How we interact with others has changed dramatically since the onset of Covid-19. Holiday gatherings are occurring on Zoom, weddings and graduations are limited to immediate family only, and texting has replaced dinners out with our best friends. On the work front, for most employees, there are no in-person team meetings, town halls or catch ups in the hallways. Days are now filled with virtual sessions facilitated by Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx and collaboration tools like Slack, InVision, GitHub and others. Instead of being stuck in conference rooms, we’re glued to the computer.
For all the technological tools available, there is nothing that replaces a hug, handshake or in-person discussion where communication extends beyond written words and headshots to the complete expression that physical presence provides. The lack of direct human contact and the inability to interact socially with family, friends and co-workers is having an impact.
And as the months of working in a virtual life/workplace pound on amidst a challenging political and economic environment, CEOs who recognize the importance of employee engagement on business results have their work cut out for them. According to Gallup’s latest State of the Global Workplace report, 67% of employees are not engaged and 18% are actively disengaged at work.
With the start of a new year comes a new business strategy that incorporates alternative ways of working, fast tracks digital transformation, introduces new customer offerings, and invests in upskilling talent. Achieving the plan won’t be easy; doing so will position the business and its employees for success for many years to come.
But when you can’t get employees together in a room to discuss the new strategy, how will you help them understand, embrace and execute it? What will motivate and inspire them to bring their best ideas forward when they’re frustrated by the current state of being? Never has there been a more crucial time for businesses to ensure employees understand and are focused on the right priorities. Never has there been a more crucial time to secure customer loyalty, instill investor confidence and demonstrate leadership.
Start with Purpose
Start with “why,” as the author of the book by the same title reminds us. Simon Sinek professes “People don’t buy what you do, they buy “why” you do it.” Reinforce your organization’s mission emphasizing the “why” and who benefits. Remind employees that what they do matters. Praise them for it. A meaningful purpose and shared sense of belonging will win hearts and minds.
Recognize Employee Value
Your mission cannot be fulfilled without the commitment, efforts and results of your employees. Tell them. Highlight teams who are finding new and better ways of doing business. Recount how a customer pulled you aside to brag on an employee who responded quickly to solve their issue. Showcase teams who are modeling the way on core values.
Be empathetic and demonstrate you are listening to the challenges they have not only inside, but outside of work. Share stories of co-workers who have identified ways to be productive while their three kids attend virtual classrooms at the other end of the dining room table, or who have traveled to another location to nurse an elderly parent who has now overcome Covid-19 – and be sure to mention their supportive co-workers who stepped up to ensure business continuity.
Increase Individual and Team Ownership for Achieving Goals
As you lay out the plan and what needs to be accomplished, establish joint ownership for achieving goals. At the end of the day, the buck stops at the CEO’s door, but everyone must do their part if goals are to be achieved. Provide a clear picture of the current and future state and ask each person to evaluate their own role in the context of these goals. What should they do differently? How might interactions between teams be improved? Can technology help them move faster? Guide them to take accountability for aligning their individual work to outcomes and how that translates into success for the company. And make sure they feel empowered to act.
Reinforce Alignment Through Continuous Communications
Having a robust communication plan will ensure the vision and direction are shared continuously. Reinforce key messages and provide regular progress reports. With most employees working remotely, utilize a variety of channels to reach them where they are. Prioritize interactive channels to encourage dialogue and feedback and demonstrate you are listening.
Ensure managers have the tools to lead conversations with their teams, share context for how team goals fit into broader company goals, and gather feedback and ideas. Managers play a key role by articulating the team’s roadmap, managing resources, and monitoring and sharing progress. Ongoing dialogue between managers and employees results in better execution and results.
Humanize Your Connections
Being in the room with all your employees may not be possible, so take the time to join the employees whose jobs require them to be on site or in the field. Following safe social distancing, ask them what’s on their minds, answer questions and get their input on how things are going and what improvements can be made. Be sure to capture the discussion on video or photo/caption to share with all employees to build connections across the organization.
When you’re doing a webcast or live video from your own home office, give employees a glimpse at what remote work looks like for you. Introduce your dog who curls up under the desk each morning. Let your music continue into the first minute so they get a sense of your personal playlist. Point to a favorite photo or keepsake on your desk and share its story.
Direct, open, honest and timely communication lays the foundation for trust. Doing what you say you will do and modeling the behavior you want to see builds trust by aligning actions with words. A CEO I worked for practiced what he told his leadership team: “Tell the truth as fast as you can – whether it’s good news or bad – and tell it so people know what it means to them.” When we had news to share, we ensured it was timely and increased its relevancy by customizing the message to each audience. And he made himself available for those wanting more information.
Developing trust takes work. Building inclusive relationships takes time. Your employees are dealing with changes and uncertainty at an unprecedented pace, and they are looking for a steady, trusted source for guidance and insight. They’re looking to their CEO. Employees who trust their leader are engaged at a higher level and have a stronger loyalty to the company. That translates into greater alignment, stronger performance . . . and getting the results you need from your new strategy.