it is to make sure team members are able to perform at their personal best. This is especially important when people are forced to work from home, doing things in ways they haven't had to before, with heavier than normal burdens.
Seek to understand new issues and leverage newfound perspectives. Anticipate quickly changing demand, delivery challenges, and supply chain limitations, as well as opportunities to serve new markets. Encourage team members to share any ideas they may have to improve internal processes, operations, products, services, vendor relations, client services, and/or the customer experience. Working remotely or alone for a change might enable team members to see things from a completely different perspective. Take advantage of the new paradigm to learn and adjust.
Understand what makes employees tick and why they work there. Don't underestimate the importance of having regular performance reviews and professional development one-on-ones, especially during times like these, even if such meetings must be held online. Just because jobs are no longer as plentiful as they were just a short time ago, never assume your best team members won't jump ship. Ask them, "What keeps you at our company?" If you haven't done it in a while, ask about their career goals. Make sure they know they have your support in working toward achieving their dreams and desires. Determine how, in the current situation, they can best align their unique strengths, evolving professional objectives, and personal needs to best support the organization's new objectives.
Leverage employees' changing needs to meet the new needs of your company. During one-on-ones, ask, "What might lure you away from here?" What they tell you today might be totally different from what they might have told you when life was more predictable. There may never be a better time to create a new position or a new set of responsibilities that will allow them to do what they love and help take the organization in a new or different direction.
Proactively help employees network and nurture their potential. Offer to facilitate personal/professional development opportunities outside the organization. Make warm introductions for team members with other leaders within or outside your company. Encourage informational telephone interviews so team members can learn more about your company's internal operations, customer operations, vendor operations, or beyond. Keep team members learning.
Keep internal networks and support systems evolving. Offer team members opportunities to participate in special, newly created webinars to aid in reducing stress, teambuilding, or professional coaching, paid for by the firm, and either hosted by you, a Human Resources specialist, a university extension program, or an executive coach. Such programs might foster team brainstorming or discussion of topics such as: how to cope with working from home, how to serve customers in new ways, ideas to make this new lifestyle easier, new ways to serve our communities, how to be a better remote manager, or any other topics team members would like to discuss. Be sure to offer these online events at various times of the day/evening or even on weekends so team members can select a time that works best for them.
Institute Management by Objectives (MBOs). Initiate a performance-based management program for newly remote workers. Allow team members to decide what works best for them for reviewing their performance (i.e., daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or ad hoc). Discuss with each one what it takes to maintain a "Best Place to Work" given the new, albeit temporary, conditions. Whatever you do, don't squander this time of culture reset, urges Boelkes. Instead, vow to emerge from the pandemic a better, stronger company.
About Deb Boelkes
Deb Boelkes is the author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture and Heartfelt Leadership: How to Capture the Top Spot and Keep on Soaring.