An increasing number of organizations are beginning to plan their post-COVID workplace strategy. Leaders are drafting and executing the operational steps for returning to in-office work. But they are also navigating discussions about a new hybrid environment that would include a mix of both remote and in-office employees. Leading is difficult enough. But leadership post COVID-19 in this new hybrid model will place a premium on leadership and present challenges with competing priorities from an increasingly dispersed workforce. Here are some suggestions to ensure workplace transitions are successful and your post-pandemic leadership creates the right results from employees.
Firstly, leaders must accept that their primary role is to develop and lead their direct reports. That will continue to be true in the post-COVID workplace. If you are a leader, leading is not something you do in addition to the job; it is the job! If you’re not going to develop your team, increasing their capacity for more complex work and creating succession readiness, who will? And given the challenges of returning to an office environment, as well as working as a hybrid team, placing due focus on effective leading and development is critical for leadership post COVID-19.
Secondly, there is nothing soft about the skills required to lead effectively. Anyone who continues to divide leading into the “hard” functional skills and “soft” people skills has never managed anyone successfully in their lives. Consider where most of your challenges reside today. What occupies most of your time and creates most of your headaches as a leader? I’m betting people management is at the top of the list. Give leading the respect it rightly deserves.
Thirdly, be really good at the fundamentals: ensure team priorities are well aligned to the key strategic goals of the organization. Effective post-pandemic leadership ensures that employees work on tasks that the organization has identified as critical. Employees can be forgiven if their tasks have changed radically over the past twelve months—perhaps several times? Creating clarity around their work responsibilities is essential to creating the right outcomes and constitutes one of the most fundamental roles you play as a leader. Don’ leave it up to your employees to figure out company strategy or how to translate that strategy into the daily work tasks they’re responsible for performing. That’s your job.
Further, create a clear expectation of accountability for goals. Accountability is extremely important when employees are remote and visibility into their daily tasks is less than translucent. Additionally, focus attention on coaching and developing your team members: establish routine one-on-one coaching sessions with each direct report. These sessions will help you create space to accommodate individual challenges, address personal anxieties and generate action plans to address issues that arise in the post-COVID workplace.
Lastly, take ownership for selecting and developing talent—or for “de-selecting” and removing team members when their performance warrants. Just like you did pre-pandemic, post-pandemic leadership requires you to build and guide a successful team: that includes ownership for selection, ownership for development and, sometimes painfully, ownership for terminating employees who fail to perform.
The landscape for leadership post COVID-19 has irreparably changed: a dramatic shift for how organizations operate, and leaders lead. But the pandemic has not changed the responsibility leaders have to their employees, nor to the organizations that have placed their trust in—and have empowered—them to act. Make leading your primary job as you work to transition employees back to working on-site and striking a balance with remote employee contributions. The future of the organization is riding on your success.