Articles & Insights

Lockdown Challenges Traditional Leadership and Talent Profiles

In the not just yet reached aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, some parts of the world are gradually getting back to a more ‘normal’ lifestyle. More and more businesses are allowed to reopen, whilst social distancing and rigorous hygiene measures remain in place. Wherever possible, a ‘home office’ concept is still encouraged by governments.

Even though there is vast evidence that New Work environments have a positive impact on productivity, employee engagement, employee satisfaction and turnover, pre-Corona, some managers and organizations still hesitated to introduce new work concepts, in particular the opportunity to work from home, even on a part-time basis. In most countries, the recent lockdown now has leveraged the idea of ‘home office’, simply by governmental decree.

The last couple of months have compelled a large number of managers to deal with at least one aspect of the much-lauded ‘New Work’ concept: people staying at home and performing their work self-sufficiently and without close supervision. For some managers this was quite normal and the challenge non-existent; for others however, the new situation represented a huge challenge. Some experienced an entirely new way of leading people, some struggled.

What differentiates leaders who can and those who cannot deal with this new situation well? There are certainly many answers to this question, but let us just mention a few: the ability to establish clear goals, finely honed communication skills even by teleconference, showing empathy and caring about their employees, being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their staff and thus, being able to assign the right kinds of responsibilities. And last but not least: their ability to trust and build trust-based relationships.

And what differentiates employees who remain high performant when working from home vs. those who seem lost without stringent guidance? Next to obvious qualities such as expertise, the ability to apply common sense and to work alone, efficient time management skills etc., one quality in particular comes to mind: a high degree of intrinsic motivation.

According to Daniel Pink, three main factors are important to ensure high levels of intrinsic motivation are maintained in the workplace: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In his book ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, Pink describes these three factors as follows: Autonomy, ‘our desire to be self-directed (which increases engagement over compliance); Mastery, ‘the urge to get better skills’ and Purpose, ‘the desire to do something that has meaning and is important’.

Leaders, who understand this, will craft jobs and responsibilities that allow people a certain level of freedom to act, and to decide on their own, how they work best to reach the clearly outlined objectives. They will ensure that each person has the right degree of challenge and will have the opportunity to learn and develop on a daily basis.

By the way, if you want motivated employees, only delegating tasks that seem to be below the manager’s own intellectual capabilities and expertise, will simply not do! Leaders need to part also with tasks and responsibilities they find challenging and exciting themselves.

Finally and foremost, leaders need to provide vision and a higher purpose. Every person in the organization should be able to formulate why they are doing what they are doing, why it is exciting to invest blood, sweat and tears to work towards this higher shared goal. This also requires that leaders communicate regularly so that every person feels included and valued.

What should organizations do in order to learn from this recent, and to a very large degree, still ongoing crisis? They should take a close look at the performance of their teams and determine which areas of their organization performed really well, despite the lockdown, and while people were forced to work from home. Those managers and leaders who were able to maintain high levels of performance and a joyful attitude are your best people!

Making sure to select and promote individuals who have the required skill set to lead people out of this crisis and build a prosperous future for the organization and society, is more important than ever. In order to emerge from the ashes of Covid-19 somewhat unscathed, organizations urgently need leaders who develop a culture that is built on trust; a work environment where employees have the opportunity to self-direct; and where daily learning is a matter of course, as well as a higher purpose at the core of every action. This is in stark contrast to selecting and promoting people for their high levels of technical expertise.

As we are waiting for the full impact of the lockdown to hit organizations and societies in equal measures, this is what is most important: To have the right people in your organization’s leadership positions. Selecting the right individuals for your key positions is more relevant than ever.

What should you be doing right now? You should be taking a close look at each position of influence in your organization and analyze who performed well, who has potential to be further developed, and who is not motivated enough and does not show potential.   Analyzing the situation by strongly taking into consideration the results and achievements of the last couple of months during these difficult times, and if necessary take decisions, will ensure that your organization will be on the side of those who succeed despite Covid-19 and are able to defy the odds. The future of your organization and as a result, the future of our economies, depends on your courage.

Authors: Ildiko Mueller, Business Partner, C.O.I. / Carsten Wortmann, Business Partner, C.O.I.