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"Let’s Face it, This is The New Normal"

Cue dramatic piano music….“It’s the NEW  NORMAL”; “These are UNCERTAIN and CHALLENGING TIMES”; “This is UNPRECEDENTED.”

After more than two months of the stay-at-home orders, it appears that conversations are taking a sharp right turn from how we are adjusting to the ’new normal’ to how sick we are of hearing that the car dealership or local fast food chain is “here for me.”  What do you mean you are offering no-contact pizza? You mean someone was manhandling my pizza before!?

As much as the term new normal is being overused, our reality is that the pandemic has changed the way that we do business and manage our staff.  A spotlight has been cast on how we do our work and engage with our employees.

By this point, most organizations have likely begun the process of organizing teams and committees that are responsible for coordinating the transition back to life in the office: establishing social distancing guidelines, arranging work schedules, reconfiguring workspaces, ensuring everyone will have the needed personal protection equipment, establishing cleaning guidelines, and all the other logistical considerations.  All very important and necessary tasks.

The work as a leader, however, doesn’t stop there. Managing the process and logistics gets you to the starting gate, but ultimately, the race will be won by those leaders who are able to help their employees manage the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding their return to the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a level of workplace uncertainty never seen before. This uncertainty is testing the coping strategies of even the most resilient individuals. As humans, we are not programmed to be comfortable with uncertainty. Our brains want to know what’s around the corner so we can keep ourselves out of harm’s way. With moments of uncertainty, many of us assume the worst, over-personalize threats, and jump to conclusions. This often leads to uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, fear, and loss of confidence.  We may overestimate these threats and underestimate our ability to handle them—all in the name of survival.

As you contemplate how you will show up as a leader, consider the following:

What Leaders Need to DO

1.  Assess and manage risk more proactively. We can no longer assume that the strategy that worked so well for the past 10 years will be the right one for the future.

  • The pandemic has forced our hands to be more open to doing business differently

  • Reassess your business strategy – Re-SWOT

  • Nearly all businesses were caught off guard with the pandemic and most leaders were flat-footed when the hunker-down-at-home orders were given. Many organizations found the contingency planning they had been doing did not properly prepare them for this issue.

  • Budget dollars will need to be used to prioritize contingency planning efforts, including accepting process redundancies, diversifying supply chains and business models, and paying for multiple systems.

2.  Create or re-visit your talent strategy to align to your business strategy.

  • Everyone needs to use this time to reassess their business strategy.

  • As a result, you must also make sure your talent strategy is optimized: Identify the proper skills and behaviors for the most critical jobs; ensure you have the right people in those seats.

How Leaders Need to BE

3. To be an effective leader during this time, it’s critical to recognize that everyone is coming back to the office from a different place―some are worried about getting sick, while others may be mourning the loss of a colleague or loved one. Some are worried about childcare and others are focused on the possibility of getting laid off. Many others will enthusiastically welcome being back in the office.  The relationship leaders and managers have with their staff has never been more important.

  • Create a foundation of trust. Strive for unity by being genuine and authentic in your interactions with your staff and create a psychologically safe environment.

  • Follow through on what you say and agree to.  Your staff will be more productive and focused when they can trust what you say.

  • Develop an empathic understandingof the thoughts and feelings of your employees. Employees will help your staff redirect their focus to the work at hand.

  • Be respectful by showing compassion and acceptance. Being nonjudgmental and accommodating will lead to higher engagement and productivity.

  • Reduce ambiguity by being direct and honest. Doing so will allow you to set boundaries and ensure that people are focused on the right things.

Remember, stress and anxiety show up differently in people so you will find that some are more willing than others to discuss how they are coping. Some will get quiet while others will get hyper-focused, controlling or aggressive…. and everything in between.

Frankly, regardless of the size of your organization or your industry, when it comes to returning to the workplace, we are all in the same boat, wrestling with the same issues.  Quite simply, addressing and responding to workplace uncertainty is the current leadership imperative. It isn’t the new normal. It’s the normal that has been emphasized by the current environment. Organizations that are proactive about addressing these dynamics will come back faster and stronger than those that don’t.

Leaders will play a critical role in creating calm and clarity, and helping their people manage through the transition back to the office. This is the time for them to step up, enhance their skills and flex their transformation muscle to lead their people in an increasing complex and unknown world.

Career Partners International - Austin is working with many organizations to help them mobilize for the future by providing virtual workshops to help their leaders transition back to the office.  We stand ready to leverage our experience and expertise to help you and your team accelerate the adoption of new ways of working and leading.

Mark Saddic

Director of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness

CCI Consulting - Career Partners International Firm

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