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LEAD. GROW. INSPIRE.
:“Are we there yet?”
Most people have uttered this phrase, either in earnest as a child or in jest as an adult. Leaders in today’s organizations are saying or thinking it, too, when pondering whether we’ve truly reached the post-pandemic working world we’ve all been wondering about for several years.
One thing is relatively clear: Hybrid work is here to stay. Simply defined, a hybrid work model is one in which at least one employee works remotely (i.e., away from the employer's office) either full-time or part of the time while other employees work full- or part-time from an employer’s office or other facility. In many professions, employees are quickly coming to expect this flexibility, and, in a tight job market, employers may have little choice but to offer it.
Hybrid work creates, or shall we say continues, an ongoing challenge for leadership. How can you excel at team building when some of your team members are working from home, others are on-site and still others are going back and forth between the two? It’s not easy, but with careful planning and diligent persistence, you can create high-performing hybrid (HPH) teams.
Perhaps the most important thing a leader should keep in mind is no matter how dispersed your team members may be, you’re still one team. To create and preserve that unity, you need to instill an HPH team with five fundamental traits:
1. Clear Roles: For employees to work harmoniously, they need clarity about their respective roles. Naturally, this all starts with the job descriptions you used to hire them. Were those job descriptions comprehensive and up to date when your organization interviewed and onboarded team members?
Moreover, has the scope or specifics of any team member’s job changed over time? Employees who have been in their positions for years might not even remember what their job description says or said. As a leader, you need to establish or reestablish the parameters within which HPH team members fulfill the responsibilities of their respective roles.
2. Mutual Accountability: Everyone on a hybrid team needs to be accountable. If any member is allowed to “go rogue” or get away with anything, trust will suffer—and the team will likely drift apart and underperform.
Accountability can be established only after you’ve ensured that team members know their roles. Why? Because accountability isn’t the same thing as responsibility. Employees are responsible for the duties and deadlines of their respective positions. Accountability is whether they fulfill those duties, meet those deadlines and are willing to own both the successes and failures of their work. On an HPH team, they must be accountable not only to you, the team leader, but also to each other.
3. Defined Decision Authority And Responsibility: It should be obvious that a team’s leader is the ultimate decision-maker. However, most employees need some level of autonomy when carrying out their work, and strong leaders are great delegators. A best practice in achieving this is to use the five levels of authority:
Level 1: Act when directed.
Level 2: Act after approval.
Level 3: Act after consultation.
Level 4: Act and report.
Level 5: Act completely autonomously.
Often, some or all these levels go undiscussed or unclarified. This can lead to confusion or conflicts among team members. As a leader, you’ve got to make sure employees on your HPH team know at all times when they can act alone (Level 5) and when they should act under the four lower levels of autonomy.
4. Shared Performance And Goals: There are two facets of this trait. First, an HPH team works together. Maybe that sounds like a painfully obvious point, but under the hybrid model, organizations can have employees working independently, miles or even time zones apart. This can result in a kind of “siloing” in which employees engage in little information sharing, collaboration or even contact with coworkers.
Leaders should strive to limit siloing and encourage collaborative work as much as possible. Of course, you don’t want to disrupt a productive team by forcing unnecessary interactions. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for ways employees can work together in positive, productive ways.
The second part of this trait is goal setting, which will drive performance and collaboration. Volumes have been written about this topic but, generally, stick to the SMART approach. That is, make goals:
Specific (and stretching),
Achievable (and agreed to),
Realistic (and relevant) and
Timed (and tracked).
5. Shared Purpose And Interdependent Functions
This final (and most important) trait involves the broader reason a team exists. If team members don’t truly understand and buy into the purpose of the team, they’ll end up either pulling in different directions or simply lacking in engagement.
Just as today’s organizations should ideally have both mission (why we’re here) and vision (where we’re headed) statements, an HPH team should know why it exists and where it’s going in terms of both day-to-day tasks and strategic goals. And, within the context of that crystal-clear direction, the team should be able to execute various functions interdependently—that is, by counting on each other.
Keep On Rolling
If most or all these things sound familiar to you as a leader, that’s because the nature of leadership hasn’t changed all that much. It’s the way in which leaders carry out their responsibilities that’s changed.
How you use technology, which communications medium you choose, the “rhythm” at which you interact with employees (that is, how often and for how long)—these things are different from how they used to be. So assuming you have adjusted your leadership style to the new hybrid reality, now’s the time to double down and keep on rolling in these challenging, ever-changing times.
Today’s leaders face a tough mandate. They’re expected to hold team members accountable for their actions—both in terms of fulfilling job duties and adhering to stated policies and standards—while at the same time practicing empathy. Leaders must help employees feel psychologically safe in their work environments and be understanding about the life challenges that everyone faces. This is a seriously tough balance to strike right now.
As the nation and world begin to find a new normal while dealing with the pandemic, stressors on leaders and employees are intense. Empathy is absolutely needed—particularly in a tight job market where workers can and will walk out the door at a moment’s notice. But organizations are also trying to get back to a “new normal,” driving a heightened urgency for efficiency and productivity. It’s not an easy situation for anyone. The first step to overcoming it is consciously recognizing that you, as a leader, need to think hard about how to balance accountability and empathy and, from there, find your own distinctive “sweet spot.”
Accountability Vs. Responsibility
Most leaders could define the words “accountability” and “empathy.” However, to conquer the challenge at hand, you need to develop a clear cognitive framework for each term beyond a simple definition.
Let’s start with accountability. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” And therein lies an important distinction that’s a good place for leaders to start building a deeper understanding of accountability: Accountability and responsibility aren’t synonymous, at least not when applied to the workplace.
Job responsibilities are the stated duties of a given position. They’re what you’re supposed to do. Accountability is whether you fulfill those responsibilities and—this is the important part—how willing and able you are to own up to what went right and what went wrong in the course of doing so.
On Being Empathetic
Now, let’s move on to empathy. I think most people would agree that empathizing means understanding someone’s situation and being sensitive to it. In some cases, it means you’ve been in virtually the same set of circumstances and know exactly what it’s like. Of course, knowing what empathy is and being empathetic are two different things. Leaders need to develop certain traits to demonstrate empathy while they’re holding team members accountable for their job-related actions.
In 2007, the medical journal Advances in Nursing Science published an article entitled “Toward a holistic conceptualization of empathy for nursing practice” by Theresa Wiseman. It contains four traits of empathy that have since been widely discussed and accepted far beyond the healthcare sector. They are:
1. Perspective taking. This means stepping outside of your own mindset and consciously trying to see things from another person’s point of view.
2. Staying out of judgment. We’ve all said it: “Don’t judge!” However, being judgmental tends to be a reflex. During interactions, avoid inferring that someone else’s response to a situation, whether emotional or actual, was invalid or wrong—at least until you’ve gathered all the facts.
3. Recognizing the emotion. Just putting a name to how another person is feeling can lead a conversation in the right direction. For example, if an employee comes into your office clearly upset over the actions of a colleague, your initial response could be, “It sounds like you’re angry.”
4. Communication. This is probably the broadest and most challenging of the four traits. It refers to being able to effectively express everything that must come after understanding the other person’s viewpoint, not judging them and recognizing the emotions in play. Leaders need strong communication skills to articulate and enforce accountability while showing empathy.
Tips For Finding The Balance. The good news is that some of the tools for striking the right balance may already be in place at your organization. They include:
Many leaders struggle with accountability because it feels punitive. No one wants to be the school principal taking students to task. But accountability is really more of a collaboration; you’re helping employees take ownership of their work, learn from mistakes and build confidence from their successes. And empathy? Well, it sounds simple, but it’s not always easy. Taking the time to learn how to show empathy and be an empathic leader is worthwhile and, I promise, it gets easier.
Have you ever been in a business meeting where you were the only member of a particular societal group, marginalized or otherwise? If so, did you have an opinion or idea to share but decided to keep it to yourself because you didn’t feel safe or felt you had to "hide" yourself?
Perhaps you believed all or most of the other attendees would immediately dismiss or harshly criticize the notion. Or maybe you felt that expressing the thought would invite retribution or exclusion later. Sadly, many people have had this experience. And it’s too bad—not only for the individual in question but also for the organization itself.
The issue at play here is called “psychological safety,” and it’s something that more and more employers are finding to be a major driver of building positive morale, productivity and innovation.
Here are some tips on how leaders like you can create a psychologically safe workplace.
Take the temperature.
The term “psychological safety” was coined by Dr. Amy C. Edmondson of the Harvard Business School. On her website, she defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
The last few words of her description are key. Feeling safe to speak up or share in other ways isn’t only about having permission to do so; it’s about working in an environment in which one can take risks and make mistakes without worry of “losing points” on a performance evaluation or being reprimanded.
With all this in mind, the first thing leaders should do when looking to improve psychological safety is “take the temperature” of their organizations or teams—that is, assess how psychologically safe or unsafe your workers feel. This can be difficult! It’s natural to want to assume your employees can express themselves freely but... can they?
There’s only one way to find out: Ask. Start by holding one-on-ones with your people managers and honestly discuss the state of their teams. Is there strong participation in meetings? Do certain employees dominate discussions, while others hardly ever contribute? Are idea-sharing and feedback regularly encouraged?
Dr. Edmondson herself recommends that organizations conduct psychological safety surveys to gather a variety of data points and determine how much improvement is needed. Design a set of statements such as “If you make a mistake, it’s held against you” and “It’s safe to take risks on this team.” Then ask to what degree the respondent agrees or disagrees.
Throw a party.
Once you have a good idea of how psychologically safe your workplace is, you can take specific actions to improve the environment in which your employees work. These will obviously depend on your specific needs but could include:
• Openly discussing the topic to “break the ice,”
• Training or upskilling leadership or supervisors and
• Confronting problematic employees to clarify expectations or provide training and, if/when appropriate, putting them on performance improvement plans to eliminate toxic behaviors.
Generally, however, promoting psychological safety is kind of like throwing a party. That is, there are three primary things you need to do:
1. Choose and communicate the theme. This is not a “Let’s all get together and hang out aimlessly” kind of get-together. No, this is a theme party. Whether for your workplace in general or a specific meeting, you as a leader need to set clear strategic objectives and ground rules for participants so everyone is pulling in the same direction.
For example, if you’re focusing on innovation, state that up front. Identify the kinds of new ideas you’re looking for, but also let employees know that no suggestion is too big or too small. Say it and repeat it: Everyone plays a role in the organization’s success and future.
2. Send out the invites. Just as you would for a party, send an invitation to everyone. This might sound strange because, in a way, you “invited” every employee simply by hiring them. Nonetheless, some personality types need regular encouragement to really open up and share.
Many employees struggle with feeling a lack of psychological safety at work. It can arise from either negative aspects of organizational culture or personal issues of their own (or both). Participation takes practice. The more they’re encouraged—that is, invited—to participate in meetings or other types of discussions, the more their comfort levels will grow. Just be sure that when they do share, they receive positive recognition for it.
3. Be a convivial host. Just about everything you do as a host of a party you should do as a leader looking to strengthen the psychological safety of your workplace. Set the tone with your actions and attitudes. Welcome everyone to meetings or other discussions. Identify participants by name as much as possible.
As the saying goes, “Accentuate the positive.” For example, let’s say someone makes a bold suggestion in a meeting that immediately draws skepticism and counterarguments. Take it upon yourself to draw out some constructive aspects of the idea—even if it’s saying something like, “Although that specifically probably won’t work, it does help us narrow our focus.”
And, like any good host, if you identify someone intent on disrupting the proceedings in a negative or, worse yet, destructive way, move quickly to pull that person aside and neutralize the situation.
Failure is okay.
Above all, perhaps the most important facet of a psychologically safe workplace is the destigmatization of failure. Ultimately, as a leader, make it your job to help employees know and feel that failure is okay as long as they embrace their mistakes as learning opportunities and push forward with courage and passion toward the next great idea.
Keeping employees engaged has always been important. These days, however, it might be one of the most important challenges that employers face. Following “the Great Resignation” of 2021, and in a still-tight job market, you’ve got to go the extra mile to ensure workers are actively interested in their jobs or risk losing them and facing a staffing shortage.
Like nearly everything else, you can and should measure engagement. Doing so is the only way to keep tabs on whether your employees are getting close to leaving for greener pastures with another organization or starting up a gig of their own. Here are some ideas to consider.
Create A Feedback System
When one speaks of measuring anything, there’s usually a reflex to start rattling off metrics under the assumption that every organization has the data at its fingertips to perform the calculations. The truth is that to get good results, you need to first gather the right information.
So, the initial step in optimally measuring employee engagement is creating a feedback system. The key word there is “system.” Issuing an employee survey once a year and maybe discussing the results in a meeting will neither give you much to go on nor keep the issue of engagement top of mind.
A feedback system should have multiple inputs. These should include a thoughtfully constructed and carefully worded survey that enables you to quantify how employees are feeling about:
I've found that an annual survey is generally best because you don’t want to overload employees with questions or take up too much of their time.
That’s why your system needs other inputs, too. One possibility is focus groups: Perhaps you can meet with entire departments or just specific work teams to ask engagement-related questions and have a discussion.
Another input could be the performance reviews that you most likely already conduct once or twice a year. As part of the process, ask for some feedback regarding engagement.
And then there are your supervisors. These individuals interact with their employees regularly. You might design an additional survey just for them, or meet with them biannually or quarterly, to get their reads on the engagement levels of their teams.
Regularly Calculate eNPS
When you’ve set up a solid system for gathering employee engagement data, you can start choosing your metrics. One relatively easy choice, if only because it’s so immensely popular right now, is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS): a score Leapsome discusses on its blog.
Despite its rather cumbersome abbreviation, eNPS has drawn many employers’ interest because of its relative simplicity. It typically entails asking a mere two questions of employees and then calculating a score based on their answers. The questions typically are something along the lines of:
The second question is key. While the first one asks a rather obvious question regarding engagement, the second query gets into whether the responding employee is really interested in what you do or at least believes in the quality of the result.
To calculate eNPS, you should count:
Anyone who provided ratings of 7 or 8 is considered “passive” and excluded from the final calculation.
To arrive at that final calculation, you simply deduct the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, say you have 200 employees who respond as follows:
So, 47.5% - 37.5% = 10%. This is an eNPS of 10.
Generally, any score above zero is good. That would mean more employees are engaged than those who aren’t. It follows that any score below zero—particularly if you dip to -10 or below—should be concerning. On the brighter side, if you score well above zero, perhaps in the 40s or 50s, you’re doing exceptionally well.
Because eNPS is so easy to calculate, you can use it several times throughout the year to monitor engagement. Again, you don’t want to pester employees too much, but pushing out a quarterly “quick survey” via email is feasible for most organizations.
To be clear, there are other metrics you can use to gauge employee engagement, such as the ones CultureAmp highlights. These include rates of voluntary turnover, involuntary turnover and absenteeism. Some larger organizations have even turned to marketing metrics to determine how quickly and actively employees respond to organizational announcements and messaging.
Calibrate Your Approach
At the end of the day, you’ve got to calibrate your engagement measurement efforts to the size and needs of your organization. Small employers, who can more easily determine whether everyone is pulling in the same direction, might not need to expend too much time and resources on engagement monitoring. But, as an organization grows, measuring and promoting employee engagement becomes more important and challenging. Find the optimal approach and you’ll be on your way.
With each passing year, it might seem like expectations grow for employers to recognize, encourage and improve inclusivity. And, more than likely, you’d be hard-pressed to find any leader who doesn’t support the idea of an inclusive workplace. But how do you get there? Or perhaps the better question is: How do you keep getting better at inclusivity? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the terminology and issues involved. Let’s look at some of the fundamentals of inclusivity.
Defining The Term
Perhaps the most obvious place to begin addressing inclusivity is by defining it. The Society for Human Resource Management, now known simply as SHRM, defines it as: “The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”
An important distinction to bear in mind: Inclusivity isn’t the same as diversity. The two terms are often lumped together and, indeed, they do relate to one another. In fact, you’ve probably encountered the abbreviation “D&I” used to categorize “diversity and inclusion” content. But, in an HR context, diversity refers to recognizing and embracing the many differences that employees bring to the table. These include various cultural attributes, spoken and written languages, educational achievements and work and life experiences. Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a conscious effort by an employer to integrate diversity into the workplace by involving and giving access to all people to achieve the work environment described in SHRM’s definition.
Distinguishing “Equity” From “Equality”
And here’s where we run into another important distinction. That is, “equity” isn’t the same as “equality.” Every employer should strive to treat employees equally in the sense that policies and rules should be applied and enforced consistently. You need to ensure processes for hiring, promotion and termination are free of implicit or explicit biases.
Equity means that you acknowledge the diverse aspects of your workforce and then take steps to level the playing field so every employee can feel included and valued and is provided with an optimal environment in which to do their best work.
So, for example, if you hire an employee with a limited educational background, perhaps you could offer that person additional coursework or training to put the individual on equal footing with coworkers who have college degrees. Another common example is helping workers with physical disabilities perform their jobs by providing special equipment or allowing them to work from home.
Broad Steps To Success
When and where should inclusivity efforts begin? Of course, there are many granular moves your organization could take to expand and strengthen inclusivity. But here are three broad steps that put most employers in a prime position to succeed:
1. Start with onboarding.
The moment a new hire walks in the door—or logs in to your organization’s network, as the case may be these days—set the tone from the beginning by:
2. Focus on resources and support.
For employees who are settled in, keep a close and constant eye on their ability to use the same technology, information sources, benefits and support as everyone else. Doing so can be particularly challenging now that many people are working from home. Be prepared for questions such as:
3. Set up a system of feedback and accountability.
Among the most important traits of an inclusive workplace is that every employee has a voice in discussing the topic and improving conditions on the ground. A well-crafted inclusivity survey issued once or twice a year can give you a substantial number of data points. Occasional inclusivity meetings can also be useful and even fun.
Lastly, particularly if yours is a larger organization, consider establishing a platform that allows for the tracking and reporting of inappropriate behavior related to inclusivity, diversity and harassment in general. It should allow employees to provide detailed information (date, time, individuals involved, etc.) about incidents. Today’s artificial-intelligence-based software solutions, such as Spot, are worth a look for this purpose.
All About Community
At the end of the day, winning at inclusivity boils down to looking at your workforce not so much as regimented departments or teams but more as a united, close-knit community. After all, communities are, by definition, inclusive. And if you can build a good one, you’ll not only have a better working environment, but also a more productive organization.
There’s a special place in my heart for middle managers – they are THE essential “hub” of everything in your organization and yet, they’re treated like Rodney Dangerfield “I don’t get no respect.” Why is that?
They have tremendous potential for high impact in your organization but they face several challenges (which are not their fault):
We see it in just about every industry: a graphic designer becomes an art director, a land surveyor becomes a project manager, an architect becomes a partner. In their entry role, they do a standout job and are quickly promoted up the ranks, eventually finding themselves in management roles where they are expected to [intuitively] delegate work, communicate across teams, bring in business, and coach and mentor others.
Yet, without training or support they have to rely on instincts and often poor role models for how to manage and lead others. One example we see play out over and over is their reliance on their technical expertise to solve problems rather than engaging those closest to the problem in solving it. This comes out of a desire to have a positive impact but being the ‘heroic problem-solver’ for their team actually has a negative spiral effect on their organization that they don’t realize.
In our LEAP-Leadership Acceleration Program, our coaches teach them one of the simplest and highest-impact shifts they can make… Think of yourself as a FACILITATOR not a problem-solver. The very definition of facilitate is “to make easy” and the shift in mindset makes life easier for the middle manager as well as their direct-reports.
Learning how to facilitate does take a little practice but it’s a VERY learnable skill that nets quick returns. Here are some tips for making the shift from Problem-Solver to Solution Coordinator:
Facilitation skills might just be the best kept leadership super-power and your middle managers the best way to create a strong, healthy organization. We’ve been developing leaders through an integrated methodology since 2002 and the notion of being a facilitative leader is by far one of the most powerful ‘ah-ha’ moments in their leadership journey and it’s a skill they leverage forevermore.
Professional literature often draws rigid lines between leadership and management, suggesting that one is right and one is wrong. In reality, we need individuals who both do the right thing and are capable of doing things right. We need middle-managers who can help individuals and groups do the right things right – the very nature of facilitative leadership.
The 'X-Factor' To Organizational Effectiveness: How Leaders Can Build Trust Within Your Organization
Show me an employer with a distrustful workforce, and I’ll show you a ship headed for rough waters if it’s not sinking already. When employees distrust leadership to a substantial degree, it affects everything. Decisions are made more slowly, learning curves stretch out, engagement suffers, productivity lags and, these days, workers might just walk out the door.
Yes, as employers continue to grapple with the “Great Resignation”—the trend of many workers voluntarily leaving their jobs—trust is more important than ever. Organizations that can build and maintain a strong rapport with their employees are poised to have a competitive advantage in the months ahead.
In fact, one could say that employers are at a crossroads when it comes to trust. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, an online survey of more than 33,000 people around the world, 56% of respondents believe that business leaders are purposely trying to be misleading by stating falsehoods. On the bright side, the survey found that “business” is now the most trusted institution, replacing “government.” Of survey respondents, 61% trust business, while only 53% trust government.
What this means is employers have an enormous opportunity to build and fortify their reputations as trusted entities, helping both themselves and their employees. Here are some ways you and your leadership team can build trust within your organization.
Talk about it.
Distrust arises from not only miscommunication but also the lack of communication. That is, when something isn’t talked about and is left to assumptions, those assumptions tend to lean toward the negative.
For this reason, employers should address trust openly. Tell employees explicitly that their trust matters to you and explain the ways in which you intend to build it. To do so, someone in a top leadership role—ideally, the owner of the business, CEO or another widely recognized leader—needs to issue a formal statement to this effect.
Be sure to keep any promises you make in such a statement. Moreover, if you outline various objectives, such as “Hire additional staff to reduce reliance on overtime,” update employees on these goals regularly until they’re achieved or revised. Perhaps the worst way to address trust is to say you’re going to do something about it but then let the effort slide into apathy.
Trust generally can’t exist in a negative working environment, so it certainly can’t flourish. When leadership establishes and actively encourages positivity, an “ecosystem of trust” can develop. This means that employees will more likely trust each other, as well as ownership and management.
Contrast this with working environments built around unhealthy competition and political (in the office sense) alliances. Pitting workers against each other, or looking the other way when this dynamic occurs, can produce some short-term results. However, in the long run, the toxicities that result from these experiences tend to lead employees to distrust each other and leadership.
To promote positivity, train workers to cooperate by teaching skills such as recognition of bias, active listening and effective communication. Reinforce your HR processes to resolve conflicts between employees quickly and fairly. Immediately investigate inappropriate behavior. Use 360-degree performance feedback to honestly tell workers how they’re doing so they can give you insights into leadership’s effectiveness.
To go the extra mile, check in with your people managers regularly to determine whether their teams are sliding into negativity. If necessary, confront the problem through team-building exercises or special meetings aimed at boosting employee morale and refocusing them on your mission.
Demonstrate employer expertise.
Sometimes the source of distrust within an organization isn’t so much that employees believe leadership is actively lying or unethical; it’s that they suspect those in charge lack competency as an employer.
This may sound harsh, but let’s face it, being a good employer today goes far beyond simply cutting a paycheck every couple of weeks. Particularly at a time when workers are leaving their jobs in droves, you’ve got to convey to them that you know what you’re doing. This includes:
• Engaging in a hiring process that respects applicants’ time and need for clarity.
• Providing an onboarding process that welcomes new hires to the organization and acclimates them to their working environments quickly and positively.
• Training employees thoroughly so that they can get up and running and feel good about their contributions.
• Administering payroll and benefits seamlessly with minimal complications or disruptions.
• Giving workers the equipment and technology they need to do their jobs well.
• Communicating frequently and transparently about the state and direction of the organization.
• Recognizing employees as “whole people”—not just workers—who need work-life balance, mental health support and, every so often, some fun.
When your workforce trusts you to care for them, they’ll also be more likely to trust your strategic plans and go the extra mile to perform their job duties at an optimal level. In short, engagement and productivity will likely rise.
The Power of Trust
Trust has always been important. Results of a 2017 study on the neuroscience of trust, published in a Harvard Business Review article of the same name, found that employees who work for “high-trust” companies enjoyed their jobs 60% more and were 70% more aligned with their employers’ purposes than workers at “low-trust” companies.
The power of trust is only increasing. In fact, trust may be the X factor that enables some organizations to endure and thrive in today’s chaotic, shifting environment of pandemic-inflicted changes and evolving attitudes about employment. Work with your leadership team and advisors to put your organization on the right side of this trend.
Has the state of the American workplace ever been more in flux? Decades ago, once you were hired, you went to work. That generally meant going to a physical location, being provided with a workspace and equipment, and assimilating into the culture and routines of your surroundings.
Today you can get hired, on-boarded, trained and sent into action without ever leaving your home. Remote work was growing in prevalence before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the ongoing public health crisis has accelerated the trend exponentially. And many organizations aren’t looking back -- encouraging, even requiring employees to work from home.
However, that’s not true in every case. Many employers are striving to establish a “best of both worlds” workplace, whereby those who wish or need to work on-site can do so, while those who prefer or have grown accustomed to working remotely can do that.
If your organization’s leaders are struggling with a “hybrid” workforce, as it’s being called, they’re not alone.
Recognize the Differences
One reaction to suddenly having a hybrid workforce may be to “normalize” the situation one way or the other. That is, treat a hybrid workforce as if everyone works on-site and nothing has changedSept or, vice versa, treat all employees as if they’re working remotely.
Although it’s important to treat everyone equitably, don’t ignore the intrinsic differences between the two. Look carefully at which positions are best suited for each.
A couple of key terms that come into play are synchronous and asynchronous time. Synchronous time is that during which employees must synchronize their schedules for meetings or collaborative work. Asynchronous time is that during which employees can work on their own.
Job roles that involve mostly asynchronous time are well-suited to remote work, where an employee can create a comfortable workspace and work during optimal times. For positions that entail a substantial amount of synchronous time, working on-site tends to make more sense.
Software development organizations may tell us that their products enable seamless and incredibly productive collaboration, but human psychology has long indicated that in-person collaboration is more natural and intuitive. In fact, my spouse is a software engineer who was dismayed when his employer announced last year that the developers had proven they can work collaboratively from home and therefore would NOT be invited back to the office when it opened. Clearly employees can do great things together online, just that physical work locations and personal preferences can still serve a useful purpose as places of collaboration and socialization.
Establish Clear Expectations
Once a hybrid workforce is in place, establish clear expectations regarding “nuts and bolts” issues such as work hours and communication. These things tended to be implicitly understood when everyone worked on-site -- you showed up and left at a certain time and communication was handled face-to-face, on the phone or eventually via email.
In a hybrid environment, leaders need to explicitly discuss these items with employees. Start with work hours, which have evolved quite a bit since the old days of “nine to five.”
Remote workers tend to prefer and, indeed, rely on flexible hours to accommodate childcare and other inevitable home-based issues. Some on-site employees may still wish to adhere to a traditional schedule, but others might demand flex hours if that’s what is available to those off-site.
There’s no single solution. Leaders need to recognize the distinctive cultures of their organizations, build consensus regarding what will work fairly and optimally for everyone, and keep their eyes on the prize: productivity.
Another critical issue is communication. With people in different locations working flexible schedules, this can be a huge challenge. Leadership needs to set clear norms and expectations regarding:
All too often, communication is left to chance or open to interpretation. A hybrid workforce demands an open and unambiguous accounting of how information will be exchanged. Leaders need to enforce the rules and remind staff when necessary.
Master Technology and Build Trust
The importance of technology cannot be overstated. There are many remote business communication platforms in play these days -- Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Chat, Zoom. Leaders need to learn all the features of whichever one your organization uses and demonstrate this knowledgeability to employees. You may want to invest in additional training to ensure a high level of expertise.
On the flip side, there’s the human factor of the equation. Today’s employers face greater challenges regarding trust. Employees can and will acquire information from many different sources. They may distrust their employers’ motives in a time when organizations must make some very difficult decisions.
Leaders of hybrid workforces must overcome the even greater challenge of managing employees in different locations and time zones, on various schedules, who may be comfortable with differing modes of communication. It’s not easy! Remember that trust is based on the mutual understanding that employees will deliver high-quality work while employers, as demonstrated by leadership, will act with clarity, transparency and honesty.
It’s all about flexibility
One thing’s for sure: hybrid workforces aren’t going anywhere. In 2020, 81% of more than 4,000 employees surveyed by online job board FlexJobs said they’d be more loyal to their employers if they were offered flexible work options.
The key word there is “flexible” -- many employees value the ability to work from home, but many others still enjoy the experience of in-person collaboration. It’s the ongoing challenge of every leadership team to find the right balance.
They would seem a perfect fit: social media and recruitment. After all, social media is all about people, and your organization is probably looking for a few good ones. But many employers don’t know how to start using social media to recruit talent and fill their open positions. Some have plunged in unprepared and found themselves overwhelmed by the amount of work involved and frustrated by the lack of immediate interest.
But the potential benefits of using social media for recruiting are considerable. Let’s face it: Social media may be the easiest place to find anyone these days. Most of us are active daily on at least one platform. And, once you connect with a candidate, you can engage in a two-way conversation. Through this interaction, and by perusing their public posts, you’ll get a much better idea of an individual’s character and personality before the first interview.
What’s more, recruiting on social media is becoming a more widely traveled avenue to hiring. In 2019, marketing research firm Clutch reported that 14% of recent hires found their jobs on social media. A 2020 Harris Poll commissioned by Express Employment Professionals revealed that 71% of hiring decision-makers believed social media is an effective way to screen applicants.
Here are some tips for getting in on this exciting trend without getting burned by unrealistic or unclear expectations.
1. Establish a bona fide presence.
The thing about social media is you can’t fake it. Most people — particularly Millennials and Gen Z — have been online long enough to intuitively detect a contrived or “preconstructed” social media account full of autogenerated posts.
If you’re serious about using social media for recruiting, you need to first find your voice on one or more platforms and show that you’re a real entity with actual humans sharing authentic thoughts and expertise. For organizations that haven’t done much online other than maintain a website, this could mean doing very little in the way of recruiting for a while as you amass a history of posts, establish a brand identity and, hopefully, build a loyal following.
2. Get employees involved.
Having more than one social media account associated with your brand can help nurture credibility, assuming the tone and messaging are consistent. When your staff members are online, posting as excited employees of a vibrant organization, outsiders are likely to take notice — and some of them may even want to join up!
That said, this is a tricky area. Employees need to somehow demonstrate their individuality while staying as consistent as possible with your organization’s communications and remaining compliant with a stated social media policy. That last part is worth emphasizing: If you’re going to have staffers posting on your behalf, be sure you’ve laid out guidelines and provided some training about what’s OK and what’s not.
3. Devise a SMART strategy.
When business owners engage in strategic planning, one approach we suggest our clients consider is to set “SMART” goals. This system has been used with success for many years and the abbreviation stands for:
This can be a good way to approach social media recruiting as well. Gather leadership and perhaps some particularly knowledgeable employees. Identify what you want to accomplish and how you might realistically get there within a reasonable time frame.
For example, say you have 10 open positions. You could set a goal of filling two of them (20%) by recruiting candidates on social media over, say, six months. Track your progress and hold update meetings to discuss what’s working and what isn’t.
At the end of the time frame, review whether you achieved your goals. If you did, talk about how you can build on that success. If you didn’t, brainstorm what impeded you and how to adjust your strategy going forward.
4. Share good content.
Along with not faking it on social media, you also need to “give as good as you get.” In other words, organizations can’t look at social media as a giant job board from which they pluck candidates and do little else. To gain attention, build credibility and get those all-important “likes,” employers need to share good content. This might include:
Among the chief reasons to dedicate the time and resources to creating strong content is to draw the attention of passive candidates. These are people who aren’t actively looking for a job but who could be swayed to apply with an organization that really appeals to them. A collection of hiring statistics posted by LinkedIn Talent Solutions in 2015 stated that "70% of the global workforce is made up of passive talent who aren’t actively job searching."
To maximize the effectiveness of your content, you’ll need to use hashtags and niche networks to channel it toward those most interested. You’re probably familiar with the concept of a hashtag, but you might find it challenging to pick just the right ones without getting lost in the noise of social media. It takes some practice.
Niche networks are smaller social media platforms that cater to specific interests or professional backgrounds. For instance, Behance is a place for graphic designers to connect and share their work, while Stack Overflow is for coders.
Embrace the possibilities.
Employers were handed a historic challenge in 2021 with the "Great Resignation" — a marked trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs in reaction to the tumultuous changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and other developments. If your organization is looking for talent, social media may represent an overlooked and underutilized way to find who you’re looking for.
Being a leader is relatively easy when everyone gets along. But when the going gets tough, and conflicts arise and escalate, leadership becomes exponentially more difficult.
Now, in and of itself, conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some might say it's essential to solving complex problems and accomplishing innovative breakthroughs. However, sometimes disagreements devolve into counterproductive relationships and even potentially dangerous confrontations.
In these instances, leaders need to know how to recognize conflict, react appropriately and resolve the situation in the best interests of their respective organizations.
A Popular Model From Myers-Briggs
The first thing every leader should know about conflict resolution is that it’s a skill set that even highly introverted individuals can learn. Among the most popular frameworks for doing so is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, currently marketed by Myers-Briggs. Study conflict resolution for any amount of time and you’ll likely encounter this model or something like it.
Many people assume that “conflict resolution” is a coded term for “compromise.” However, the TKCMI presents users with five strategies that range in intensity from unassertive to assertive and uncooperative to cooperative. As these words imply, there are situations in which a leader needs to put his or her foot down, so to speak, and others in which a less assertive approach is more appropriate. The five strategies are:
1. Forcing. This is the most assertive and least cooperative of approaches. Here, a leader uses his or her recognized authority to resolve a conflict without trying to satisfy the other party’s concerns (or either party’s if you’re tackling a dispute between two employees). A better name for this strategy may be “enforcing,” because you’re essentially enforcing stated organizational policies or rules — or even the law itself.
2. Collaborating. In this situation, a leader may be somewhat assertive but also greatly cooperative with the party or parties involved. You’re seeking to understand the concerns driving the conflict and find a solution that fully (or mostly) satisfies everyone.
3. Compromising. This strategy sits squarely in the middle of the TKCMI model. A leader seeking to find a compromise exercises moderate assertiveness and cooperation. The goal is to identify a solution that, as compromises aim to do, partly satisfies both sides of a disagreement.
4. Accommodating. In some instances, a leader must step carefully, minimize assertiveness and aim to satisfy one party’s concerns almost entirely. This is the most cooperative and least assertive strategy.
5. Avoiding. “Conflict avoidant” is a label many people apply to themselves, but it’s also a strategy to consider in very limited instances — such as when two employees are better off working out a disagreement on their own. Here, a leader is the least assertive and most uncooperative — basically ignoring an ongoing conflict and doing nothing to resolve it.
The Three R’s
With the TKCMI model (or something else like it) in mind, leaders can work on developing and refining their skill sets in conflict resolution. To help further simplify often complex situations, focus on the three R’s:
Recognize. Some leaders thrive on conflict to the point where they don’t even realize they’re creating it. Others avoid conflict so much that they work in a bubble and think everything is fine.
A good leader recognizes conflict and decides quickly whether it’s productive or potentially counterproductive. If the disagreement falls into the latter category, the leader then immediately decides which of the five strategies above (or perhaps others) fit the situation.
React. How a leader reacts to conflict can make all the difference. Procrastination generally isn’t a good thing. The longer a counterproductive conflict festers, the more likely it is to hurt productivity, quality and potentially even to escalate to a litigious or dangerous situation.
• Listen actively
• Ask reasonable, appropriate questions and
• Show empathy, acknowledging everyone’s feelings and valid points.
Resolve. This would be the most important part of conflict resolution, of course. Yet finding a solution to a conflict is usually the most difficult aspect of the undertaking. Leaders should be prepared to exercise patience and provide themselves with the time and privacy needed to find the right answer.
When an employee demands an answer, or two employees are verbally sparring, leaders can face immense pressure to solve the problem right then and there. However, unless the matter is relatively simple (that is, a policy or rule clearly applies), a leader should reserve the right to hear the case and set forth a judgment later. There may be instances when the HR department or an attorney needs to get involved as well.
As holds true for any skill set, the optimal first step in developing it is training. Many leaders are never trained in formal conflict resolution measures, so they never develop the proper skills. Or they develop their own methods over time — sometimes this works out well, sometimes not so well.
The good news is it’s never too late. If your organization hasn’t addressed the topic, you could arrange for an intensive seminar or a series of training courses to cover some of the major concepts associated with conflict resolution. Once your leaders know how to recognize and handle potentially destructive disputes, their confidence will rise and so should your organization’s morale, trust and productivity.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.