I speak regularly with leaders and employees in various sectors – non-profit, government, consumer products, professional services, and more.
In the past few weeks, I’ve observed an ugly trend: leaders leading like they’re in a bizarro 1980s version of business as usual.
I spoke last week with a sales manager in a business experiencing major disruption – an entire customer segment gone, plants shutdown – and leadership has responded by reverting to top-down, command-and-control, carrot-and-stick management, while acting like the world isn’t, in fact, upside down.
Then there’s the now infamous viral email sent by WSJ leadership to employees directing them to “answer your phone when it rings” and “let your manager know when you’re taking a break”. I can confirm that this overlord-like management is not unique to WSJ.
And finally, in case over-management wasn’t demotivating enough, leaders are asking employees to “step up”, “double down”, and “push harder” to minimize financial impact (and yes, to protect jobs). That sales manager I mentioned? Her targets have gone UP.
Leaders, I know you’re scared.
You’re scared for your business, your job, and your employees’ jobs.
But leading from fear and trying to control what you can’t control won’t help.
Your employees need grace now more than ever. If you stop trusting them, start questioning their commitment, and keep telling them to “step up”, you will not enhance results, and you might lose them.
Suzanne Lucas captured the employee (or human) experience well in a recent LinkedIn post:
Your employees are not okay.
In this COVID-19 world, this is a fact for every single one of your employees. They may act like they are okay. They may say they are okay, but they are not okay.
Most aren’t pretending. This is just hard.
Your employees are grappling with their own versions of the new reality:
- Family members in hard-hit areas of the world
- Friends struggling to stay afloat financially
- Weddings cancelled
- Small children at home demanding love and attention
- Spouses laid off
- Vacations cancelled (and no beach in sight)
- Home “offices” that leave them feeling like they’ve been hit by a truck (just me?)
This is not “transitioning to remote work.”
This is trying to work from home while fearing the loss of your business or job or life goals while sharing 600 square feet with your children and laid off spouse while storming and norming with your team (again) while trying to get cell service in a den with no cell service while rethinking your entire existence.
Some days are going to be bad and your employees will not be operating at 100%. Or 80%.
Cut them some slack, or you will break something (trust, to start).
So where does this leave you and your business?
You need your people now more than ever.
You need them to help you find the path forward and walk alongside you.
You need to lead from the light side.
First, lead with compassion. “Wow, that’s tough, tell me more.” “What can we do to make this work better for you?” “What do you need from me?” “I know this is a difficult time – thanks for everything you’re doing.”
Second, trust your employees. Trust that they know this is serious and that they are committed and doing their best. Be transparent and they’ll do what they can to help – no need to monitor their hours, direct their activities, or “motivate” them.
Third, tie what you need to purpose, not survival. Fear doesn’t motivate, it makes people want to run and hide. Help people feel part of something important, something that matters.
Finally, engage them in the solution.
At Ignite we use a three-point “survive to thrive” model to help our clients move forward and come out stronger: respond, recover, thrive.
How do we respond to ensure survival and stabilize the business?
How can we adapt to enable us to recover more quickly?
What must we ramp up, continue, or stop doing to set ourselves up to thrive long-term?
Your employees already care. Show compassion, lead with trust, and engage them in the solution, and you won’t need to hold a match to their backs. They’ll move on their own.
Published by Ali Grovue
Strategic Planning Facilitator | Leadership Development Consultant | Naval Officer | Former COO & ED