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Steering the ship through the stormy waters of crisis

The challenges of the pandemic transformed the way that organisations manage their staff and taught invaluable lessons around employee wellbeing. How can these experiences shape how leaders prepare to steer their workforce through the next looming crisis of the surging cost of living?

Decision-making within every industry sector has been clouded by uncertainty, improbability and unpredictability over the last few years.  A survey of global leaders found that 48 per cent were unable to say what their commercial future would be after the dust caused by the Covid-19 crisis settled.

The challenges of the pandemic transformed the way that leaders manage their staff and has taught invaluable lessons which may be useful in the preparations for the next looming crisis of the surging cost of living and threat of recession.

The way that leaders were able to amend their approach against an ever-changing backdrop, helped to determine how successful and competitive their organisation remained, and the same will be true in the new economic climate.

The ongoing effects of remote working
Remote working shifted employers’ concerns away from worrying that employees were doing enough work, to worrying that employees were doing too much work. And this meant that employers were facing a whole raft of unique issues around employee morale, presenteeism and burnout.

As a result, leadership styles were forced to pivot into a more hands-on and compassionate role that involved a greater focus on employee wellbeing. And although most employers have now moved away from their crisis-dominated strategies, employees continue to expect an increased interest in their mental health – a theme likely to continue in the approach to the impending the cost-of-living crisis.

Agility rules the roost
Agility became essential in the ever-shifting Covid-19 climate where new rules came into force at the drop of a hat and leaders were required to grapple accordingly. And as we now teeter on the edge of recession, this same mindset will no doubt prove invaluable once again.

This means being open to new ideas, revisiting previous decisions, and altering strategies in order to deal with rapidly shifting circumstances. Now more than ever, leaders must keep costs, workforce requirements, and the changing economic landscape under constant review. By remaining flexible in their approach, they will firstly be able to utilise resources effectively, and secondly, secure chances to innovate, and guarantee future growth.

Being willing to reassess your employee offering to ensure that it still serves your workforce will give you the best chance of not only meeting their requirements but also keeping them on board. Needs change and leaders must appreciate that something that worked yesterday may not work today. Don’t be daunted by the idea of finding out what your employees think or be put off by the fact that you may not be able to meet their every need or desire. Workplace relationships are a two-way street, but it isn’t realistic to expect every need to be met all the time.

Ensuring that there’s an open-door policy for these conversations to take place, it will go a long way in demonstrating genuine recognition of staff as individuals with different needs and ways of working. Taking the time to speak to staff, garner data with surveys, and recognise and accept your limitations, will make for better leadership – and an appealing prospect to those looking to jump ship.

Showing strength
There seems to be a lot of buzz around the human element of leadership and ‘leading by example’ with vulnerability. Whilst I agree with the sentiment, I do think that there should be some asterisks to this.

There is nothing wrong with being able to admit that you don’t have all the answers and embracing collaboration. But ultimately, employees need to have confidence that their leaders are in control and can make important decisions correctly, particularly in times of uncertainty.

Communicate with honesty
Leaders will always face uncertainty, a fact employees will not be naïve to. It can be difficult not to feel the pressure of your team looking to you for reassurance and be tempting to gloss over challenges rather than risk worrying people unnecessarily.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to this approach. It’s likely that your colleagues will recognise attempts to put a positive spin on things, so it’s better to be honest about the current situation. Leaders should speak openly about potential difficulties and make it clear how people can give feedback. Our own research unearthed 30 per cent of UK employees were left in the dark about what mental health, wellbeing, and other support was available to them during the pandemic. Showing comms – internal and external – a little TLC won’t go amiss.

Taking the time to ensure that your workforce understands the reasons behind decisions made by senior management and committing to communicating any new developments regularly, will help to build an atmosphere of mutual trust. After all, transparency cultivates confidence.

Traditionally sought-after management qualities, from resilience to confidence, and an ability to motivate others, will continue to be incredibly valuable assets.

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