Rebekah Valero-Lee HR
We have never been more connected. If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that the world is filled with tools that enable us to remain switched on and in touch at every hour of the day. But have we stayed visible to one another?
Visibility may seem a black and white concept and for many, it’s a case of being present, in sight, or not. But the best business leaders will argue – and prove – that they are able to remain visible to their teams even when, physically, they couldn’t be further apart.
COVID-19 has highlighted the value of visible business leaders. A strong leader can be the difference between a team that is engaged, productive and integral to overall business performance, and one which would prefer to put on the brakes.
In the majority of working environments, CEOs and Directors tend to be physically visible, either in an accessible office, one knock away, or they are a regular – sometimes daily – visitor to a site. But lockdown has put a stop to this. It has been taken out of leaders’ hands, leaving them to reconsider their role and how they continue to lead from the top. Those who have taken the time to understand what their teams expect from them in this new era have forged a blueprint for best practice and have seen their business thrive as a result.
Those who haven’t, have seen potential challenges ensue. When the nation already feels hugely uncertain about the future, bosses who allow a similar feeling to resonate amongst their workforce are exacerbating this further. A lack of clarity from all angles inevitably causes teams to come to their own conclusions on their direction, will lead to a lack of motivation and no desire to drive a business forward.
Sadly, for some, this feeling isn’t new. Because for every ten leaders who take charge and show their team that they’re available and accessible, there is another who doesn’t. One HR Manager we worked with recently shared with us that she had never seen her CEO – physically or virtually – in the four years she had been with the business. The very first time she ‘met’ him was when he delivered a video address to his entire business, from his front room, in response to the Coronavirus.
It doesn’t need saying that truly valued business leaders aren’t those who only become present during crises. That said, today’s environment could work to nurture even more fantastic leaders, helping define what it takes to be a great boss. Those who use this time as an opportunity to transform their employee value proposition and build a culture that allows them to retain the best talent will see their businesses emerge stronger and more successful in the long term.
Ahead of the early May Bank Holiday, millions of people shared theories about what the Prime Minister’s Sunday night address would mean for the nation. To prevent any negative feeling amongst his team, one HR Director we work closely with sent an update to all staff – furloughed or not – to provide a proactive update on that business’ course of action, regardless of what the announcement turned out to be. The workforce automatically felt on the front foot, armed with a structure and next steps that had been put in place by a leader with foresight. It is just one example we have come across of how taking charge of a situation that seemed out of control, provided immeasurable reassurance.
Others include CEOs who have dropped their title and have shown they lead from the ground; they are no longer in an office, they are working arm in arm, alongside even the most junior members of staff. You cannot truly ‘all be in it together’ unless you are, indeed, in it together.
As businesses begin thinking about their phased return to work, delivering risk assessments which allow them to make operational decisions, there will come a time when doors are opened to new recruits. From our liaison with our contractors during lockdown, what’s become clear is that the first question candidates will ask clients during future interviews is how they handled COVID-19. What policies were introduced? What was the organisational response? How did you reassure your teams? They will be judged on their responses to such an extent, that those who cannot demonstrate leadership will lose the talent in front of them to a competitor.
Leadership is about many things, but for us it includes driving inclusion and diversity to broaden perspectives at every level; regularly analysing and leveraging learnings to accelerate positive changes in ways of working and continually looking to innovate, with people at the centre of every decision you make. We work closely with clients to share this best practice, recognising that every business – and its leader – are unique.