As most of us will likely know the use of the word ‘unprecedented’ has been unprecedented in recent times. Whilst there is no specific playbook for what we are currently experiencing, as we start to adapt to the new way of working, one thing remains unchanged.

The fundamental priorities for business leaders must be to continue to invest in their teams, develop talent and understand that effective leadership is more crucial than ever before in this period of uncertainty.

I’ve learned a considerable amount over the last six months, and I’d like to share some of these learnings with you in the hope that it provides you with some helpful insights in managing your own teams and organisations.

Some learnings along the way

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Once the COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate and impact businesses everywhere including our own, my core focus was to ensure I could help my team navigate through the uncertainty and stay aligned with our business’s true north, which in LinkedIn’s case was to ensure we continued to support our customers and provide added value wherever possible. It was also essential to acknowledge that in certain instances, it was necessary to pivot from a coaching mentoring approach to leading with a more direct style. Team members needed guidance and reassurance on what was taking place within the company and what to communicate externally.

It was and certainly still is challenging to keep up when everything is moving at such a rapid pace, it has felt like the world has been taking a crash-course in doing all things digitally and virtually. The amount of information shared has at times been overwhelming, and understanding that many of our customers would be feeling this even more intensely – I was thankful that LinkedIn quickly acted and created a resource hub complete with supportive assets and guides to assist our customers and members.

LinkedIn learning courses on working from home, conducting effective virtual meetings, enhancing productivity in new environments, and raised awareness that health, family and friends are more important than ever before were tremendously helpful in supporting the team. I highly recommend checking out some of the free courses available on how Professionals can manage stress and build mindfulness practices into their work day

Healthy Culture

With everyone working remotely, it’s crucial for businesses to stay connected to maintain a healthy culture and morale. I scheduled a regular catch-up cadence with my team to ensure the priorities of the business were communicated effectively and understood, along with regular weekly updates. I worked with my management team on setting clear weekly goals that had a collective theme to ensure everyone felt included in striving towards a common goal, although it may sound simplistic – focusing on the fundamentals helped our team ensure their focus remained on our customers.

Another key moment for me was realising that as the situation continued to evolve, I had to adjust how my team would be able to work as we adapted to the ‘new normal’ – that included being as flexible as possible with the team as I could. Being compassionate, and acknowledging everyone has different personal needs and family circumstances. Standard ‘work times’ and availability were both impacted due to various commitments.

And as an individual who relies strongly on routine – it was a personal adjustment that I constantly had to be conscious of when communicating with my team.

As a leader, one of my strong passion points is wellness – I’m grateful that LinkedIn as a company places a high emphasis on this with their employees, providing virtual learning resources that the team could leverage to ensure their mental and physical wellness was maintained during a highly stressful time.

As a team, we opened ourselves to alternative methods and tools of communication outside of large virtual meetings, for example breaking into smaller effective sub-groups. Holding regular listening sessions with our customers and team members, proved an effective way of providing support but also keeping a pulse on what our team members and customers were experiencing.

It was also important to make sure our team members felt empowered to motivate and engage with each other during this time. One of our team members began to run a weekly virtual yoga session which proved a hit with his peers, gathering huge attendance resulting in a fun get together which did not revolve around work.

Pivot

One of the most important pivots we made as a team, was rethinking how we reward and recognise success. In sales organisations, whilst revenue is not the single measure of success it holds significant weighting when it comes to performance evaluation. In tough times, this can be hugely demotivating for those high performers who have a strong history of achieving results. When reviewing success and achievement, we considered focusing on and rewarding productivity outputs that demonstrated leadership. An example of this was when members of our customer team held virtual workshops for all of their clients on how to pivot from field sales to ‘selling from home’ which proved hugely valuable to clients adapting to the dynamic situation. We also engaged with partners like Miller Heiman Group and Microsoft to explore new ways of selling and adding value to a wider audience outside of the client base. It was an opportunity to collaborate with our partners so that in turn, others would benefit from the conversation.

Creating real customer value

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Empathy, both for our employees and our customers goes a long way to building trust and long-term relationships that will stand the test of time

When it comes to engaging with customers and partners, be sure the conversations are meaningful and with the understanding that there will be no one-size-fits-all strategy. The easy missteps to make are viewing things purely through a transactional lens when dealing with external partners and expecting business as usual practices in times of unprecedented disruption.

Ensure customer relationships are effectively managed by listening to customers’ needs and provide support, guidance, and offering flexibility (financial or operational) where possible to ensure business continuity. Assess the situation in its current state, and think about how you can help to support them to navigate the road ahead.

Managing the change curve

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As a leader during this period of disruption, one thing is certain; change is the new constant whilst we continue on this new pathway.

Yet, getting people to change can be challenging. Often, however, employees are more open to change when the impetus for change comes from outside the organisation. The coronavirus pandemic has acted as a catalyst for organisations to change in many ways – and hopefully for the better, in a way that improves collaboration, productivity and outputs.

Focus the team on prioritising what’s important in the short and medium-term, and over-communicate with people within the organisation so that everyone is aligned.

The Kubler Ross Change Curve is a tool that can be used to understand the emotional journey that individuals experience when dealing with change and transition. By understanding what stage an individual is on the change curve; you can adopt the correct leadership or coaching style to assist an individual’s transition from shock and denial to decision making and give them the appropriate support.

Be Inspirational and optimistic as opposed to positive

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Always place a huge premium on ensuring your team’s engagement and morale stays high and that you continue to invest in building a culture that is both inspirational and optimistic.

Simon Sinek – (motivational speaker and author of the book Start With Why) in a recent podcast discusses the importance of being optimistic as opposed to positive, a thought track that really resonated with me. He differentiates the two by defining positivity as looking at the world and thinking everything is good, which is not the case right now! Optimism, he likens to moving through a dark tunnel and seeing the light at the end, and whilst we may not know when we will hit the light – we have 100 per cent belief that as long as we keep moving forward we will get there.

As we move forward, we need to prepare for what our working and business lives will look like post-COVID 19. A recent article from Deloitte,  speaks to the need for business leaders to consider planning next steps around 3 key themes;

  1. The return to work,
  2. Need to understand and leverage the advancements they enacted during the crisis and
  3. Charting a new path forward. It also recommends we spend time on reflection in order to build frameworks that create long term value for individuals, teams, organisations, and their customers.

By leading with optimism and empathy; leaders can confidently chart a path that is prepared for both the good and bad days and by acknowledging there will be setbacks along the way.

As leaders we should work with our teams to build resilience, to navigate the complexities of change, and to optimistically embrace what lies ahead. The inspiration for me is to leverage opportunities with the unshakable belief that things will always get better.

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