By Nick James Smith
1. How are you dealing with people’s fears (of the future)?
People are, and always have been to an extent, scared of the future. Marcus Buckingham cites this as the fear that is common to all staff that can be used to lead them. He talks about providing a vision of the future that is bright (if not orange as well) so that people are inspired and full of hope which motivates them to move forwards.
What does that look like in the new coronavirus-laden environment? What it doesn’t look like is to give people false hope that it will be a bed of roses, it’s all behind us and we can sail off into the wide blue yonder, live happily ever after etc. You don’t know that with any certainty and in fact are fairly sure that won’t be the case, as are they. Instead, focus on the realities that are faced, shorn of any pessimistic doomsday scenarios that are probably as unlikely as the garden of roses.
Acknowledge the challenges and name them for what they are. But provide practical ways to deal with those that are controllable (ignoring those that are completely outside the organisation’s sphere of influence).
Finally, recognise and celebrate the organisation’s, and people’s (including your own), resilience in having adapted and changed already this year, and proposing that this will help to carry people through the next phases.
Life will continue to change and bad things will happen but we can deal with them.
2. How are you dealing with people’s fears (of their colleagues)?
People are scared of coming into contact with the virus. That’s a reasonable position to be in. But people are strange and irrational beings and will be in the process of adopting behaviours that others might find strange, simply to protect themselves.
This fear may result in them lashing out verbally (even physically) towards someone who they perceive, however wrongly, as a threat.
Everyone needs to be aware that you are on the same side and that the team can support each other. Assuming that people have positive intentions is something that I ‘preach’ throughout the year, regardless of the environment, because it has always been a problem.
Reassuring people that their colleagues have the best of intentions, even when they make mistakes, is important. This goes for the spreading of the disease. No-one intends to do it and we have to assume that other people are of that same mindset as us. Yes they might have slightly different ways of protecting themselves and those around them, but no-one is maliciously planning to infect their co-workers. So long as everyone is following the widely accepted safety guidelines then small discrepancies should not be allowed to drive wedges between team members.
Understanding will grow if you facilitate that, through your daily practice and backed up by specific sessions designed to develop the group of staff into a team all pulling together instead of apart.
Whatever fears we have, our colleagues are their for our help and support.
3. How are you communicating across the barriers?
As a matter of course we are erecting physical barriers between workspaces, wearing masks to provide obstacles to hearing each other properly and distancing ourselves from the people we are talking to; assuming of course that we are even sharing the same physical space with them.
None of this is going to help our abilities to get messages from person to person.
We could shout louder – after all, that is what we often resort to, to get our messages across when the other person (it’s always their fault) just isn’t getting it. But we know that this is a short term half-solution that wins us no long term friends.
We could resort to emails and other non-verbal media to avoid us speaking our potential germs into the atmosphere, and to ensure that the words are received as they were transmitted.
However, we all know that text-based communication is great for facts but so easily misinterpreted for anything around feelings or judgements. Tone of voice and body language are merely inferred and assumed, often wrongly. Not to mention the deluge of emails that everyone is receiving.
Instead we need to go back to basics and help our staff to understand that communication is about the receiver more than it is the transmitter. How can I ensure that you get my message in the most palatable format for you? How can I speak words that you understand, giving you the information that you are actually looking for, rather than simply the titbits that I perceive to be the juiciest and most interesting?
Some of this comes from re-educating people around the whole topic of communication but will be enhanced by some time spent understanding each other and what we each find important as well as our communication styles.
Communicating to be heard is even more vital with extra barriers.
4. How are you keeping people safe?
There are all the statutory guidelines about preventing people passing the virus on which you are already adhering to.
How are you doing with providing a safe space for people to work in, from a psychological viewpoint?
Even before lockdown came into force, did people feel comfortable coming to work or did they hate it so much that they had to mop up the tears on Mondays (and maybe every other day too). As leaders we will probably never know the full story, however we can make inroads to making the workspace as safe as possible.
Listening to people’s concerns so that they know they have been heard is more important just now because of their fears. However listening to actually hear is always vital. People’s contributions need to be obviously valued, otherwise they will dry up.
People perceiving they are being judged and feeling inadequate because their idea was rejected out of hand is becoming increasingly common. All it takes is to listen and to help them understand that you value them, regardless of what you subsequently do with their suggestions.
Likewise, when someone makes a mistake, are they publicly pilloried or helped to fix the faults and then forgiven. We were always going to make mistakes, and then the earthquake of COVID 19 shook the world. Now that people are back at square one, fathoming out how to do things correctly again, more mistakes will be made. Naming this at the start and showing acceptance of this is important. You can worry that it will lead to people not trying hard enough but you can keep a lid on that, as well as assuming positive intent from your staff.
Listen to people’s contributions and value them as individuals.
5. How are you recognising people’s strengths?
Your strategy for the years and months ahead is likely being altered now – business will never be totally the same as before.
Does this new plan take account of the strengths (and therefore weaknesses as well) that exist in the team?
Often managers have only a sketchy understanding of what their people are capable so take this time to find out.
Conduct a skills audit (however you choose to organise that) and find out where people’s strengths are. And then make use of them.
Back to Marcus Buckingham who said that management is about finding what is unique about people and using that to best advantage.
There will be some things that people are not convinced is a strength, or that it is useful. But if they are willing to bring it to the team then there is more chance of it benefitting others than if they box it off for another facet of their life or neglect to acknowledge it’s existence at all.
Take the time to develop the individuals and watch them grow and you will see the team grow stronger and more productive as a result.
Obviously when you do see people performing well, it is right to recognise that too. Celebrate people being better and being great so that they want to continue on that trajectory.
Use people’s potential to the full to benefit them and the team as whole.
It’s even more important than in the previous normal to manage people well as individuals in order to benefit the team and achieve your goals for the next period.
If you want to chat about how this can be possible in your own reality then get in touch and I’d be happy to listen and help you find some suggestions.
Nick Smith is an Outdoor Team and Individual Coach and Trainer. Within his company, Square Pegs Coaching, he uses outdoor experiences to help people develop themselves. By walking and talking together, people discover how they can take further steps in their journey of life. Although working mainly in Glasgow and the West of Scotland where he is based, Nick also travels around the UK – if you want to be coached by him then get in touch through his website at http://www.squarepegscoaching.com. There is more information there to help you understand the concepts of outdoor life coaching, background on Nick and the opportunity to book coaching when you are ready. The articles Nick writes appear first in his regular newsletter – to sign up to receive new articles and other offers, go to http://eepurl.com/fXEm. He also posts other thoughts and challenges on his blog on the website.