Many of the managers I’ve been working with during lockdown are beginning to focus on what their teams and services might look like after Covid19. While we’re still some way from coming out ‘the other side’ of the pandemic, the most prudent managers are getting ahead of things by planning for significant shifts in how they and their teams work and deliver services.
In this post, I’ll share with you the ideas and tactics that my clients are leveraging and beginning to benefit from:
1. View the change as organic, not systematic
When the way ahead for your team is unclear, crafting the path to take can be the best approach to take. While this might be uncomfortable for some managers in certain organisational contexts, taking a more organic, crafting approach might be the most practical thing to do considering the monumental shift the pandemic has created. A crafting approach means being sensitive to the context, working with the reality you’re presented with. It’s about iterating as you go along, not having a perfect, fully-formed concept or design from the get-go. This can feel at odds with the more mechanistic approaches to planning for change but is important when we consider that the pandemic is likely to ebb and flow in its severity and impact for many months to come.
This is something that Adam Kahane discusses when he cites the example of the societal shift created when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, in 1994. Of that time, Trevor Manuel, who worked with Mandela, first as the Minister of Trade and Industry and then Minister of Finance, says
“There was a high degree of flux at that time: There was no paradigm, there was no precedent, there was nothing. We had to carve it.”
2. Ask your team what they think
One of the most practical tips I’ve given clients is for them to ask their team members for feedback on lessons learned during the pandemic. Some managers have done this as a team discussion, others have done this via a simple survey. This engagement – talking with the people concerned, getting feedback etc.- is something the Japanese refer to as ‘nemawashi’. Nemawashi is seen as a vital aspect of change, particularly major change. If you do it meaningfully, it means it’s much more likely you’ll be able to go ahead and implement changes you need to, when you need to.
The three questions I suggest managers ask are:
- What are the things we introduced during Covid19 that we should keep doing after?
- What are the things we stopped doing during Covid19 that we should never re-introduce?
- What are the things we kept doing that originated pre-Covid19 that we should carry on doing after?
If you’re going to do something like this via a virtual team meeting, then make sure you give people prep time, in advance, or time during the meeting to think. For example, a study from Boston University found that team problem-solving is great but only if people get a chance to step away and do their own thinking. The study, involving more than 300 people, found that interrupting problem-solving teamwork with breaks for individual reflection boosted the chance of finding the best answer, at least for especially complex problems.
The other thing to be careful of is your response to people’s ideas. How you respond can determine whether or not people will engage with you further on down the line.
By showing that you value their views, you provide a small social reward that helps to put people into discovery mode, where it’s much easier for them to feel like helping you. – CAROLINE WEBB
This is reiterated in a study led by Danielle D King, which found that how leaders use language can encourage people to offer more ideas later, even if the leader doesn’t implement the initial suggestion. The same study found that people who speak up at work only to have their manager reject their ideas will nonetheless offer more suggestions later if their manager responds properly, i.e. sensitively and with a thoughtful explanation.
It’s not just about how you verbally communicate, however. The level of engagement you’ll get is also determined by how well you listen to your colleagues. For example, a joint study between Kings College London and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that employees who felt they were genuinely being listened to were more likely to rate themselves as creative and produce more creative work, of higher quality. These positive effects did not occur when managers were distracted while listening to employees.
3. Engage more widely – don’t just talk to your team
Creativity in particular is no respecter of status: a good idea is as likely to come from a new recruit as a senior expert. – MARGARET HEFFERNEN
An article from Wharton Business School suggests that complex, multidimensional organisational challenges need leaders who are multidimensional in their thinking and open to multiple perspectives. The article provides a helpful list of the 12 zones – encompassing different roles, knowledge and experience – you should include when problem-solving and planning for change:
- Zone 1: The operation – hierarchical, geographical, product, business unit cross-section
- Zone 2: The visionaries – board members, senior leaders, strategic roles
- Zone 3: The historians – long-serving employees
- Zone 4: The confidants – partner organisations who you know well
- Zone 5: Front-liners – sales, service managers, marketing, customer ops etc.
- Zone 6: Allies – Partner organisations in the same market/sector as you
- Zone 7: Market experts – Customers, competitors, consultants
- Zone 8: Futurists – Researchers on the market/sector
THE EXTENDED ENVIRONMENT
- Zone 9: Reality shapers – Politicians, regulators, media, public
- Zone 10: Envoys – Other comparable industries, geographies, products, services
- Zone 11: Vanguard and veterans – experts on the challenge, veterans of similar challenges
- Zone 12: Response team – doers, steering committee, project manager, communications
I’d suggest you adapt this to suit your context. However, it provides a helpful checklist of the different view holders you should engage with in some shape or form. This list spans hierarchy and also reminds us of the importance of ‘looking up and out’ of the organisation. Something I’m always reminding leadership teams to do.
4. Adapt how you give ideas, if you’re the one being asked
When you’re a manager you wear multiple hats. For example, you’re the boss to some but you also have a boss. If your own line manager is asking for ideas from you and your colleagues, then heed the findings from research by Kimberley Elsbach which looked at how you can give ideas that won’t get rejected. Her study suggests that project leaders fall broadly into one of two camps. There is the idealist (artistic, independent and unique in their approach) and there is the pragmatist (practical, collaborative and rational). Having a good idea of where a project leader falls can therefore, help you challenge and shape their ideas for doing things.
For the pragmatist project leader, the study suggests there are three key tactics that work:
- Present ideas in a practical way that solves a pre-existing problem;
- Offer detailed solutions that are quick to implement; and
- Show passion for your idea.
For the idealist project leader:
- Show appreciation for the idealist’s vision and approach, in order to preserve their sense of identity; and
- Be dispassionate – offer general and vague suggestions with an open-ended timetable.
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