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Creating Connections: Leading Through Troubled Times


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Fostering employee connectivity, especially with so many people working from home today and worried about when — or if — they’ll be returning to the office anytime soon, is no doubt on the minds of many CEOs. But as Adam Grant, an organizational professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, recently shared, they often don’t get it right.
CEOs often make the mistake of feeling like they possess all the answers, which means they sometimes have to “quickly backtrack” or seem “out of touch,” said Grant, speaking earlier this month during an event that Facebook held for organizations using its Workplace platform for employee connectivity. Executives must communicate with confidence and humility, and readily acknowledge what they don’t know. They need to say, “ ‘Look, we’ve never been through a pandemic before, and have no idea how long this is going to last or disrupt business, but I'm confident that we can navigate it in such a way that will be as strong as possible, and here's the way that I'm planning to go about that,’ ” he said.
But keeping people motivated and feeling positive about their work experience during this trying time can be a challenge, Grant added. He reminded attendees that everybody — company leaders, managers, and team members — must treat each other with dignity and compassion and that leaders must communicate that they value their people as human beings.
One problem with WFH is that people feel pressured to be in constant communication, engaged in dialog regularly, he said. But this can be detrimental. “What we actually need is time to do individual productive work, and then separate time to collaborate,” Grant said.
Between pandemic-related downsizing and WFH burnout, managers will have to do their best to generate positive experiences for employees. You don’t want to lose people who your organization relies on, in meaningful ways, nor do you want to “destroy the morale of people you keep, who are riddled with survivor guilt and anxiety.”
Sometimes, creating the best employee experience might not necessarily be in a manager’s favor. As Grant explained, he sees the difference between good managers and great managers is that the good ones champion departmental development and career opportunities for their people, while great ones champion any development and career opportunity — even if it means losing their employees to another organization, internal or external.
As companies look to re-emerge and return to business as usual, he advises them to try something new. For example, HR should encourage managers to conduct exit-like interviews for employees on their teams. Questions might include: Why are you here? What are your career goals? Are there skills you want to use or master? “It's such an easy way both for managers to show people their valued [from] day one, and also then to customize their jobs to make them as motivating as possible.”
Going forward, this might be a chance for the whole organization to keep evolving and improving the culture.