Leaders, how are you doing? If you’re feeling weary, I get it. Leading through change is hard. Of course, no one promised it would be easy. But no one saw the pandemic coming, either. Suddenly, it just crashed into our lives and shook us to our collective core.
Covid disrupted everything everywhere all at once. And the virus was only the beginning. Three years later, shock waves continue to roll through the world of work, and we still feel massive reverb. In 2021, it was the Great Resignation. Last year, it was Quiet Quitting. Now, it’s about finding a viable path through the push-pull struggle between return-to-office policies vs. remote work preferences.
On that note, let’s take a brief pulse check. Employers, whatever your current remote work standards may be, how’s that working for you? Moreover, how’s it working for your people?
If you’re ambivalent, you’re not alone. Plenty of organizations are still unsure about committing to long-term flexible work options. But if you think remote work demand is just a passing phase, think again. Just check this chart from Google Trends:
In short, it means U.S. interest in remote work has never been stronger than today – as measured by the volume of Google searches people conduct each day. In fact, we’ve just reached peak historical interest – 100 on a scale of 0-100. And global interest is growing at a similar rate. Surprised?
But I digress. This really isn’t about remote work, per se. It’s about a deeper issue. Namely, how can we lead through change that’s beyond our control? How can we engage and motivate employees, even in the most difficult circumstances?
Recently, I hunted for some answers to these questions by rewinding the #WorkTrends podcast time machine to June 2020. Three years ago, the world seemed at a low ebb. We were living in isolation. Life seemed sad, volatile, and bleak. Change management felt more like crisis management. But that was the perfect time to compare notes with Doug Butler, who was CEO of Reward Gateway – an employee recognition platform provider.
Doug has seen firsthand how mission, values, and engagement can build or break businesses and work cultures. So I asked him to share some of his best advice. Looking back, his leadership suggestions are still just as useful today…
Leading Through Change: 5 Takeaways
1) Aim for a balance of caution and optimism
When things are tough and circumstances are changing rapidly, communication is everything. Remind yourself and others that you’ve been through serious challenges in the past, so you’ll find a way through this, as well.
Sometimes, the process may be painful. You need to be willing to make mistakes and keep going. But be sure people know that you’ll share what you know, when you know it. Then follow through on that promise.
2) Rebuild and reinforce connections
Be more visible. Show up regularly and be accessible to people, whether it’s virtually or in-person, or a combination. Encourage others to do the same. Video technology helps, but there are two kinds of video to consider:
Virtual meetings are common at Doug’s company. But more importantly, he writes a weekly blog for employees. And during the Covid lockdown, he started including a video summary with each update. People responded well to that personal touch. So all of the company’s leaders began adding a video to their written messages.
3) Make it your mission to sustain engagement
While you’re figuring out how to adjust, it’s important to prioritize team morale and emotional wellbeing. Change naturally takes a toll on people, especially when what’s ahead is unclear. This is another reason why open, honest communication and deliberate action are key.
Doug says this management style is actually very liberating. It’s also the best way to put trust at the center of your culture during difficult times.
4) Recognize the upside of change
Ironically, when things are changing, leaders often see new opportunities. It can open the door to doing things better or doing entirely different things. But Doug cautions leaders not to become distracted by too many opportunities.
You need to prioritize. That’s where listening to others helps. People need to feel like they’re part of the conversation. Listening is another aspect of communication that is essential for the health of your culture and your business.
5) Share your vision for the future
This isn’t about making unilateral decisions and delivering a roadmap. It’s about recognizing that people have a vested interest in the future and inviting them to participate in that discussion. That’s why Doug’s team continuously let people know what was in front of them and what they were considering.
Whatever you plan to do, always frame it with the organization’s mission and values. No one wants to change things just for the sake of change. But with the right context, change can become a powerful way to bring people together.
Leading Through Change: Top 10 “To Dos”
After revisiting that podcast with Doug, I found another source of leadership advice from 2020 that deserves renewed attention. Mark Zuppe, a serial business founder, shared a brilliant article on our blog about how to sustain employee experience during tough times.
In many ways, his advice echoes Doug’s. And I think his recommendations are just as relevant now as they were three years ago. Don’t you?
- Foster transparent communications
- Keep communications positive and helpful
- Offer employees ways to relieve stress
- Adjust your internal processes to the “new normal”
- Be empathetic and patient with your team
- Proactively seek employee input
- Expand inbound feedback channels
- Promote new safety protocols
- Help your team recalibrate expectations
- Recognize the small things
Leading Through Change: What’s Next?
We’ve all had to find ways to keep moving through unrelenting change, for better or worse. We’ve made mistakes and we’ve learned some leadership lessons we never expected to have on our plate. It’s been overwhelming at times. But we’re all better prepared to navigate uncertainty in the future.
Now the question is, will we hold on to those lessons, or leave them behind with our supply of Covid masks? And when the time comes to demonstrate agility again, how will we apply that experience to whatever lies ahead? I hope you’ll share your leadership lessons with me on LinkedIn, or perhaps even in an article or podcast here at TalentCulture.