Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, HR Organization & Professional Development
Months into the COVID-19 crisis we have learned a great deal about the importance of resilience, agility, and supporting others as we navigate rapidly changing demands. The skills and mindset demonstrated by people at every level of the organization helped us move through the initial shock and make essential changes. As we move forward, with ever-shifting variables, it seems that a traditional change management perspective is inadequate. There is no clear end, and the normal we knew before won’t likely return. That reality calls on leaders to attend to rapidly changing demands of the crisis, while also considering what reinvention will look like for our institution. While stressful, this provides an interesting opportunity for all of us to reshape our organization; leaving behind the practices and systems that don’t serve us and generating new ideas for a better tomorrow.
The authors in this Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) report warn, “leadership teams will be tempted to avoid taking bold action and having the toughest conversations and will retreat to the closest thing to the status quo that they can find — but that will leave the organization weaker and less prepared for the future than it should be” (Pasmore et al., 2020). There are many things we will have to do to help assure safety in the coming year. The question is, will we be able to stretch beyond mere compliance to take strategic steps to bring the organization forward in a significant way? All of us have a responsibility to that end, and leaders must be prepared to forge the path ahead in the following ways.
- Build Trust
This recent Deloitte article notes “trust is a catalyst of recovery” and reminds us that “resilient leaders need to inspire their teams to navigate through these significant COVID-related uncertainties. But great leadership requires even greater followership—and followership is nurtured by trust” (Renjen, 2020). Relationships are more important now than ever, and the actions we take with our colleagues, students, and community will either serve to strengthen or diminish trust. Transparency, candid communication, empathy, and compassion are vital to creating a sense of safety. With increased trust, people are more likely to step into the unknown and further innovation, something that is desperately needed at this time.
- Provide Direction
It is imperative that leaders provide a north star so that all individuals involved understand where they are heading. While the situation continues to change and responses need to be flexible, a visible commitment to values, a vision for the future, and a drive to deliver on our mission can help guide decision-makers and help others see the opportunity in the crisis. In addition to direction, CCL points out that leaders need to assure there is also:
- Alignment: effective coordination and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction; and
- Commitment: People who are making the success of the collective, not just their individual success, a personal priority (CCL, 2020).
Reviewing the CCL article “Direction + Alignment + Commitment (DAC) = Leadership” will help you to assess and strengthen all three in your team.
- Collaborate Inclusively
Leading through hardship and uncertainty requires a humble approach that acknowledges we need the skills, ideas, and energy of all our people to move forward as effectively as possible. Our tradition of protected silos will not serve us in this new world. We must learn to share ideas, work together to solve problems, and stop reinventing the wheel. According to global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, “Now, more than ever, organizations need innovative thinking and ideas-sharing across the business. Inclusive leaders can create a safe space, regardless of what is happening externally, where people can feel accepted and empowered to give the best of their talents” (Korn Ferry, 2020). To reach that goal, we must examine our biases, reach outside of our comfortable circles, and actively listen and honor the perspectives of others.
- Develop Yourself and Others
Strong leaders know that ongoing learning and development are key to meeting changing needs effectively; this is particularly true today. This Forbes article “4 Must-Have Skills For Leaders Post-Covid-19” notes “large numbers of workers may never go back to the office permanently. Managers who can not only get the best possible results out of their teams when working remotely but also show they can still act personably with employees and ensure team morale is high will be sought after” (Forbes, 2020). Strong engagement, communication, and technology skills are critical as we navigate this ever-changing terrain. Relying solely on the knowledge that has gotten us through in the past will not carry us forward. Demonstrating ongoing learning and expecting the same of your team is critical, both for the organization and individual careers. According to Gallup, “The impact the right employee development process can have is massive —Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees” (Ratanjee, 2020). In addition to training programs, formal or informal coaching, stretch assignments, and learning cohorts are key, particularly during budget shortfalls.
A newly released Academic Impressions report highlights that “adopting a systemic and intentional approach to developing the capacity of that workforce is a strategy for strengthening the institution’s capacity and resilience both during and after a crisis” (Academic Impressions, 2020). More broadly, the mindset we take as individuals and as an organization is important. “As the sector reels from unprecedented challenges, leaders can respond with either a ‘scarcity mindset’—reacting passively to factors outside their control, such as state budgets, demographic shifts, or a pandemic—or a ‘growth mindset,’ focusing on those factors within their control, leveraging the full skills and capacity of their academic workforce to find new solutions, networking and engaging actively across the sector to identify and share strategies for confronting both persistent and new challenges, and investing and reinvesting in their people” (Academic Impressions, 2020). As with any crisis, there are unique opportunities to strengthen our organization; we can make the most of those opportunities if we humbly work together in new ways, toward a unifying vision.
Academic Impressions (2020, May). Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.academicimpressions.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/pd-report-ai-2020.pdf
CCL (2020). Direction + Alignment +Commitment (DAC) = Leadership. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/make-leadership-happen-2/
Forbes (2020, May 28). 4 Must-Have Skills for Leaders Post COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/imperialinsights/2020/05/28/4-must-have-skills-for-leaders-post-covid-19/#2e778106ca1b
Korn Ferry (2020). Leading through a crisis. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.kornferry.com/challenges/coronavirus/leadership
Pasmore et al. (2020). Turning Crisis into Opportunity: Preparing Your Organization for a Transformed World. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/turning-crisis-into-opportunity-center-for-creative-leadership.pdf
Ratanjee, V. (2020, April 30). 3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/309284/ways-continue-employee-development-covid.aspx
Renjen, P. (2020, April 22). The essence of resilient leadership: Business recovery from COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/covid-19/guide-to-organizational-recovery-for-senior-executives-heart-of-resilient-leadership.html