Unlock your team’s potential during a lockdown

Lockdown

I am frequently faced with the situation where an employer calls me to provide coaching and training to their staff members because ‘staff morale is low’ or ‘we have a problem with this person’ or ‘I have an executive who has lost their way’. While I am happy to help, it becomes very difficult to ‘fix’ something that is already ‘broken’ with the likelihood being that the patchwork we do together will, along the way, still leak water under stress.

Business continuity is one of those things we only tend to consider when we are obliged to provide a plan to meet certain financing criteria, when water starts to leak, or as we have collectively come to realise …. a global pandemic hits our shores. As responsible leaders, we need to realise that business continuity needs to be an inherent part of our overall strategy both in good and bad times.

What happens if I get hit by a bus or I become bedridden?

What happens to my business, my employees, my customers?

Who is going to take over running the show?

How far can we go on like this?

In this article I will discuss some of the thoughts we have on building a strong continuity culture within your organisation that will determine the resilience of your business, your workforce and the loyalty of your customers to your brand and what you stand for!

In the current situation where governments are locking down nations and companies are resorting to work-from-home practices, how do we ensure that our employees remain assured that ‘it is business as usual’ and we maintain our value proposition promised to our clients.

In my view, the essence of any business lies in the health of its people, so a business continuity plan that does not have the wellness of our employees at its core will serve as well as a tissue paper in a rainstorm.

Covid-19 has exposed many a ‘tissue-paper’ approach to business continuity and while for many this could mean doom and gloom, it can well be a great opportunity to unlock your team’s potential during an actual lockdown.

If it feels different for you, it probably feels different for your employees

Leadership

Empathy is not always the first quality one ascribes to a business leader, however it is one of the most sought and respected qualities by employees when talking about their team leaders. Certainty in times of uncertainty comes from the top. Businesses need to ensure that employees trust what is being done is in the best interest of the company and their jobs; working from home may lead to further uncertainty due to being isolated, working to our own devises, without guidance or leadership. A remote or virtual working environment therefore needs to, as much as possible, recreate the feeling of safety a physical working space provided through the extension of and heightening of the ‘cohort experience’ our people are used to. Leaders need to make their presence felt in a positive and reassuring manner.

Remote Leadership can allow for much greater creativity and innovation in a space that is at times very stringent and limited. Leaders need to create Nudges, developed by Nobel prize winning economist Richard Thaler, to help keep the company ethos top of mind, remain alert and stay in tune with what is expected out of us. The Harvard Business Review calls these nudges BEANs; a series of Behaviour Enablers, Artifacts and Nudges that ensure the daily integration of purposely designed and crafted iterations of corporate culture reminders.

DBS Bank of Singapore introduced their own version of Nudges in 2009 when the acronym began to stand for “Damn Bloody Slow” rather than Development Bank of Singapore! At DBS they called their BEAN MoJo focussing on improving meeting efficiency which ended up saving an estimated 500,000 employee hours, doubling effectiveness of outcomes and equal voice of participants. In 10 years DBS went from a Damn Bloody Slow Bank to World’s Best Bank, thanks, in part, to their magical BEANs!

At Spotify they introduced a Fail Wall to eliminate fear of failure and reinforce learning from mistakes; at Adobe they introduced a Kickbox to encourage experimentation and simplify innovation. In a time where employees need to feel reassured, Leaders have a great opportunity to plant their own magical BEANs and allow all to contribute to their growth.

Some options include: Create learning boards which can be populated by staff to share their experiences and induce live-learning. Create a Success Board whereby achievements are showcased more visibly, and create leader-boards for team projects that may help build general awareness of what the respective departments are doing.

Social Connections

Humans are in general social beings and therefore the lack of social contact is perceived by our primitive brain as a threat to our survival. This triggers fear, doubt, sadness, anxiety and a myriad of other thoughts which are all negatively affecting our perception of the world, our performance and our motivations.

The need of social relations is critical for the release of serotonin in our system which is the ‘bonding’ agent which stimulates our feeling of belonging and therefore dissipates that sense of isolation that may be triggered through working from remote locations. 

Technology has facilitated the reduction of this isolation and when forced into ‘long-distance relationships’ we need to reinforce our presence online. There is no need for expensive set-ups and many desk-top and mobile apps already provide for video chatting, group video calls and community gatherings, such as Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom, Slack, Asana, Trello, Teams, Etcetera.

Maintaining regular, open communication ensures expectations are constantly clear, reassuring support through positive messages of encouragement, and even replicating as much as possible some of the social time spent at work, remotely. This can be done by means of hosting a virtual lunch or coffee; an online round of cards, or other games.

There is immense value in gamifying remote working as it helps keep morale high, practice and uncover new skill sets, enhance creativity, allow free flowing, constructive and non-threatening conversations based on clear communication, identify and focus on objectives, while building motivation through stronger bonds between colleagues (see some game suggestions and their respective benefits here).

As you may have noticed I made no reference to Social Media. I am aware that the whole reason behind the creation of social media was to connect virtually, there is enough research that state social media can be a fundamental detractor from actually building social connections. Especially in a time of crisis, social media plays an important part in an individual’s motivational cycle that needs to be vigilated attentively.

Mindset

This brings me on to the next point for consideration of our remote working strategy.

When Carol Dweck published her book on Mindset it revealed the human attitude towards change, failure, success and motivation (among many other things). The terms fixed and growth mindset emanated from her studies on the capability to see opportunity rather than difficulty in challenging circumstances. More so, what advances in neuroscience started to show is that those adopting a more challenge-oriented mindset were able to change our mind’s neural growth by the actions we take, the questions we ask, the conversations we have, the strategies we adopt.

What emanated from these studies is that a link between the mindset and achievement was increasingly evident; In turn this affected the individual motivation to grow intellectually, emotionally, physically. Study amongst children who were told they are intelligent resulted in the development of a fixed mindset … “I know it all”. In the other hand those children who were told that hard work and effort pays off, developed a much more growth or learning mindset.

During the Covid-19 uncertainty and any other trying situation, the mindset needs to be one that understands the value of continuity and growth opportunity from the unknown. Lockdown (in a current viral pandemic context) does not need to mean a mental breakdown. The opportunity we all have as individuals, teams and leaders to unlock our mental potential is only curbed by our capability to be creative.

I am the first to relish remote or work-from-home days. I can stick to my pyjamas and dressing gown, unless I have any video-conference calls, virtual coaching or group training sessions to conduct, in which case I may just keep my pj bottoms and slippers on. With limited access to people I can hone -in on skills development and digging into those parts of our services that require dedicated focus and attention to detail. The limited distractions allow us to concentrate and achieve results with less effort and better end results.

We have the opportunity to manage ourselves more effectively irrespective of our environment. For those who prefer starting work later they can do so and it allows for prioritisation based on our own performance enablers; you can decorate as you please and crank up the volume of the record player, TV or Radio without annoying colleagues.

If on the other hand you are more of a creature of habit then go through the same steps you would if you were going to the office. Get dressed, brush your teeth and prime yourself for another day of awesome service delivery. Think of it as being your own boss on a bit more of a permanent basis. Ensure your service delivery is top notch because you are what your deliver. Your personal brand relies solely on your ambition to ensure you do not flounder on your service promise. If you are a team member and rely on the collective effort to achieve your results, then BE the supporting colleague, leader or coach you would want your colleagues to be for you.

Your mindset will allow you to level-up your performance in any situation.

Mindfulness

I have to admit that mindfulness was a bit of a misnomer to me until the not so distant past. I never really understood what it meant, how to go about it or what the value was. However, my curiosity or rather, my growth mindset, got the better of me and I ventured into the realm of mindfulness and took an online course.

After having gone through half I still didn’t feel like I had figured any of the above out and was about to give up. But the stubborn part of my mindset said no so I went on.

40 hours later I can reveal I get it. I cannot say I am an expert practitioner, but I get it and I can definitely see how being mindful can add considerable value to our lives, especially hen in terse situations.

We lead a very fast paced life, with expectations for delivery on all fronts filling our mental space to the brim without opportunity to think, process how this is actually affecting us. So, I took an active stance to allocate some mindfulness space during the course of every day to carry out a bit of a body check and see how I REALLY am inside; what was my body and my mind telling me. It started to allow me to think clearer and even reach out to my network in order to address some of the things I was going through.

One of the biggest things I learnt during this process was that being mindful may start as an individual self-awareness exercise but needs to be coupled with the support of your trusted network.

Working remotely does not mean you are alone. It means you may not be able to walk into your boss’ office for a chat, but it means you need to be more vocal of the support you require because we may not be able to see how you are feeling.

Wellbeing

Finally, our remote work journey may be an extended one so remember that we have to ensure our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing at all times.

Going deeper into the various aspects of mindfulness, we need to be self-aware of our state of mind. Listen to what our body, our thoughts and our feelings are telling us and seek to rectify them as soon as possible.

A tip in this regard is to carry out a daily E-IQ health check and consider:

(a) how am I feeling today? Am I sad, demotivated, upset, angry, happy? What is my state of mind?

(b) what is my motivation today? Do I feel I am struggling to understand why I should be doing this task? What do I need to get myself going?

(c) What do I need to do to change the way I am feeling? What can I do to change my state of mind?

(d) Can I understand where this feeling is coming from? Is it dependent on myself or on someone else’s behaviour/emotion? What can I do to understand the situation better?

(e) How can I communicate more effectively what I am feeling? How can I share my thoughts on what needs to be done without hurting another person? Who can I go to for help?

Take the time to do some exercise. A healthy body = a healthy mind = a healthy heart. If you need additional motivation, organise a group virtual workout and connect your game consoles, web cams and partake in a 15 minute virtucise routine. You could also use the opportunity – if you are working from home – to get active in the house and take regular mini breaks to get many of those pending things done once and for all. It could also earn you brownie points with those sharing your home.

Positivity

During these times of uncertainty, priority lies on ensuring the health and safety of our family, colleagues and friends. As responsible leaders, we have a moral duty to take the tough decisions that will safeguard as much as we can the livelihoods of our people, the integrity of our social fabric and the continuity of our business.

We need to be the catalysts and communicators of positivity in times of, well, not so much positivity. Grasp the opportunity to build the potential in testing your business continuity plans and take the necessary remedial action to make it weatherproof next time round.

We of course need to be mindful that we cannot cater for ALL eventualities. Worrying about the unknown will only create further uncertainty within our teams and limit the agility of our responses to new developments.

Before I wrap-up, an obligatory word of mention and thanks goes to our healthcare services and all those who keep it running diligently, with great passion and commitment. Let us respect all healthcare service workers by being as considerate in our relationships with them as we are with our dearest.

At UP Ltd we are happy to assist anyone who is finding these unprecedented circumstances particularly challenging by dropping us a note on [email protected] and we will continue to provide our services to all our clientele via virtual platforms where needed.

 

Julian Azzopardi

Julian is CEO of UP Limited, a boutique business and performance coaching service provider and is also Chair of Vistage Malta’s Key Executive Group. Julian is an undergraduate in International Relations and holds a Cum Laude Master’s degree in Socio-Economic Development. He is passionate about education, personal development, volunteering, food, sports and reading. Julian may be frequently found facilitating workshops, giving keynote speeches, volunteering or browsing record shops, wine and whisky fairs or cooking up a storm in his kitchen.

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