In a recent conversation with multiple CEOs it was strikingly clear that there is a formula for the organisations and businesses that can survive this lock-down and those who will probably not. Whilst one cannot ignore the immense financial burden that businesses globally are enduring, having the finances alone will not be sufficient to keep some organisations afloat.

Part of the work I do as a psychologist in TomorrowToday is engaging in one-on-one sessions with leaders or executive teams in various organisations, spread across 17 countries globally. The cumulative result of these conversations has resulted in observing specific trends. The blueprint that sinks or floats your organisation during Covid-19 rests on three E’s: Engagement, Empathy and Existing Culture. 

Engagement:

In times of a crisis, as we currently face, people need regular and steady reassurance. If not reassurance, then at least, constant feedback. This works most successfully when it comes from a consistent person with senior authority and credibility. People want to know that someone is in charge and ‘holding the fort’. The psychological term for this is containment, and it relates to the ways in which those in authority are able to help those in their care/ employment feel safe, looked after, have their needs heard and attended too.

There are multiple ways to engage your team, but as the leader, your voice carries the most weight. The tone, style and optimism of your message will be the one that influences the ripple effect for the organisation as a whole. The evidence for this resides in research on mood contagion and leadership, which has highlighted the ways in which leaders, due to their position of authority already have a greater influence over those they lead. Followers are more likely to align with the leader’s position due to several psychological reasons (such as group confirmation, authority conformity etc…). The mood the leader projects in the work environment becomes an underlying and often unspoken factor in the mood of the entire organisation.

A quick review on engagement:

  1. How are you communicating with your teams and employees? Who is doing the talking?
  2. What is the tone of the messages you are giving out? How often are you speaking to your people?
  3. What mood do you think you are projecting onto or sharing with those you work with?
  4. What do you notice about the moods others bring to online work meetings? Does your team rely on the same people to lift their spirits/ or to be critical?

Empathy:

Empathy is perhaps best summarized as the ability to recognize others experiences as different from your own but of equal significance and legitimacy. The ways in which your leadership respond to their teams, organisations and the broader community with empathy will be a significant marker or mark against you as work settles into a new normal. Organisations who survive will be those who cared. When considering an example in the retail industry, the grocery store SPAR comes to mind. Every online post I’ve seen from SPAR has related to community engagement; making space on their shelves for locally produced products, or not selling certain items to encourage customers to source them from smaller community businesses. They have positioned themselves front and centre as a business that is empathizing with their broader community needs.

In corporate business, organisations have creatively sought opportunities to display empathy for their employees. A conversation with a CEO of a medium to large company in Kenya reported decreased work performance, high levels of anxiety, difficulties concentrating, widespread inefficiencies in online meetings as people were too anxious to do their work. This is a completely understandable response in a crisis. Faced with this challenge, instead of micromanaging the team and demanding better performances, their leadership decided to commission an external psychologist to run weekly check in’s with the team as a group. The psychologist facilitates a discussion for 75 minutes that allows people to ‘put on the table’ their worries, challenges and concerns. This has created a ‘breathing space’ which has fundamentally transformed their team. They feel heard, supported and taken care of. Subsequently, individually and collectively they function more effectively, productivity has increased and loyalty to the organisation is at an all-time high. 

A quick review on empathy:

  1. What is your organisation doing to help people feel taken care of?
  2. Are there spaces/opportunities for you to talk as a team on the difficulties of working from home / health concerns?
  3. In the last 2 weeks how have you/anyone from leadership checked in with your team on their mental health and psychological well-being? What would happen if you started attending to this?

Existing Culture:

This one may feel a bit like a punch to the gut because there is an emphasis on the first word ‘existing’. The culture you set up in ‘yesterdays’ world of work will be what stands you on stable or sinking ground in today’s new normal. At TomorrowToday we have been speaking about the need for emotionally intelligent leadership and the importance of building an emotionally intelligent culture for many years.

Your challenge –  if you had a strongly hierarchal organisation where all decisions had to be passed through top leadership, you are probably facing an unprecedented bottle neck crisis now. Organisations that had worked hard to build a culture of trust, inclusion, and invitational leadership where decision making is distributed across various levels and autonomy is a given, are fairing far better in these times. Why? Because they already have a model of shared autonomy which has resulted in higher levels of motivation and commitment to the organisation.

Dan Pink has written extensively on this topic. His work on intrinsic motivation serves as a great framework for which organisations survive in this unprecedented autonomous climate and which won’t. In short: the most motivated amongst us are those who have worked in an already existing culture where they have autonomy, have been recognized and continuously encouraged to develop mastery and (as a result of these two) see their work and their organisation with a sense of purpose.

The bad news – is that you cannot go back and change your organisational culture, it is too late. The good news – is that you can acknowledge that what worked in yesterdays business model is not working today and is unlikely to work tomorrow. Acknowledge this, accept it and move forward. Go back to the drawing board and start building on the first two E’s. As the leader you have the platform and authority to do so, and so how you choose to Engage and Empathize from this point on will set the tone for recalibrating your organisational culture. Doing so might just be the difference that gets you and your organisation through this.

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About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Tamryn Batcheller-Adams

With her Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology, and a Masters Degree in Research by Dissertation, being an Accredited Enneagram Practitioner and a Psychology lecturer, Tamryn Batchelor-Adams helps clients by developing insight into their teams and those they work with.
Tamryn does offer her counselling and coaching services virtually.
Email info@tomorrowtodayglobal.com for more information or to connect with Tamryn. 

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References:

  • The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and its Influence on Group Behavior. Barsade, S
  • The puzzle of Motivation. Pink, D. Available from: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_the_puzzle_of_motivation?language=en