I had the privilege of guiding the discussion at a leadership forum recently, and the issue that popped up most frequently was how to lead with courage (and grace) in finding a new rhythm with a hybrid working model. COVID-19 has shown us a new way of working and thinking about how organisations work. Indeed, we have seen the forming of a truly new paradigm. However, from the range of viewpoints and the intensity of the discussion, it is clear to me that we are now storming our way through this, and level heads are required to find solutions that work from a suitably broad perspective.
Almost every leader in the forum was having to wrestle with forging a new path in this space, and this is a complex, layered, and highly divisive issue. It was interesting to hear that the fragmentation of ideas was not along the linear demographics of age, race, or gender. It was described as a “shotgun spray” of views with no clear pattern. So, my reflections as a performance practitioner have been to explore how we can support leaders in navigating this hot topic that doesn’t obey many of the waypoints that are normally good anchors on challenging topics: our values, our vision, our strategy, our brand, our culture, our way.
We have learned that you can uphold company values while working remotely. We have learned that we can all follow a vision and a strategy in both work scenarios. Our brand can be communicated consistently. However, culture, which is a living element of the organisation, is appearing to be the point where some shift is occurring, as in the way we do things “our way.” Seeing and doing things “our way” was always much easier when we had a common place and manner to model them in.
So, how does one gather, digest, and design a hybrid way of working that enhances all of these elements, and also respects the individual and appreciates the way the world has changed? In the forum, I offered that the group should explore the issue through three windows:
As a leader, by nature, you need to lead by making decisions. So, try asking yourself what the most appropriate way to handle the matter would be, that you can steer toward with an open mind, committed heart, and a clear conscience that you are upholding your duty to the business. Remember, that despite wanting to please all, the vessel needs to be sound and stable for any of the sailors to be able to come along for the voyage. The show must go on!
Consider what’s the most important to your organisation right now, and how you feel those outcomes will be best tackled. The norms have been reset, so do not feel pressured to set things in stone for the long term—this is a dynamic situation and will require regular monitoring and review. Give yourself the opportunity to test and refine toward a better fit for your unique organisational needs. Lean into the progressive side of your responsibility to the organisation and get a sense of what blend makes you feel confident that you are indeed holding up your end of the bargain.
Having taken the necessary view toward addressing your duty to the successful functioning of the business, counterbalance it with a helping of humanity. Recognise the needs of the humans, not individually, but as a living group. Let go of pleasing everyone. Get a feel for the facets that a good portion of the community value and where consensus can be reasonably sought. Invest the time in hearing those views. Create opportunities for all players to be able to connect within and also outside of their reporting lines.
Policy-making for the topic will be a tough exercise because of the unique personal perspectives. At worst, make sure you have given your people the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged. Leaders do not have to acquiesce to demands or opinions, but listening and acknowledging with care will generate mutual respect and a feeling that consultative decisions are being reached.
The most interesting ingredient for me is being committed to pursuing the potential for benefit of the individual and the organisation. Inspiring leaders are able to envision what the organisation could become, but also give real focus to trying to realise the potential of the talent they have assembled. I witnessed a leader this week, saying to his team member, “I will not let you down by giving you feedback that does not challenge you to keep improving yourself.” This was delivered with a real seriousness and sense of partnership that made it powerful. A healthy appetite for pursuing potential, and getting buy-in from the broader organisation for it, can help people cut across some of their fixed viewpoints.
So, in summary, if you need to lead on this topic, put your unique organisational or team circumstances through the filter and see if it helps you get some waypoints to form a really robust and carefully considered set of solutions. As illustrated in this powerful leadership insight from Richie McCaw, the most successful international rugby captain of all time: he felt he only started to harness his leadership potential as a captain when he realised that leaders don’t always have to have the answers, but their role is rather to draw in views from trusted and valued stakeholders and then ensure a good decision is derived from what is put on the table. So, gather inputs and have the discipline to consult as wide as you think is appropriate, use the three-part filter above, and give yourself the room to make good decisions that allow the organisation to keep moving forward in the current circumstances.