After a storm, it used to be regarded as best practice for sea-captains to walk the ship and just listen. Any creaks or squeaks that sounded out of the ordinary; complaints or encouragements from the battered crew; reports from those who spend their lives in the same silent corner of the ship were quietly noted. Gradually they built up a picture, a list of priorities. What could be done, what should be done and whether it warranted a change of course.
Deloitte offered similar advice to companies at the recent World Economic Forum. Team members, they said, should be at the heart of all new strategies, and should know that their needs and voices are valued.
So now, as many companies are getting to grips with the “First Response” to Covid-19 – just trying to keep the ship afloat – the more astute will now be moving on to the second “Recovery” phase, before hitting their straps and settling into the 3rd “Thrive” phase.
And of course, crucial to this phase is to take time to listen to voices across your organisation. As we’ve all seen from the last few months, successful businesses have been held together by the spirit, resilience and cohesion of their people. These qualities have proved stronger than bricks and mortar, and a better investment.
So the key to creating a more resilient business is clearly to take a more human-centric approach to team management.
The steps Deloitte recommended are defined as “Reflect, Recommit, Re-engage, Rethink, Reboot”. More practical and inspiring, we feel, than “Hands, Face, Space”. But let’s examine what they mean to you as a business leader.
Okay, finding a moment to pause is easier said than done, we know. Whether your ship’s flying along in full sail or desperately manning the bilge-pumps and plugging holes, now doesn’t seem the time to fill your lungs and ask the Cabin Boy how he’s doing. But in reality, this is the perfect time to gauge what’s been learned, and lost, and achieved. Working from home will have given your team very different experiences and viewpoints on what’s worked and what hasn’t. What new practices has your team adopted/invented that have made you collectively fitter and stronger to face the next leg? Calamity is no excuse for clamming up. After all, civilisation develops steadily over centuries, but the biggest leaps forward are often in wartime – think rubber, duct tape, microwave ovens, the jet engine…
Refocus on your team and their needs. Show them you understand and you care - we’re talking physical, psychological and financial concerns. The blurring of work and home life, the looming spectre of burnout highlighted recently by The King’s Fund, a health policy think tank. Now’s not necessarily the time to launch a recruitment drive for all businesses, so look after your assets – connect them to each other and the company and make them feel spliced into the ropes of the ship.
By hook or by crook, you’ve created an agile company. You’ve amazed each other at what you can achieve. You’ve got teams working on urgent problems, people doing different jobs and a driving urge that might not have been there before. Some of the team might be enjoying being in a tighter ship, some might be a little seasick. It’s time to make sure everyone’s happy with the new normal.
Much of the change so far has been effected without thinking. Evolutions that were supposed to take decades have played out in a matter of weeks. But it’s time to think deeply about the future of work in your company. Think about physical offices – who needs to be in them, when and why? Do you need regular shifts? How do you strengthen team structures in a virtual world? Agile learning – can it replace face-to-face training? Do you need to rethink how career progression is assessed? It’s all going to be immensely valuable in the coming months, as your team settle down and take stock of their lives.
Integrate your needs with your teams before you kick on. You need stability, commitment and innovation. Your team need to feel they belong, they need pride in the ship, but also their own private identity.
Tough as it is, all the above steps need to be addressed whether your company’s having a “good lockdown” or whether it’s floundering. Because if you’re going to successfully navigate the waters ahead, you’ll need everyone on board.
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