What to do once the tiger has pounced
2020 has been quite the year and we’re only halfway through! The challenge with being caught in a crisis (or is that multiple crises?) is that the focus tends to be solidly on surviving and rightly so. The problem with survival is that it requires reactive, narrow decision-making. There is no point considering what you’re going to have for dinner tomorrow if you’re about to be eaten by a tiger today!!
COVID-19 proved to be one mighty tiger. There was little time to plan and nowhere to hide. Action needed to be taken and it had to happen fast.
But now the dust is settling somewhat. And the tiger seems to be not quite as fierce as first feared. So what now?
Working from home? I don’t think so!
After experiencing such rapid change and uncertainty, there seems to be a strong appetite to hold onto some of the changes we’ve had foisted upon us. This is particularly so when it comes to working from home. The question is: What would it take to allow such a drastic workplace practice to continue? The answer is: Leadership.
Hope is not enough
In a recent report, COVID-19 Workplace Leadership Survey, two themes particularly stood out: 1. Leaders greatly care for their teams and 2. Leaders keenly want some lockdown workplace behaviours to continue.
“I really hope that COVID-19 is instrumental in changing the feasibility and
appetite for remote working.” Source: COVID-19 Workplace Leadership Survey
Clearly hope is not enough on its own to sustain change. If working from home is to be an option longer-term, workplace leaders and their teams will need to make a concerted effort to build it into their return-to-work plan. For the plan to gain traction it will require leadership buy-in, adoption, support and tweaking along the way.
Workplace leaders may not be able to stop the tigers coming, but they are certainly the ones to ensure that the learnings and new behaviours gained while fighting the tiger are well utilised for the betterment of the business and its employees into the future.
The following flowchart summarises what leaders from the COVID-19 Workplace Leadership Survey had to say on the matter:
So if we just take a look at:
1. what changes COVID has created (i.e. Current Changes) and
2. what practices have remained the same (i.e. Enduring Practices) we can then
3. create a list of behaviours we hope to keep and ones we look forward to letting go of (i.e. Future Ways of Working)…
Sounds all rather straight forward and doable, right? Unfortunately not!
We suck at behavioural change
We humans are incredibly bad at initiating and maintaining change. Consider the last time you went to a training program you loved… Consider the brilliant action planning and imaging you invested in… Remember the excitement and determination you had in taking those changes back to the office. Well, if you’re anything like the majority of people, it is estimated that only 10%-20% of what we learn in the training room is transferred into sustainable change in the workplace. It would seem this low take-up of behavioural change doesn’t just occur post-training. It is also a common experience from planning days, annual reviews, meeting action items and change incentives. Not dissimilar to the average New Year’s Resolution that barely survives the light of day.
In my experience being involved in many developmental training programs from a variety of angles (facilitating, coaching, supporting, observing and evaluating), there are two key killers to change incentives: 1. Lack of leadership support and behavioural modelling and 2. Not enough broader by-in across the business. These two killjoys leave the individual out on their own.
It’s either all in or sink
So if you’re committed to more flexible workplace practices moving forward, then the only way to avoid the roadblock ‘working from home? I don’t think so!’ is to do more than create a plan. Do more than have an agile mindset. Consider more than your own modelling, commitment, feedback and communication. If hope is to manifest into change then senior leaders need to step up, engage in flexible working themselves, endorse the guidelines and expectations for others and ensure the culture is led by leaders who command trust and followership because of how they lead and not in spite of it.
“We cannot let this opportunity be wasted..”
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Maree McKeown is Director, Leadership Complexity Centre, an authority on leadership development and behavioural change in the workplace.