November 23, 2020
Glassdoor released a list highlighting the 20 companies with the highest-rated work-life balance during Covid-19. This list heavily reflected what I saw in my research of organizations dealing with this crisis over the past year: that the ratio of personal and organizational needs had to shift.
Recently, we assessed 1,276 leaders during the pandemic to understand what behaviors were more critical during this crisis. The most important skill leaders needed to be successful was “Balancing results with individual needs.” Pre-pandemic, based on research conducted at Zenger Folkman, we believed that the correct balance was 60% results, 40% individual needs. The data now indicates the desired pandemic balance needs to be 40% results, 60% individual needs. Many employees are anxious, stressed, and unsure about their future. They need a leader who cares about them.
While this issue seems straight forward, most leaders assumed that shifting their attitude (e.g., caring more about people than results) was all they needed to do. Most of the time, just a change in leaders’ attitudes did not convince direct reports that the leader cared more about them. What direct reports needed were specific actions that reinforced that their manager cared about them. We researched data from over 110,000 leaders to identify the eight specific behaviors that were the most effective at providing evidence that their manager truly cared. While shifting an attitude is a good start, engaging in the following behaviors was key to proving that a leader cared.
1. Staying in touch with issues and concerns of individuals. Frequently, managers are the last person to know that a team member is experiencing a personal crisis. Most direct reports are hesitant to share trouble or concerns independently, without an invitation from their leader. Leaders need to ask and be open to listening when individual team members share. Leaders need to create the right environment where team members are more likely to be available. Typically, this is a one-on-one discussion.
2. Trust. Even though trust is often hard to define, people know it when they see it. We have found amazing consistency around those leaders who are trusted and those who are not trusted. If you are not trusted, then team members will be very hesitant about sharing their concerns. Trust is built by improving personal relationships, consistency (doing what I say I will do), expertise, and good judgment.
3. Cooperation between all team members. As many office workers moved to work from home, collaboration in many organizations decreased. Conflicts came up that were not there before because people were not talking and coordinating with each other. The most negative item we found in the pandemic data focused on resolving conflict within the team. Each team member needs to take the initiative to reach out and check-in with others. Managers need to be aware of conflicts and get them resolved quickly.
4. Creating an inclusive climate where differences are appreciated. Many people want consistency where everyone agrees and there are few differences of opinion, but with increased diversity comes from different perspectives. These different perspectives can help organizations become more successful if they are valued and appreciated.
5. Team members give each other honest feedback in a helpful way. Teams that provide each other with more positive feedback create an environment where people can thrive. Occasional suggestions for improvement can also be given when every team member feels valued.
6. Growth and development for everyone is the goal. People naturally want to grow and develop new skills. Having an approach that encourages others to develop their skills communicates that you have others’ best interests at heart.
7. Creating a culture where everyone walks their talk. When leaders are role models for how they want others to behave, they create a culture of consistency across the organization. Asking others to do something that you are not willing to do yourself is divisive for the team.
8. Everyone asks for feedback on what they can do to improve. When people ask for feedback, they are more likely to accept feedback from others. As leaders are role models for asking for feedback, their performance improves, but they also create a culture where everyone is more open and willing to listen and learn from other team members.
In my research, I discovered that by just engaging in and improving a few of these specific behaviors, the perception of your concern for others would significantly increase. But be aware that doing any one of these things very poorly can also have a damaging impact on how others view you. Consider your ratio of balancing the needs of your team members and the organization. Where do you stand? Make a choice today that helps you increase your awareness and concern for those who work around you.
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