Leaders today are faced with a conundrum: our playbooks don’t have chapters titled “Global Pandemic Shuts Down World Economies.” We’re flying blind, with no relevant historical precedent to guide us as we plan the return to the new normal and continue to adjust and adapt to the shifting terrain beneath us.
So how do we make sound, informed decisions in such an exceptional moment in time? Where do we find the data, and the insights it can provide us?
What are you not seeing in your business?
Fact is, a treasure trove of data and insights is at your fingertips. The challenge many have is in recognizing that information, because it may not look like the data you used prior to the pandemic, and it doesn’t live within your data store.
First, let’s revisit the quote at the top of the page – your eyes see and your ears hear what your brain is looking for – and let’s challenge ourselves on that score.
Watch the video below. It’s only 30 seconds.
Was your brain looking for all the variables? If you’re like most people, the answer is “probably not.” Therein is the challenge for leaders: seeing the value, patterns and variables in the data that you are NOT looking for.
Ask the people who do know
As a business grows, it’s impossible for leaders to understand all that’s going on. This can be humbling and uncomfortable, especially for those who have shepherded a business from its wobbly early stages into growth and expansion. The good news is that there are plenty of people who do in fact have the perspective you as a leader may be lacking – namely, your employees.
Over the last several months, your employees have been in the trenches, adapting and innovating, helping customers, and finding ways to get things done despite – drastic changes to their working environment and situations at home. They are a veritable treasure trove of insights on operating in a time of chaos, change and uncertainty.
They can tell you what it is and isn’t working for them, and your customers too. With this information, you can find context and even a little certainty in which you can root your future planning.
There are a host of ways you can acquire this information, but the common denominator is this – you have to gather employee feedback. Initiate a series round table meetings, host town halls, or, for the swiftest results, field a survey of your employees.
Questions to ask include:
- How they are feeling about the business and its future, as well as their own?
- What is working for them right now in this moment – and what is continuing to challenge them?
- What should the business start, stop and continue doing in order to best serve customers and secure its future?
Survey your team: free & no strings attached
Engagement Multiplier is offering free access to our Benchmark Assessment employee engagement survey, along with a special question set designed to help business leaders get the insights they need to plan a successful return to normal operations. Learn about the free offer.
The corollary: don’t ignore what the data is telling you
Once you’ve gathered the data and assessed it, the next step requires some bravery and authenticity on your part. You have to act, not according to the way things used to be, but in accordance with the way they are now. Over the last three months, your employees expectations have changed. Understanding those, and acting within that context, will go a long way toward maintaining strong and sustainable employee engagement and performance.
Here’s a real-world example of how leaders can potentially injure their businesses by ignoring the data.
Asking, but not acting
Earlier this week, I spoke to a friend this week who, like the rest of us, has been leading her team from home. She converted a a spare room into a home office, and is loving her new lifestyle.
“I never want to leave,” she told me.
She’s not alone. Her team loves working remotely, too. The company recently conducted an employee engagement survey, and the result showed her team’s engagement was at an all-time high.
It turns out her team isn’t an exception. The metrics this business uses to measure service levels and success have never been better, and sales are strong. The work hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic, but how and where people are working has. Working from home is clearly working for these teams. And yet, my friend told me, the president is planning on bringing everybody back to the office, just as things used to be before the pandemic, and is making it mandatory.
In this case, the leader has the data – the employee engagement numbers and the business KPIs are clear. And yet, according to my friend, getting “back to normal” is a priority. The question I have, and I’m sure those employees are going to have, is WHY.
What would you do?
Reflect on the concerns that came into your mind as you read this little story, and think about what you would do, if you were at the helm of this business.
Here’s my own take: obviously, there may be an underlying business reason for the focus on “getting back to normal” operations that’s not evident to my friend, however, it doesn’t take too much imagination to foresee how a mandatory return to the office is going to sit with employees, and potentially impact the company and its customers.
At the very least, leadership will have to really execute on the communications around the decision, if it comes to fruition, to take away a benefit that is enjoyed by so many and from which the company is benefiting from in terms of both performance and employee engagement.
For many, the world has changed, and uncertainty about the economy, a second wave of the pandemic, and ongoing questions about schools and child care are still clear and present concerns for many people. Smart leaders who tap their employees for their feedback will be much better prepared to make decisions that feel right to their employees, and position the company not for a return to the way things used to be, but instead to thrive in the new normal.