It is nearly impossible to escape from the current stream of global turmoil, and yet, in extraordinary times people turn to their leaders for guidance and reassurance more than ever before.
Investigating this, we’ve recently taken a look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer of 2019 and we found out how the global population is increasingly pessimistic about the future: they simply can’t trust the institutions that govern the world we live in. Yet, more people than ever (76%) say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it and 71% of employees agree that it’s critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times.
Not all leaders, however, are prepared to meet this new set of expectations: a pandemic can catch literally anyone off-guard. But based on our experience working with top organizations worldwide, we’ve collected some insights regarding the specific challenges leadership may be currently facing.
Let’s take a closer look at what are the key action points here:
Fail to prepare, prepare to…
COVID continues to teach the world harsh lessons in complacency, not least of which the complacency many people leaders had in their own business practices. Lots of global enterprises were, unfortunately, caught unprepared for crises and are now damaged by these blind spots. Given the effects on pre-pandemic workplace norms, there’s simply no good excuse not to invest in the organization’s workforce, which means all people within it.
Communications, Experience, Culture, Wellness, Productivity.
For decades only the latter of these pillars would reach C suite radar. Now executives should embrace employee tech innovation, investing across the employee use case spectrum, as it is one of the key methods to ensure resilience and operational practice can be maintained if future crisis again disrupts our physical spaces.
As people struggle to make sense of the evolving uncertainty around them and what it means for them and their employer, they are particularly hungry for information and analysis. For this reason, we may find ourselves to be more open to frequent and ongoing communication efforts.
Leaders must candidly acknowledge the downsides and the unknowns the company is facing. This will create credibility when painting a picture of their organization’s strengths and encouraging people to focus on solid fundamentals. Most importantly, it is the leader’s job to help people make sense of the changing conditions, anticipate the likely scenarios ahead, and give them the tools to help them make up their own minds about how to best deal with these situations.
Here, the risk of overcommunicating is far less important than risking appearing out of touch with the current reality. people leaders should embrace humility and tell the truth and demonstrate competence; overpromising is only likely to backfire!
It is vital for people leaders to generate a feeling of trust with employees. This will not happen if their communications appear remote or artificial. People need to feel a personal presence and connection. Senior executives who reach out to their employees and foster warmth and support will be seen as a credible source of reassurance and information.
One way to do so is for leaders need to acknowledge that they, too, are affected by the uncertainty in the world around them. Admitting it is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it signals that they are in touch with their own feelings and with others as fellow human beings.
In times of change and uncertainty, giving people opportunities to safely express their emotions is a winning move. Reaching out to employees on a personal basis and getting out of the office and encourage others to do the same will affect the company culture in a positive way.
More than at any other time, during periods of uncertainty, people want leaders who are comfortable giving direction on what to do and what not to do. However, inconsiderate or premature calls to “Put this behind us” and “Get back to work” will be counterproductive. Talking about the long-term visions and strategies of the company will not be effective when people are bracing for further bad news, or emotionally recovering from previous disclosures.
Your CEO may find it beneficial to start with more basic elements. The first step is to provide clear guidance on business-critical priorities that everyone can rally around and contribute to. As those concerns are being addressed, the CEO should invite people to think of the unique skills and qualities that have kept them in business with their internal or external customers. How can they leverage those and make a difference to others who are dealing with the same issues?
Turbulent times remind us of the importance of the human community. People value it and increasingly see their place of employment as a valid arena to experience that connection. They need to rally behind those things that bind them together. Leaders can pull their employees closer to the company by reinforcing what makes them a unique group. Chief executives can help crystallize these feelings to energize a group toward joint action. You may find that actively dealing with adversity will actually enhance a sense of togetherness and resilience as a community. The leader who taps into aspects of who people are and how they function sends a strong message in times of uncertainty: “What we’re doing now validates what we’ve always done; we can adapt to change and still be true to who we are.”
The combination of uncertain times and the trust that people place in their employer presents a unique opportunity to reimagine the CEO’s potential for influence to include not only the purely transactional role of management but also the more personally engaged role of leadership. Those who do so will reap the rewards of a loyal group of people committed to the success of their company and connected to the world around them.