As we enter a new year, with the prospect of vaccination reducing the threat of the COVID pandemic, there’s never been a more important time to demonstrate leadership in business and public life.
2020 was a watershed moment. Most companies grappled with widespread changes to the way their employees work and are managed. A high proportion of workforces had to introduce remote working to at least some degree. Others reduced staffing. Very few were able to pay bonuses.
As a leader, you should be aware that people are frustrated and tired. They hoped the beginning of 2021 would be different from the end of 2020, but the reality is that we cannot flick a switch. The return to normality will be gradual, and I suspect that the much-discussed ‘new normal’ will be a nuance rather than a step-change.
Companies will indeed need to be more agile in responding to the coming challenges and adapt strategies accordingly. But when it comes to execution, the human dimension remains the most important.
Now is a good time to review employee skill sets. Do we have the right people with the right skills in the right place? What new skills have 2020 experiences suggested we might need? Should we aspire to the moment when all teams and departments once again co-locate in our business premises. Or will some functions – technical, analytical, logistics, accounting, for example – be better continued remotely?
The challenges of holding organisations together have shown all of us that ‘soft skills’ are needed now more than ever before. Our staff engagement studies show that companies whose managers worked hard to reach out to colleagues, demonstrate concern and offer support ended the year in a better place. How do we turn these new behaviours ‘the way we do things around here’ for the long term? How do we evolve senior managers from acting like bosses to behaving like coaches? And now that we have right-sized our organisations to survive the crisis, how can we build organic growth by developing and promoting the people we chose to keep?
Employee health and wellbeing has quite rightly moved higher up the leadership agenda. A commitment to better work-life balance, concern about stress levels, and a renewed effort to reinforce the social dimension of belonging to a company. These are no longer ‘nice to have’. Instead, they’re essential to attracting and retaining good people.
To end with some good news, I wonder if you’ve noticed how much more discretionary effort has been demonstrated by colleagues over the past 9 months? Let’s do what we can to preserve that.