This is not the time for transactional leadership, this is the time for Inclusive leadership.
Inclusive leadership is more important now, than ever before.
With unprecedented times comes unprecedented change. World economies are slowing to a halt, the future of work is very much our present and with the amplified digitalisation of global business the world will be fundamentally changed after all this is over, one way or another.
So, how we treat our employees and customers now is more important than ever before. Inclusive leadership is not a new concept, it's been the unspoken (and spoken) rule of thumb since business existence, with some leaders being able to display this more readily than others. In this time of mass uncertainty we need to make sure that inclusive leadership is at the forefront of continually changing business operations.
Role Model Remotely
Business leaders need show up authentically; the good, the bad, the ugly and the uglier. Now is the time to role model vulnerability and empathy, honesty and transparency. Even if we have no idea what will happen, keeping staff and clients in the loop is incredibly important.Be Consistent in your messaging, meetings, and daily interactions: the feeling of stability plays a major role in the human psyche. As a leader, creating stability through rituals as small as the way each meeting starts and ends will go a long way. The CEO of a multinational software corporation is leading short 15 min burst calls at the beginning of each day to all employees.
It helps set the tone for the work day, provides continually evolving updates and most importantly fosters psychological safety. Where employees feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. This is vitally important in the workplace at all times, when that workplace is virtual and the in person (and emotional) contact is fragmented it can be even harder to get right. With the ability to read body language and tone significantly diminished it is easy for messages to come across as negative or induce anxiety. Creating avenues to foster this safety (through transparency and consistency) can dramatically improve employee wellbeing and productivity.
The office is the great equaliser, voiding the realities of each employees personal circumstance and home-life. The Covid19 isolation work day looks very different from person to person with competing priorities on time and energy. Setting up a digital dashboard so that everyone knows whats going on, what projects are happening and what the priorities are for that business currently, can be incredibly powerful. A simple task to record meetings and give access to everyone means that if someone can't make the realtime meeting they can catch up and be included.
Your business is only as healthy and productive as its employees. Check in with your staff; imagine virtually walking the room as if you were on the office floor, go department to department, team to team. Set up a system throughout the levels of hierarchy to check in with all employees on a regular basis. Also don't assume what your staff need, make sure you ask, ask, ask. It is a time to be iterative - try, feedback and adjust. It can be really powerful to try new things now, while people are open to trying new things. Learning Circles could provide a great way for peer to peer engagement, facilitated learning and self learning - small group mentoring to engage employees in a meaningful, open and trusted way.
Connection is key
Virtual meetings need to be super intentional and 'Zoom Doom' is very real - don't have meetings for meetings sake but do encourage all participants to engage and be conscious of external factors that may be effecting the group. It is possible to connect digitally but it often requires more intentional effort, such as building in chat time into meetings. Remote meetings are more efficient but for them to be really impactful deliberately spend time on social networking to create the engagement within the team for these efficiency gains to be realised.
The WFH paradigm shift
For all of us that have championed working from home this seems like a big win, but there is a paradox on this rapid digitalisation that stands in the way for this new chapter. Working from home will work well for some employees and not at all for others. Some may thrive in the work from home scenario but we have to be understanding that most people will have never worked day in their lives from their home. Those people are now trying to unlearn possibly decade(s) old, baked in practices and adjusting to the current constraints. A lot of people will have responsibilities that they don't usually have during the work day, time is constrained, mental capacity is stretched. Encourage staff to set boundaries between work/home time and spaces; this can really help to foster productivity and diminish overwhelm for individuals.
This time has created a massive opportunity to streamline efficiency. In this new paradigm of BAU - Business as Unusual think about what can be delayed, dropped, managed. For example, Facebook have canceled their most recent performance reviews and delayed until later in the year due to COVID. Being adaptive at this time will be the biggest differentiator of the companies that thrive during this time and those that barely survive. "Think of a recession as a sharp curve on a racetrack, the best place to pass competitors, but requiring more skill than straightaways. The best drivers apply the brakes just ahead of the curve (they take out excess costs), turn hard toward the apex of the curve (identify the short list of projects that will form the next business model), and accelerate hard out of the curve (spend and hire before markets have rebounded)." - Bain & co.
This is not the time for transactional leadership, this is the time for empowering leadership that is inclusive and immersive. Empower the leaders in the business, not only your current leaders but also the emerging leaders too; those that are engaged and have influence. Build inclusive leadership at every level to spearhead employee engagement and drive forward company direction and evolving strategy amongst a highly fragmented workforce.
Upasna is the founder of Collectively - a Talent and Culture Consultancy that helps global businesses build diverse cultures. She consults companies on inclusion and diversity and facilitates the hiring of senior executives. Upasna also advises start-ups and scale-ups on business development, capital raising and talent strategy.
She is the Chair for the Allbright Motherhood Works network; on the London Leadership Committee for the World's largest professional women's network - Ellevate and an Ambassador for the Investment Industry focused Diversity project.