Aisling Teillard of Tandem HR is smiling into the camera while standing outside.
Aisling Teillard. Image: Tandem HR

Rethinking our managerial practices for the new normal

26 May 2020

Tandem HR’s Aisling Teillard explains why leaders may need to consider a new managerial toolkit as we enter a new era of working.

Managing people has never been easy, but did it just get harder or easier?

study last year by Willis Towers Watson suggested that trust in leadership has never been higher, with 93pc of those surveyed trusting their leaders to respond to business challenges. A further 90pc of respondents believed their culture has improved and 83pc said their employee experience is better and engagement has gone up.

HR analyst Josh Bersin argues that Covid-19 is the best thing to happen to employee experience. Perhaps this global demonstration of humanity has outshone the adversity that organisations are facing, bringing out the best in all of us. However, if we scratch beneath the surface, we can see that job security is the top issue on employees’ minds and we often see rises in engagement during times of recession.

The stark reality is that employees have heightened fear of financial security and wellbeing. In a recent poll we conducted in Tandem, 73pc of participants at our live event said they were experiencing professional isolation.

Learning and development platforms are reporting a huge rise in usage and here in Tandem we’ve seen an enormous surge in users requesting feedback, coupled with a rise in demand for our 360 tool.

So, why do we all need to grow and develop at accelerated pace amid a pandemic? Is it linked to our uncertainty and insecurity about our jobs? Our need to be the best we can be so that we can survive the inevitable downsizing and restructuring that may occur in our near futures? Or do we just have more time to ourselves and want to invest in our own personal growth and development?

Whatever the answer, our attitudes and behaviours at work are changing at a rapid pace and we need to ready ourselves for what’s to come.

The cultural transformation that nobody planned

Covid-19 has changed the way we work and, with limited leadership direction, has transformed the culture of almost every organisation. We now work more autonomously, with greater levels of individual direction required. This style of working requires greater levels of empowerment and trust as the manager no longer has the visibility of what people are doing or when they are doing it.

Our management practices need to redirect toward the end result and the outcome of activities, without always having the same level of involvement in the effort to get there. While communication may have improved in many instances, the onslaught of Zoom calls and team interactions takes its toll and has the potential to become a drain on energy and time that could be spent more productively.

‘While Covid-19 will pass in time, arguably the way we work has transformed indefinitely’

As we navigate our way through this unchartered terrain, we need to consider what is really needed – and perhaps it’s an entirely fresh approach, a new managerial toolkit for a new era. While Covid-19 will pass in time, arguably the way we work has transformed indefinitely. Remote working, in some form, will feature in most organisations, becoming the new normal and facilitating employees to live more sustainable and healthier lives.

If we want to bring out the best in this situation, we need to adapt our practices to working anywhere and managing anywhere at any time.

Reimagining how we work

So, how can we reimagine that world? Balancing the reality that those coffee-corner moments are missed, those natural synergies that arise over casual conversation are no longer a safe bet as teams are dispersed. If we consider that reality, then how we allocate and manage work comes into sharp focus.

Our tools of the past won’t serve us well here, processes such as annual or quarterly assigning and reviewing of goals won’t be dynamic enough. We’ll need to move with continuous agility, facilitating goals to become more dynamic and interchangeable as we weave our way through this crisis.

We won’t necessarily have the opportunity to reassure our teams with a casual smile or a quick ‘great job’ after they’ve made a great point or contributed well. We’ll need new channels where feedback can happen anywhere and anytime.

Staying connected and keeping in touch was easy when we all sat in close proximity, but now needs to be carefully managed through structured one-to-ones that address all aspects of the employee’s development, wellbeing and performance. Our conversations will change because a quick ‘how are you?’ won’t really cut it if we are experiencing professional isolation or reduced connection.

The general morale of the organisation can no longer be picked up organically but will require a clear and structured approach through pulse surveys on a range of topics. Our duty of care to our employees has just increased exponentially and our processes will need to adapt rapidly.

Adapting to the new normal

So, how can managers and HR organisations adapt and navigate these new responsibilities? Structured attention to each of our ways of working will be key. All those moments we took for granted that occur naturally in the office need to be planned through structured toolkits that support new leadership practices. Feedback, check-ins, pulse surveys and learning and development require reshaping with new content, new practices and new ways to support the organisation.

Managing people has always been a tough job, one that doesn’t come naturally to most. There’s a steep learning curve for new managers to find their way and with the best learning and development practices, it still takes time to do it effectively with ease. Arguably, most great managers never stop learning new techniques. Now, more than ever, our managers need greater levels of structure and support to manage in ways that will support our new environment.

HR has been trying to bring these new ways of working forward for many years. Empowering your teams, coaching practices to drive performance through people, and accelerating individual growth and development have long been the focus for many a HR organisation. The appetite is now there to embed these practices, the humanity of our leaders has shone through and we have the opportunity sustain it, through a structured approach, to reach the tipping point of the new normal.

Understanding what makes for a great check-in or one-to-one conversation, how to deliver feedback remotely and driving greater levels of self-awareness while building confidence in your people may be challenging to many managers faced with remote scenarios. Consistency will be the key to ensuring managers deliver the experience to your organisation that allows your people to thrive.

Organisations have found their humanity and engagement is up. Now is the time to ensure that’s not a short-lived phenomenon, but that we have a way forward and a clear toolkit that sustains it.

By Aisling Teillard

Aisling Teillard is CEO and founder of Tandem HR, an NDRC-backed leadership, performance management and feedback tool with clients across Europe, the US, Canada and South America.

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