The past two years have seen a fundamental shift in the way many organizations operate, with employees working remotely and meeting only via video calls, and once-bustling offices sitting largely empty. There is no going back to how things were before the COVID-19 pandemic; while some workers may return to the office full-time, flexibility and hybrid approaches are the new normal.
Unlike some types of change initiatives, such as organizational restructures or the implementation of new technology, the move to remote working happened so suddenly that for most organizations, there was neither enough time to roll out a plan for educating People Leaders on what was happening, nor the bandwidth to build change management capability to lead their teams through it.
While the COVID era has shown that organizations and employees can adapt to change quickly and demonstrate real resilience, the full implications of the pandemic for the workforce are still emerging. People Leaders will be helping their teams navigate these changes for some time to come and they need the skills to do it well. Organizations that commit to bolstering change management capabilities will not just be better off through the current uncertainty, but will also be more capable and resilient in the long run.
Supporting People Leaders will be critical
The demands and responsibilities of People Leaders are evolving, making it important that organizations support them, while also being thoughtful as to how they rely upon them. These past years have been disruptive for People Leaders to manage, and more change is on the horizon. This constant change doesn’t come without a cost; according to research from Gallup, manager burnout has become a particularly urgent problem.
People Leaders have been given significant decision-making power; many are being asked to decide such things as what roles can or cannot be remote and to what extent. Such decisions can have a major impact on teams and how they function. With more and more companies across industries making plans for the return to the office, some employees may voice frustration over not having their own dedicated desks, others might show resistance to becoming a more digital organization, and some may express conflicting views regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. These scenarios illustrate just how important it is to upskill People Leaders to take on new responsibilities.
People Leaders must be able to distill leadership decisions down, reinforcing key messages while answering questions effectively—all while seeking information that greatly affects their own lives, as they may also be juggling childcare, commuting concerns, and other pandemic-related impacts to their personal and work lives.
Managers, like their teams, also need open lines of communication. According to Gallup, employees who strongly agree that they received "meaningful feedback” in the past week are almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged. Keeping People Leaders involved and empowered will help ensure they are equipped to do the same with their teams.
Develop tactics to bolster change capability
There are many tactics to consider when working to develop change capability among People Leaders. Here are just a few:
- Provide timely information. Embed a People Leader communication channel to provide a structure to cascade information to their teams. In order to foster awareness and secure buy-in to change, People Leaders must have reliable access to all relevant facts. For example, sharing a hybrid policy will equip them to communicate effectively and embed remote working best practices.
- Enable peer connection. Establish a confidential forum for People Leaders to connect with their peers and share lessons learned. This can be an effective way to provide “on-the-ground” insight into change management opportunities and hurdles—with the added benefit of building a People Leader community.
- Build resilience and adaptability. Encourage People Leaders to establish a regular meeting cadence, set clear career goals, and embed a feedback approach to help engage their reports and support their career development. Doing this well will also act as a mechanism to build trust and to retain and motivate talent, which are essential to ensuring organizations remain resilient and adaptable.
- Provide coaching on remote hiring. Across all industries, there is an increased pressure to recruit employees in a remote environment where talent is increasingly hard to find, and the strain on existing resources is often considerable. Coaching People Leaders on how to hire and onboard recruits remotely may prove critical as they manage growing teams that must be united around similar goals and direction.
While bolstering change capability, organizations must also ensure that progress sticks, and People Leaders are the key. Although the current work environment provides the opportunity to build skills in real time, it also introduces challenges as People Leaders must lead with limited in-person contact, and like their teams, may be experiencing change fatigue. Research shows that providing consistent feedback and measuring and recognizing successes are the key factors that will reinforce leadership skill development on an ongoing basis.
By providing People Leaders with a voice, and the scope, budget, and sponsorship to work effectively, organizations can leverage the current workplace reality as an opportunity, rather than as a difficulty, and reap significant long-term benefits.
Read more on the Workplace Advisory