Leading Change in the New World of Work
The job market today looks drastically different from what it did at the beginning of 2020. From those who are working overtime to save their companies to those who are upskilling to make a career change or job searching daily, people are trying to recover from the COVID-19 crisis as a community.
The effects of the pandemic on the workplace and how we act as leaders are profound and our approach to work will never be the same. We’ve already learned so much and adapted to this “new normal” in a relatively short period of time.
Psychological Safety is Key
Investing in the psychological and physical safety of our team members is now a must and a top priority for all employers. We now know that virtual or remote work is not as horrible as many once thought—in some ways, it can actually be better. When used in moderation, it can be exceptional. But most of us also crave structure that remote work can lack, and we can at times feel lost without it.
Our company was forced to consider our daily rituals and routines and the impact they have on our mental health because a company can’t operate well unless people feel safe. Many employers and people managers started to put psychological (and physical) safety first during the pandemic, when previously, we mostly just talked about it.
We now also view productivity in a different light. Many of us are processing the crisis as if we were undergoing trauma. We felt heightened emotions of fear, shock and anxiety, as well as concern for our loved ones, teams and companies.
From experience and studies, we know that people going through trauma don’t usually bring their full, most productive selves to work. What used to be considered “full or peak productivity” from an employee suddenly felt like 80 per cent at best.
That’s an enormous difference and it leaves palpable gaps in our workflows.
When employers were asking their teams to do more with less, employees felt the pressure to work harder and longer while trying to maintain their mental health and wellness. In our new modern workplace, the most successful teams have structured days and weeks and high accountability across the organization. The most productive teams over-communicate efficiently and keep engaged through a feeling of strong culture and connectivity.
The Evolution of HR’s Role
HR leaders continue to move from the once-administrative role they traditionally owned and are proving through the pandemic that they are vital to an organization’s success. They have found themselves responsible for reconfiguring companies’ workflows and processes, looking at what could be automated or made more efficient, identifying who could be re-skilled and used in a different capacity and leading strong internal communications. Sure, in a downsizing situation, they still made sure t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted, but they took more of a human-centred approach more than ever before as companies thought about their team members’ health, well-being and income. HR leaders continue to focus on employees’ well-being so they can continue to thrive and move the company forward.
Company executives, owners and leaders finally understand what the big deal is with vision and mission, the north star and values. Remember the old good-to-great analogy? Get the right people on the bus in the right seats, then if it pivots slightly your team will pivot with you. During the crisis, they quickly realized that they didn’t want to be on the bus with anyone who wasn’t aligned 100 per cent with the values, vision and mission of the company. For companies to survive and even thrive through adversity, they need and want a team that is “all in” and ready to batten the hatches. Companies steeled themselves for the storm of this pandemic and now need loyalty to the cause and the mission.
At Beacon HR, we have always struggled with our vision statement. How could we possibly boil down our core motivators and what gets us out of bed in the morning to one phrase or sentence? Little did I know, all it would take is a little adversity to bring it to life. We are the “Beacon of Light,” and we are so incredibly proud to “inspire better, bolder, brighter workplaces” every day.
‘Change’ In 2020
During this pandemic, companies that were downsizing needed buy-in from employees on temporary layoffs, salary reductions or going from full time to part time. Any misalignment in values was deeply felt here too and each surviving team member became a “key” employee. Now, each team member, more than ever, is expected to be a leader, no matter their level of expertise, role or experience. In this way, we may have flattened the hierarchy forever.
Many leaders have had to take several steps back. Where they once had a team of 50, they may now have a team of 10. They’ve taken back some of the tasks they used to do, before COVID-19 and before they grew and scaled, and are now outsourcing and delegating less. For many, this has meant being more hands-on and going back to their craft, back to basics, likely something they are incredibly passionate about and proud of, but skills they may be a little rusty at.
In response to COVID-19, we pivoted a lot at first; we decided to become experts on government relief options, counselled many companies through the first few challenging weeks and brainstormed options and ideas in a highly collaborative way. We loved helping others but later decided to acknowledge our limits and lean more heavily on accountants and employment lawyers for their expert-level advice. We created new service offerings under our HR umbrella almost immediately. Where in the past we’d customized solutions based on individual client needs, we built out frameworks, workflows and consistent processes in how we’d approach a particular set of needs or problems to solve. We readied ourselves for scale because we know that this pain is temporary and there are still opportunities to be had. Then, we brought it all back to our core purpose.
Maintaining A Higher Standard
When I started Beacon HR, after eight years in talent acquisition, I was driven by the love of my craft and a desire to design the life I had always dreamed about. I had a better, more holistic approach to offer, and wanted more flexibility and autonomy in how I delivered it. I wanted to provide assistance and have more fun while doing it (I know, so very millennial of me, right?). But, even though I am considered an “old” millennial, I’m a product of my “work ethic is everything” engineer father and my “mind over matter” positive-thinking and relationship-building-master mother. I come from a family of strong women, small business owners and a disproportionate number of teachers, dentists and mining industry folks.
Creating my very own company was so exciting. In the beginning, it was all about dreaming big, building trust and credibility, and giving away a lot for free. We grew fairly organically, through word of mouth and by keeping ourselves top of mind—going to events, having coffees and engaging with people on LinkedIn and through other social channels. Our small team consistently delivered awesome results and we were growing. Then, COVID-19 hit and it really brought us back to basics—dreaming big, building trust and credibility, and giving away a lot for free. We doubled down on our unique recruitment approach (we don’t believe a candidate’s salary should be tied to a recruiter’s compensation). We refined and tiered out our employer branding and employee engagement services so we could help companies at any stage of financial security and growth. We built high-value-added workshops around topics we know inside and out. Everything we did to pivot had to align with my core purpose and the type of company I wanted to build. It had to fill short-term gaps and set us up for future success.
As we continue to lead through uncertain times, our humanity, generosity and humility will set the standard for the new normal and will create a lasting legacy for those who made their way through this storm and came out on the other side.
Nicole Davidson is the Founder and CEO of Beacon HR. She’s not your neighbourhood HR person. She’s an entrepreneur at heart, disruptive by nature, and out to do HR in an authentic and revolutionary way.
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