It was just a few weeks ago that I was sitting at lunch with a future client, Salim. Salim shared with me that he was recently hired by an organization in a new HR director role. He was excited about the position since he was an experienced professional of 25 years and felt confident that he could lead the HR department in a positive direction. Unfortunately, he came to realize that there is no HR budget, no infrastructure, and no systems in place.
The CEO whom Salim reports to is a brilliant engineer, very accomplished in his field, but he is not respected in his company for anything other than his engineering background. Read between the lines…The CEO is not an effective leader.
At our lunch, we also talked about our personal lives. Salim had just bought a new condo and was setting up a workshop in his garage. He was very excited about it.
I shared this perspective with Salim: Both the HR function of Salim’s company and his condo are blank slates, waiting for him to make them effective. Salim knew that the HR function needed an automated payroll system, an applicant tracking system, an employee development plan, and a performance management system (just to get started!). His workshop also needed enhancements, such as a workbench, table saw, and drill press.
We agreed that Salim would start building a robust HR department and that he would stop waiting for direction or asking for permission. He would spend money on well-researched and necessary services, processes, and systems.
When I checked in with Salim last week, he was not yet building any of the systems we had discussed. Instead, he had formed an ad hoc committee with the CFO, the CIO, and two members of the board to make recommendations to the CEO regarding the Coronavirus. In an absence of leadership, Salim had become a leader.
Even if you are new in a role, you are a leader.
Even if you don’t have a budget, you are a leader.
Even if you haven’t been given direction, you must be a leader.
When you are in an organization where leadership is lacking, step up and fill the void.
If you coach a youth sports team, send encouragement and stay connected to the kids. If you sing in a choir, set up a virtual practice. If you are an employee and you can see a way to help, step up!
If your organization is giving direction, follow it. In the absence of leadership, collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders and move forward. Everyone is a leader!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing new information every day in order to help you make the best possible decisions for your organization. If you want to be followed as a leader, lead.
When I was beginning my career, I supervised a woman named Kristin. Kristin worked at the front desk and was the first person visitors who came to our department met. Kristin was a brilliant editor and writer, but when guests entered, she barely looked up from her work. She didn’t greet them with a smile, sometimes she even grunted!
Her colleagues didn’t even know whether to say good morning or just walk by her desk.
Now in this new, virtual workplace we are experiencing, I am being cc’d on a lot of internal messages. Whether you are using Slack, email, or another virtual platform, a few of you are virtually “grunting”!
When employees are stressed, every interaction is magnified. And trust me, everyone is stressed! And everyone is juggling.
When employees are virtual, texts and emails can be interpreted as impersonal or even harsh. Think of each message you send as an opportunity to create more connection, camaraderie, and support. Ask how your employees and colleagues are doing, take time to read their answers, and respond with kindness.
When it’s appropriate, use this time to create social connections with employees and staff. My daughter Katie is home from college taking part in remote learning. When she logged in for her first online class, she just saw a dog on the screen with her professor’s voice in the background. That certainly brought humor and levity to the course! Feel free to use his same idea.
What interesting and workplace-appropriate ways can you start meetings?
Please let me know how you are doing!
There’s a fun meme on the internet predicting a spike in babies 9 months from now. Personally, I am predicting that there will be both increased loyalty and huge attrition in organizations 9 months from now.
Leaders, how you treat your employees RIGHT NOW will impact how they do their jobs for years, possibly decades to come.
When my friend Sally was sick for many years with cancer, her husband Chris sat by her side at every doctor’s appointment. He was there for her chemo treatments and its effects. His boss told him to do what he could at work, but she understood that Chris’ first priority was his wife’s care. After Sally passed away, I recommended that Chris take a much needed vacation. He said, “I can’t. I will be filling in for my colleagues and working every Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July for years to come. I owe it to them based on how they supported me. Now it’s my turn to help them with what they’re juggling.”
Leaders, managers, supervisors, bosses, whatever you are called, now is your time to shine. Show empathy and support.
It is simply impossible to care for young children or elderly parents AND work 8 hours. No amount of planning will allow your employees to function well on 3 hours of sleep, continuously. Be grateful and appreciative of the work your employees are performing virtually.
It’s Not Fair
Today in my city, municipal employees were mulching, yet the city’s senior center is closed. That means that the employees who can work are expected to work (perhaps with a hugely increased workload), and the employees whose jobs don’t allow them to work cannot. Is this fair? No. Let’s acknowledge that. There’s nothing fair about it. Is this how communities must respond? Yes. Our workplaces are communities and what we can and should expect is that each of our colleagues do as much as they safely can.
Some of my clients have an operating budget with money in reserves for one year. Others for only 6 weeks. Some companies are going to go out of business, and that is tragic. While your doors are open, assume your company is a lifeboat and everyone stays in. Remember that the morale you establish now will be your organization’s morale for years to come. Pay your core employees, and then try as hard as you can to find work for the rest. I know your organization might eventually run out of money, but when this is all over, you are still going to need to have a team and their morale will matter for years to come.
Assume the Best
It’s easy to make judgments. It’s even easier at times of stress to make accusations. Stop yourself and respectfully stop your friends. Trust that everyone is working to the very best of their abilities given the circumstances.
If you create a baby during this pandemic, that child will depend on you for at least 18 years. There will be joy and responsibility. Likewise the morale you create in the weeks and possibly months ahead will also be with you for years to come. When it comes to company culture, you are creating it whether you intend to or not. So, really focus on the type of culture you want to create.