Sticky Change, a company run by co-founders Fiona Cameron and Mary Clarke, is based just outside Usk and on the South coast of England and works with businesses to help them create sustainable change, at an organisation, team and individual level. In this article, Fiona and Mary look at the good working habits that have come out of lockdown and what we need to do to make sure we don’t just revert to old habits when things go back to normal.
Retaining good lockdown habits
For many organisations COVID-19 has been difficult at best and devastating at worst. Without warning, our traditional ways of working, which we have relied upon since the dawn of industrialisation,have been rendered inadequate. It is unlikely that our business practices will emerge from this pandemic unchanged, and across the globe we have been challenged to adapt to new ways of working that we cannot even envisage.
Yet, what if the entrenched norms that dictate our working practices are no longer serving our organisations? What if COVID-19 presents us with a real opportunity to re-define the 9-5 working culture and presenteeism? What if organisations can move beyond a ‘good enough’ style of working to create an environment that is able to serve the many diverse demands of a modern day workforce? At Sticky Change, we turned to clients and partners globally to identify the positive practices they have adopted during lockdown,and that they wanted to sustain beyond the crisis. This is what we found.
Ability to respond quickly
The crisis has forced organisations to be more solution driven, with a bias for action that avoids redundant meetings,politicking and multiple approval levels. Cutting through barriers and bureaucracy, distilleries producing hand gel, aerospace companies producing ventilators, flooring companies producing protective face shields. If we can respond quickly in a crisis, we can retain our ability to do so in the ‘new normal’.
Regular communication is critical
Where there is a void and a crisis, we fill it with the worst possible imaginings. When people are working from home, there is definitely a void. The volume of communication has had to increase and there is the need to communicate remotely. The use of video conferencing has increased exponentially, with people needing to see people, not just hear their voices. And in personalising the interaction, we get to meet the kids, the cats and the dogs! Although ‘Zoom Fatigue’ is a valid concern - people need to manage their time to avoid spending ALL day in online meetings – this has been a period of digital revelation for many of us. It has pushed us outside of our comfort zones and most of us have acquired new technological skills, that will absolutely serve us going forward.
The role of organisational leaders
During lockdown effective leaders are putting their people over profit - listening, empathising and genuinely managing the anxiety inherent in a crisis. Leaders have demonstrated more awareness of, and empathy towards, mental health and wellbeing.
Significantly, those managers with a tendency towards micromanaging have had to trust their people to deliver, when out of sight. Many were surprised to discover that their people have flourished, away from their watchful eye. Indeed, research undertaken by Richmond Events has demonstrated that productivity has even increased throughout lockdown. With employees benefiting from flexible working conditions, and organisations saving office costs, it is likely that remote working policies will become the norm, not the exception. In fact, the Richmond Events research highlighted that 83% of respondents expect remote working to change how they work in future.
So, what does it mean to trust your people to deliver?
Well, it requires you to set clear objectives, allow people to get on with the job, check in on a regular basis and be there to support, if and when necessary. Ultimately, it’s about achieving a balance - not falling into micromanaging bad practices, but also not abandoning your people. Needs will differ and conversations must be had with individual team members as to what levels of support they require - and to let them know it is okay to ask for help.
Avoiding micro-management beyond lockdown
Senior leaders have a key role to play.They have to be role models in trusting their team members, and communicating the benefits of empowering people - avoid micromanaging. Empowerment is challenging for many managers, and organisational leaders noted the importance of increasing access to management training to enable lasting change. Training to provide managers with the skills to delegate appropriately, agree clear objectives,provide people with feedback that lands well and hold effective conversations on performance. Buddying managers up and/or creating Action Learning Sets was agreed as a great way to follow up, allowing managers to discuss how they are getting on in a confidential and supportive environment and increasing the likelihood that the training sticks.
It’s not an easy time for anyone, but this period of uncertainty presents a real opportunity for organisations to step back and take stock, to challenge traditional mindsets and replace unhelpful habits with new, healthier ones, creating impactful and sustainable change. In the words of Abraham Maslow “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again;fear must be overcome again and again”.
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