What Employees Don’t Need from you in this Moment

We care about our employees. And from that place, we regularly offer advice on what they can do to deal with the difficulty of this moment.

Here are some things I have heard lately:

  • Tough through it. Tough times won’t last.
  • Find a way to focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.
  • Just be happy because it could be worse.
  • Change your attitude; stop being so negative.
  • You have to have stamina and grit or every tough situation will take you down.
  • Just get back up and keep going. That’s what successful people do.

To be honest, these are incredibly unhelpful.

In most cases, your employees are aware of all of this “wisdom.” They know WHAT they should do, the challenge is they don’t know HOW to do it, especially in today’s world. That is really what they want and need from you: guidance to navigate the challenging situation we’re all in that no one could have predicted.

So instead of telling them what to do, help them learn how to do it. Here are three ways to shift from the WHAT to the HOW.

  1. Be present. Most of us don’t know how to be in this moment because we don’t really know our abilities – the things that are part of us to help us in this exact moment. To help employees learn to tune in to themselves, offer some self-awareness training. Engage a coach to lead them through developing an inventory of abilities or use an online assessment. Make time to debrief the results and help employees see HOW to use their abilities to deal with today’s tough times. Someone who is organized, for example, can use that ability to calmly stay in control of daily activities. Someone who is empathetic can help others talk through their challenges and feelings. Someone who is more direct can use that ability to cut through the fluff and get the answers and guidance the company needs. We are all more talented and capable than we know. Your employees can’t use what they don’t know, so give them the tools to help them fill in the blanks about who they are.
  2. Understand the moment. The real issue is that we are in challenging times that make us feel that we have little or no control. This activates our limbic brain, the part of the brain that reverts to safety and caution, so we are routinely in fight, flight or freeze reactions. Everything seems amplified and more difficult from that mindset. So, the shift in mindset is HOW to deal with this moment. This first starts with understanding. Share with employees why they are feeling this way, that this is normal in a period of extended stress and that most others are in this same situation. This prepares them for HOW to take action in our next step.
  3. Develop a toolbox of success habits. This is where you can help your employees develop tangible actions that help them actually develop stamina and grit, how to improve their attitude and how to be grateful for what they have.

 Here are some options of HOW to rally in tough times that I share with my clients, as well as a few ideas they’ve shared with me:

  • Develop a gratitude practice by starting and ending each day with a list of 5 things you are grateful for, including your abilities; share this with a family member or friend.
  • Develop a practice to breathe deeply when you encounter a challenge (breathe in for a count of 4, hold it for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4; do as often as is needed).
  • Develop a network of people (phone a friend) to check in on (they need your help to help them out of feeling sorry for themselves; you need their help to help you stop feeling sorry for yourself). Do this as often as needed.
  • Develop a connection to nature (nature delivers a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week distraction to shift out of challenge and on to beauty).
  • Exercise or do yoga to shift your mind off the stresses of the day and onto your health and wellbeing (invite a friend).
  • Journal or write about your thoughts, feelings and emotions to better understand them and to gain context.
  • Focus on a celebration or great time that has recently happened. Dream of how to do something like it again.

Gather and share more ideas so all employees have a start in HOW to change their attitude about what is happening to show up more energized and excited, even when they face tough and challenging times.

Most of us don’t know how strong, resilient and adaptable we are until we go head-to-head with tough times. Then, with some tools and some guidance, we find that we are able to rally – to dig deeper and find that we are, as A.A. Milne shares in his famous quote, “braver than we believe, stronger than we seem and smarter than we think.”

Take Action
Your employees don’t need you to remind them WHAT they should be doing; they really need you to help them with HOW to do it. Consider developing a company initiative to address HOW to help employees stay upbeat, focused and energized, even when the world around them is tough. This is one of the greatest values you can create for an employee – a value they will actively take and use everywhere in life.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading What You Don’t Know About Your Employee is Impacting Your Team’s Performance

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What You Don’t Know About Your Employees is Impacting Your Team’s Performance

The outside world generally knows more about your employees than you do. And realistically, there’s little surprise here. There often isn’t time to just sit and talk with employees during the day about anything other than work-related items, and there seems to be a manager-employee divide where many won’t cross that line and friend/follow each other on social channels. Yet these social channels are where so much of this expanded employee information is so readily available, like individual skills, abilities, interests and work experience.

This is a big obstacle in inspiring and engaging employees to perform at their best. Think about it: as the world moves faster and faster and requires greater performance from your employees in ever-changing roles and environments, how do you know what skills training to provide and who would be a better fit in a different role?

Our answer: an inventory of abilities.

Generally, we develop a clear understanding of what success attributes new employees bring to their workplace on their first day as it relates to performing the role they are hired for. But this is only a snapshot of what they can bring to the table. Each employee is equipped with a more robust set of skills, experiences, interests and core abilities. When you add these to the robust abilities of your existing teams, you gain the information you need to more wisely align, develop and promote employees as your world and workplace continue to evolve.

To most effectively tap into these previously unknown strengths and skills, help each employee create an inventory of abilities. This is best done through activities and assessment tools to help employees articulate their strengths and liabilities, interests, values, communication styles, favorite and least favorite aspects of their role, behavioral triggers and blind spots. When employees have a more complete understanding of their potential and their personal drivers, it helps managers see all they are capable of. Having an expanded awareness of who employees are also helps to see who they can become and how they may fit into a workplace that always needs new and different skills and abilities.

The inventory of abilities can help your organization inspire greater employee performance by greater understanding of each employee in three critical areas.

1. Alignment. Having a clear understanding of who an employee is, what they are capable of and what they are interested in doing helps improve role alignment. Employees who are well aligned to their roles feel more capable and competent which activates engagement; engagement is the driver of productivity, performance and retention. It is difficult to get A-level performance from someone who doesn’t have the ability or interest to do what the job requires.

2. Development. Upskilling or reskilling are new terms that are making their way around the workplace and refer to adding new skills or improving the skills employees have to accommodate the changes in both work and workplace. As required workplace skills and abilities change, do you know who on your team has the abilities to respond to the changes? Without this insight, you will only look to the outside talent pool to address performance needs instead of considering your existing and already familiar inside talent. This also adds time and additional resources to effectively onboard new talent, resources most organizations are already short on.

3. Advancement. Few organizations treat a promotion or advancement the way they do an initial job hire; it’s often not even considered to clearly define the expectations of the role and then assess a candidate’s behaviors, skills, education and experience as right for the role. Think about how many colleagues or employees you’ve known to be promoted even though they weren’t interested in or capable to perform what the next level required. By expanding what you know about each employee, you start to see the opportunities in employees that may not be on a linear trajectory but instead one that uses their abilities in a new and different way. For instance, an installer of a product may make a great customer service or project manager because they are intimate with the product, its applications and success attributes. Or a frontline employee may make a great company educator because of what they know and have experienced firsthand.

Each employee only brings a small portion of who they are to their current role. Help them expand what they know of themselves and learn alongside them so you can also better see who they can become as your work and workplaces changes.

Take Action
Information is power. Make a point of gathering more information about your employees from your employees; they come with greater abilities and skills that you currently know or use. Without this information, you will not be prepared to properly upskill and respond quickly and effectively as work and the workplace change.

And, contact us to learn about our Inventory of Abilities tool and approach that we use in all of our leadership, management and employee education.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How to Get The People Thing Right for Your Business

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How to Poach-proof Your Organization’s Talent

We are, once again, faced with a war for talent. But this talent war looks a little different now.

Before COVID-19, organizations struggled to get employees to perform at their potential, in an environment that was predictable. In fact, for most of the past 20 years, the Gallup Organization reported in its The State of the American Workplace report that the percentage of engaged employees hovered around only 30% of the workforce.

Here’s what that means: only 30% of employees were engaged in their work. They brought their A-game and were connected to making a difference.

That also means that approximately 70% of the workforce was in some form of disengagement; they did just enough to not get fired, or they did even less.

Now, in a COVID-19 workplace, disengagement is amplified by epic worry and anxiety. Employees now worry about foreclosures or evictions, access to food, having the proper cleaning supplies, having and using the right safety equipment, feeling safe in and out of the workplace, feeling disconnected from their teams and friends, struggling to feel successful working from home and feeling uncertain that their job will still exist. Without some assistance from their managers – to feel heard, supported and helped through these tough times – employees’ disengagement rises. Couple this disengagement with employees working from home (not under the scrutiny of management) and the fact that many organizations are actively looking to expand their talent base, and you may discover that your best employees are considering other opportunities with organizations that do a better job engaging their teams.

Consider what your organization does to encourage your employees to stay, regardless of any enticing offer that may come their way. Is there a protective forcefield around your talent to ensure your great employees say no when they’re approached by others?

Here are 3 commitments organizations must make to keep employees engaged and happily saying ‘no’ to job offers that come their way:

  1. A commitment to job alignment. Employees need to feel capable and competent in their roles to build their energy to deal with some of the other pandemic-inspired challenges. Feeling like you make a difference (because you are effective at your job) is an important element in helping you feel grounded and engaged. No one would feel engaged, passionate or committed to their job if they don’t have the talents, skills or interest needed to do the job well. To ensure job alignment, take the time to clearly define the tasks of each job and the attributes needed to do these tasks well in your workplace (i.e. the talents, skills, education and experience). Once that’s clear, ensure your hiring, development and promotion processes accurately assess candidates’ and existing employees’ required abilities. Consider including prove-it-to-me activities and behavioral-based questions to ensure you are getting the full picture of their abilities before you bring them on board.
  2. A commitment to providing an employee-focused workplace. Getting employees to want to stay is directly related to the quality of the work environment the organization provides. Employees today routinely insist on working for a company that values them as people, encourages their performance and continually develops them. It seems obvious, but employees who have the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs well will be more engaged in their workplace. Note, however, that this doesn’t mean just the physical tools or supplies to get the job done. It could include things like doing purposeful work, having clear performance expectations, participating in skills and career development, receiving regular supportive and corrective feedback and seeing that the organization shares and lives its beliefs and values. Providing these tools and support activates employee performance, ownership and loyalty, making them more poach-proof. An added bonus: it holds even greater weight when employees are working remotely or in some hybrid remote approach.
  3. A commitment to building successful manager / employee relationships. Relationships are the drivers of performance and loyalty. Consider this: workplaces that manage in the outdated method of command-and-control actually push their talent into the arms of poachers. The Gallup Organization stated that the shift from managing to coaching is the single most important talent retention initiative every organization should be focused on. By helping managers learn how to think and act as workplace coaches, managers shift from directing, controlling and telling to guiding, supporting and asking. The result is a more personal and accountability-based relationship where managers make time for employees to help them in their growth, performance and self-belief. This also encourages employees to open up about their worries, anxieties and needs in this pandemic moment. It’s only with this additional communication that managers can wisely decide who and how to be with their employees, and, more specifically, how to help them manage the challenging moments and get back on stable ground. This intentional awareness from managers helps employees show up more focused. Though shifting from managing to coaching is critical, the Gallup Organization shares that only approximately 20% of managers instinctively know how to coach. That means a core engagement strategy will require you to train your managers to think and act as workplace coaches.

By creating dream jobs for your employees (even during COVID-19), you’re creating an environment where they get to be their best, and are honestly and openly cared for, valued, respected, all while having the opportunity to learn and grow from their managers. With an environment like that, they won’t have the need to look elsewhere. After all, great employees want to work in great organizations.

And when your organization hires wisely, builds an employee-focused workplace and helps managers think and act as coaches, you create an exceptional employee experience. This results in your best employees not only refusing the advances of aggressive poachers, but they will become talent magnets, attracting other great talent to your organization, even if they’re working from home.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 3 Ways to Help Your Team Start 2021 Strong and Focused

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How Managers and Leaders Can Create [Workplace] Calm After the Storm

There is no doubt that this past election created a storm. Raging tempers, severed relationships and extreme emotions have marked this period both in and out of the workplace. Add to it the tensions around protests for racial equality, a raging coronavirus and the destructive impact of nature’s storms and wildfires and it’s easy to see that anyone – regardless of their level at your organization – is at their breaking point.

What we all desperately need is calm after all this turbulence. Our best thinking leads to our best solutions, but we can only get there when we are calm. Being calm unclouds the mind, which lets us be present enough to wisely understand our situations and identify meaningful responses. Most often, this is done by engaging productively with others. After all, raised tempers encourage reacting not responding.

Creating organizational calm may seem foreign or even out of reach at the moment. But we can’t just wish for calm or less turbulence; we need to create an intentional plan to get ourselves free of the heaviness of this past year, and it starts from the top down. Today’s leaders can be ready to help their organizations successfully learn to access a place of calm once they figure out how to do it for themselves, first. Here are some ideas how:

  1. Be a role model. Your teams watch you and how you respond. As you go, so do they. Use this moment to develop your mindfulness practice, a way to stay calm on the inside regardless of the noise and distractions on the outside. Developing a mindfulness practice includes making time each day to calm your body, quiet your mind and open your heart. This can include taking time to meditate, reflect, journal or just sit quietly. When this becomes part of your day, it inspires a greater sense of inner calm. Without making the intentional effort to develop the internal stamina to show up wisely, compassionately and intentionally, it’s easy to get caught in the emotional reactions of today’s challenging situations. When you do this, you miss the opportunity to engage and inspire others to work toward successful outcomes.
  2. Understand your employees’ stress level. As with any change or period of stress, it is important to be more tuned in to what is going on with your employees. Consider increasing the frequency and type of contact you have with each employee to better understand what is going on with each of them. During these touch points, ask more direct questions about their stress and anxiety levels, and watch and listen for challenging, distracted or destructive behaviors. This type of connection plays a critical role in giving you accurate insight into where your employees are and it will therefore guide you in knowing how to help (or if you need to get them help). This might seem like something else added to your plate, but when you make this an intentional practice, it becomes second nature and helps you become a better manager, too.
  3. Help or get them help. Offer some of your own experiences in your efforts to stay calm to help guide them in a direction that works best for them. It could be taking a greater number of short breaks, writing lines in a gratitude journal, increasing exercise or staying in touch with people they care about. Sharing your approach can give your team ideas to consider and try. After all, the ability to be responsive instead of reactive is their responsibility. Separately, be aware of what mental health support options are available if any of your team needs professional help to handle today’s storms. Ensure that you support their self-care and respect that this moment in history is exceptionally demanding.

Though storms will always be part of our days, this seems to be a particularly complicated moment. For many, this may be what tips them over the edge, amplifying their feelings of anxiety, fear, concern and distress.

Take Action
So ask yourself: what can you do as a leader at your organization to ensure the wellbeing of each of your employees is met? Consider how you can help them help themselves to stay calm in any storm, whether it’s personal or professional.

A little calm goes a long way.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 4 Things Managers Can Do to Help their WFH Employees Celebrate the Holidays

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3 Ways to Help Your Team Start 2021 Strong and Focused

A new year is associated with so many good things. It’s a chance to start fresh. It’s a chance to try something new. It’s a chance to identify what could be better and create a plan to make it happen. And that’s what so many of us will be doing as we approach the countdown on December 31, ready to ring in 2021 with welcome arms.

After all, 2020 was certainly filled with some unique challenges. A variety of natural disasters, weather, a hostile election year and, to top it all off, COVID-19, which was not only a challenge in itself, but the ramifications it created sent many companies reeling.

So how can you inspire the fresh start feeling of a new year with your employees when 2021 will still reek of the challenges from 2020?

It’s actually pretty easy: relationships.

Relationships are the driver of employee engagement as employees want and need connection, support and guidance from their managers and their peers. If you could only focus on one thing in 2021, make it relationships.

So, as a new year welcomes you and your team to the workplace – in whatever way work is done – here are three relationship-focused things you can do to help your employees (and you) start your year off strong, focused and engaged.

1. Reconnect personally with your team. Make it a point to really get to know your employees. To effectively manage and coach your employees, it is important to know their strengths, interests and values. It is important to know what engages and disengages them about their jobs and the organization. It is critical to know how they best communicate and learn, and what are their most and least favorite aspects of their jobs.

Another element is to get to know them outside of work – what are their hobbies? How is their family? Is there anything they’re worried about? Are they struggling with anything? Is there anything you can do to help? Though some employees may prefer not to share too much personal information, the fact that you asked goes a long way, especially now when so many people may be grappling with challenges of COVID-19, like foreclosures, concern for high-risk family members or access to enough food, to name a few. Gather important information about each of your employees to understand them better and to know how to best connect with them and coach them. Employees want time with their managers – use this increased time to get to know them and to develop a plan to connect with them more effectively going forward.

Remember: people quit people before they quite companies.

2. Include your team in creating shared goals. Goals are important. They provide direction, clarity and focus. And by including employees in the creation of goals, or more specifically team goals, they feel more included, valued and part of the organization. They know you are interested in what they think. A workplace culture that asks employees for input not only benefits from greater employee loyalty, but also from expanded ideas that come from empowering and expecting employees to actively think throughout their days. An added bonus: those employees share their working experience with others, attracting other top talent and top performers to join your team (a huge benefit since networking will look drastically different as we all navigate the continued effects of COVID-19 on how we do business).

3. Commit to sharing more performance information. You want your employees to be more focused and engaged, but few feel that way when they work in the dark. They can’t connect their work to its impact or value with information about why they’re doing what they’re doing isn’t made clear. By improving your relationship with your employees, you create the space to have more candid and honest conversations about performance. Now, feedback is welcomed as it is delivered from a place of care, support and guidance, instead of reprimand. Invoive employees in creating their own performance expectations that help them amplify their strengths and connect with areas that interest and excite them. Again, these are things you don’t know if you have not first taken the time or made the effort to better understand each employee. An added bonus: employees take ownership of things that benefit them and the organization. They learn and grow and the organization improves.

A recap:

  1. Reconnect personally with your team: What is one thing you can do to connect more personally with each member of your team?
  2. Include your team in creating shared goals for 2021: How will you involve your team in the creation of shared goals?
  3. Commit to sharing more performance information: What information will you share in 2021 and how will you share it?

Take Action
As the New Year approaches, commit to enhancing the relationships with your employees. It really all comes down to communication – both listening and talking. Ask questions, be supportive, engage them in organizational goals and share performance feedback more regularly. Observe, ask, listen and guide. That is what employees want from you. And, in return, they work hard, bring their best performance and stay loyal to the organization.

Start the new year off strong. Make relationships your priority.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How To Keep Your Team Energized When Some Now Work Remotely

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Tips to Celebrate the Holidays When Your Staff is Remote

Remember setting up the office holiday decorations? Remember the potluck or catered holiday lunches and the gift exchanges? That was so 2019.

Celebrating the holidays when your staff is remote will require a new mindset this year.

Try not to get stressed or upset about something else that has to change (and might feel like more of a task than something that brings joy). All that has happened is that you need to rethink how to deliver the same feelings that last year’s traditions and events delivered. For that, you need to think clearly and creatively. You don’t have creative and celebratory energy available if you use your energy to be stressed, irritated, disappointed or anxious.

So, take a breath. You get to start a new tradition! Consider these ideas:

  • Redefine what celebration means. Reflect on the feelings and the emotions the holiday and its traditions create. They could be joy, togetherness, peace, generosity, gratitude, awe or even respect. Define what this is for you and your organization. That becomes your goal. As Stephen Covey shared in Habit #2 of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, get clear about what you are trying to create with the holiday celebration. The parties, gifts and lunches have been the means to get to a particular set of emotions and memories. Start there. Visualize what you want to achieve.
  • Deliver the old traditions in a new way. Now clear of what you want to achieve, and aware of the limitations in today’s COVID world, start to consider what you could do to achieve the emotions and feelings that are so important. Assemble a team from your organization to brainstorm new ways to celebrate. To get you started, here are some ideas I have shared with my clients.
    • Rethink Secret Santa to include gifts that can be sent electronically (gift cards, cards, videos, etc.).
    • Have a holiday home office decoration competition.
    • Have a Zoom holiday background competition to use for all company meetings throughout the holiday season.
    • Create a Holiday Activity calendar that includes a couple of events each week during the holidays to be done virtually, whether it’s via Zoom or some other option. These activities are meant to be diverse to include everyone in at least a couple of things. These could include baking and decorating cookies, singing carols, reading or sharing holiday stories, sharing holiday recipes/working on recipes together, having teams decorate their houses together, or recording a video of a neighborhood walk to capture and share the lights of the neighborhood. Add more of your own.
  • Invent new traditions that are based on what is available in this exact moment. Traditions constantly change. Instead of regretting that some of the previous ways to celebrate are no longer available, invent something new. Technology is our friend. It has the ability to help us share our experiences in the moment. Consider how you may be able to use technology in new and dynamic ways. Here are some ideas to share with your ideas committee to get them started:
    • Have team members share their pictures to create a holiday office story, a holiday group shot or even as decorations on the company tree.
    • Work together (remotely) to create a holiday video that expresses what the holiday means to your team. Share the videos with everyone at a company “opening night” where all employees join.
    • Do the 12 days of Christmas with teams doing something (skit, song, story, gift, etc.) each day. If gifts are given, get clear about what gifts would be meaningful at this exact moment. Have employees choose a gift that matters from the company’s Giving Tree. Or you can give employees the option to donate their gift (or dollar equivalent) to someone in or out of the organization who may need it.
    • Add your ideas.

Take Action
Yes, this season will be different. Not better, not worse – just different. Focus on the message of the season, then, using what is available, create ways to help this message come through loud and clear. Involve everyone in the ideas. Not only will you find more great ideas, but you will help amplify the feeling of inclusion and appreciation that is at the core of holiday celebrations.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Remote or Not Remote? That is the Question

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Your Workforce Approach Should be Based on What You Deliver to Customers, Not Just What Employees Want

A couple of months ago, you quickly moved some or all of your employees home to keep them out of harm’s way.

Then you learned how to help employees perform remotely and helped managers learn how to manage remote employees. Most organizations thought this would be a temporary, true safety response and employees would return to the workplace when the pandemic’s danger had passed.

But now, some employees have expressed interest in remaining as remote employees. You may have seen greater performance as the time spent commuting has been redirected to performance. You may have found employees are more willing to work on projects and take calls later in the day and evening since they are already at home, and home is where work is [now].

At the same time, some employees who had a taste of working at home want to return to their workplace when it is safe to do so. They feel they work better at their old desks and with their friends / colleagues than trying to work at home with various interruptions or lacking the discipline to stay focused.

So, some want to stay remote and some want to return. What do you do?

In an effort to focus on employee retention, many organizations are engaging with employees to gather their ideas on how to move forward. A challenge, however, is that many employees see the situation uniquely from their personal perspectives, not what makes sense for the customer and business as a whole. This is what I believe to be the better starting point for organizations trying to decide what their new reality looks like.

So, as a workplace coach and consultant, the guidance I share with my clients is to assess and redefine what the business does or will do and what customers will need and want.

  • What is it you [now or will] provide?
  • How does your service or product need to be delivered to be successful, engaging and building customer loyalty?
  • What is the customer experience and service standard you commit to?

Let’s say you provide your clients investment advice and tools to assist them in financial security. To provide the service response and customer experience required to engage and retain your clients, your employees need certain technology, a quiet workspace and time to really listen and make recommendations for your clients.

Great. You’ve identified the requirements every employee needs to deliver a consistent service response. The next step is to explore where the work can be done to deliver the exceptional customer experience. Some questions to ask include:

  • Is it necessary to have employees in the workplace?
  • Can they do the work remotely, whether at home or from some other remote location?
  • Do your employees need to travel because their work is still done best face-to-face with your clients?
  • Of these options, which provides the expected client experience while still accommodating how to do business in today’s world?

Today’s most effective leaders listen to their employees and their customers/clients. Both provide critical information to ensure the decisions that come from the C-suite provide the responses that drive the success of the business while valuing and supporting its people.

Take Action
Assess the tasks of each of your roles and determine which can be done remotely and still deliver your customer or client experience. For roles that can be done remotely, assess your employees’ home workplaces to ensure they have an environment that will let them successfully deliver on their performance expectations. Create a policy about remote work that is bias-free and focused on performance success.

Focus on what you clients and customers need and build your work approach to respond.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Now That You’ve Had A Taste: Do You Really Like Working From Home?

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Remote or Not Remote? That is the Question

For a number of years, many employees have requested to work remotely and just as many organizations were insistent on keeping their employees in the workplace. Then COVID-19 sent much of the workforce home to stay safe and out of harm’s way. Those who were reluctant to have their employees work remotely were forced to implement stay-at-home policies, which were put together hastily and some were done without much strategy or support. And employees who wanted to work at home had the chance to try it out.

Now that we have had some time with this, the discussion of how to keep your business productive is shifting to focus on where employees do the work: do we bring employees back to the conventional workspace or do they stay remote?

Remote or not remote? That is the question.

After 3 months working from home, many employers are likely hearing an increasing amount of feedback from their employees. Some employees had a taste of working at home and are ready to come back. Others finally got their wish to work remotely and now don’t want to come back.

With all this chatter, how do you start to consider how to move forward?

First, answer these three questions to give yourself a clear understanding of what makes sense for you.

#1 What does your organization provide and how should work be done to provide it well?
You may have interest – and even pressure – from your employees to return or restructure what they want in their new normal workplace. But their options can be addressed only after you reassess how COVID-19 has changed your organization. Consider the products or services you offer. What is required from your employees to ensure the customer deliverable is done in a way that supports your commitment to the customer experience? Once you define or redefine WHAT you do, you can start to discuss the options of HOW to do it – remote, full workplace or some variation of the two.

Once you clarify the work that needs to be done and how it will best be done, move on to the next question.

#2 Can your employees be successful working remotely?
This requires assessment in 2 areas: abilities and space. Do your employees have the behaviors, skills and experience (abilities) to achieve the expectations of the role? And, do they have the ability to work independently, are self-disciplined and are organized to work without supervision? If you are confident that the employee in question can do the job well from home, ask yourself if the employee’s remote space can support the successful completion of the tasks of the role. Allowing someone to work at home doesn’t ensure they have the privacy, quiet, connection, space or even work surfaces to do the job well. Remember, there are some expectations that must be met in order to deliver an exceptional experience to customers or colleagues, regardless of whether that’s in a remote location or within the physical workplace. You may find that remote may not mean working at home, nor in the workplace, but rather some other place. Consider what some of those workplaces could look like and who on your team, if anyone, may need this as their work environment.

#3 Can your organization support and engage a remote workforce, capable of delivering world class service?
However you define how work will be done, assess how you will be able to engage them to be able to drive productivity, performance and retention. Workplace culture has always been an important part of the employee experience. Employees want and need to feel part of the organization, valued, supported and cared for. It will be important to (re)define what will engage and inspire your workforce and to determine how to consistently deliver it. If you are unable to do this, the result will be seen and felt in not only performance, but also increased turnover. Assessing how you will engage your workforce is a critical consideration in developing your future workforce. 

There is pressure to be remote. There is also pressure to return to the more conventional workplace. Invent scenarios to explore how you will have an engaged workforce that consistently and successfully delivers a remarkable customer experience, grows the business and achieves your goals.

Take Action
Your options or scenarios should be based on achieving your goals, not on the wishes of your workforce. This doesn’t mean ignore them, however. Solicit their thoughts and perspectives, then ensure that the creation of the new normal for your organization makes sense for who you are and what you do. Then, share with your employees how work will be for them and develop a plan to help them return that new normal.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Don’t Go Back to Normal. Instead, Focus on Becoming Better.

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Workplace Lessons Learned from COVID-19

COVID-19 caught many organizations by surprise. Yet despite being caught unaware, many rallied. They quickly gathered information, confirmed their goals (for their people, customers and the business) and shifted to a path to catch their breath and move forward.

But there were many that weren’t ready. The situation showed the gaping holes organizations have that caused stress, financial hardship and a variety of other challenges.

Life sends obstacles and challenges. We can be disappointed, aggravated or frustrated by them, or we can realize that it is in these obstacles and challenges that we do our best learning, discover our true strengths and learn to be resilient in a changing world. We can look at the stresses, challenges and financial hardships of the moment and redirect our energy to understanding them and using them to move forward. Spending time lamenting, complaining or feeling victimized by something you had no control over is a waste of the energy needed to rethink and respond to a new path forward.

So, what workplace lessons did you learn from your bout with COVID-19? Here are the four major ones I noticed in my conversations with clients.

  1. You are more flexible than you realized. Even in the chaos, when things got tough, most organizations quickly rallied and got their people home safely, made equipment available and kept their businesses running. You have it in you to respond when things are urgent. You will need that flexibility and adaptability as you consider how to move forward. Notice that you have it and can call on it, despite the external forces that may make things confusing and frustrating. Trust your gut.
  2. You identified your future leaders as well as those who don’t belong on your team. When you responded to the crisis, some of your people stepped up and did remarkable things. Some acted this way without asking. They say it is in a time of crisis that people show their true colors. Start a list of those who inspired you and impressed you in their response. Watch for those who brought their best ideas, who had a sense of urgency, were selfless and committed to the welfare of employees and stakeholders. At the same time, start a list of those who disappointed you. Who complained instead of responded (in leadership as well as in the ranks)? Who showed up with excuses instead of ideas, were slow to respond or were more focused on themselves at the expense of the team, their peers or others? When the dust settles, you’ll have a clear understanding of who belongs and doesn’t belong on your team. (Remember that we are also at a near 20% unemployment rate so don’t be worried about finding more A-level talent for your team – they are out there.)
  3. What works and doesn’t work about your leadership style became apparent. As I mentioned, the real you shows up in a crisis. What did your response tell you about your abilities as a leader? Did you show compassion and empathy as you ensured the safety and life needs of your employees and stakeholders? Or did you focus on the bottom line at the expense of your people? Will your employees choose to stay after the pandemic based on how you led during it? Take an inventory of your success attributes and those attributes that were unproductive or ineffective in your ability to engage and retain your team. What will you do more of and what will you look to improve on in the next version of your organization post-COVID-19?
  4. You now know some things that should and shouldn’t be in your next version of your business. As with your review of leadership, review all areas of your business for what works and doesn’t work. Don’t be in a rush to return to a normal that had many things in it that didn’t work. You have been given a reset. Take advantage of it to redefine and rebuild the areas of the business that were not up to par. This is the moment to brainstorm your new normal, to be a shaper of what you do and how you do it. Do a full 360-degree walk around your business, noting in each area what should continue in your new normal and what should be left behind.

Which of these lessons resonate with you? What else would you add to your list of great lessons learned?

COVID-19, as difficult as it has been, has a true silver lining. It created the time and space to review your organization to better understand – and see – the things that work or don’t work. It is providing the time and space to rethink where you could/should/need to be that may not look at all like where you have been. It is time to create a survive response (to get through the rest of the pandemic) and a thrive response (your plan-ahead team to steer you to the better versions of you post COVID-19).

Take Action
Rarely do we get a global reset. And we will hopefully not get it ever again. But since it is here, use what you learned in this moment of history to make yourself better.

Use this as a learning experience to get everyone in your organization involved, as well. Have all of your employees look at every aspect of your old way of doing things and ask the question, what could make this better?

Then engage them to build a plan and start to achieve it.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How to Get the People Thing Right For Your Business

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Your Employees: Help Them Grow or They Will Grow with Someone Else

Now is not the moment to be cavalier about making the time to help your employees develop greater skills. In a workplace that changes at breakneck speed, employees are looking to their workplaces to help them stay current, learn new things and get better.

The LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report shared that 94% of employees say that if their company invested more in career development, they would stay longer. It is all about the skills.

What time and resources do you make available for your employees to develop, grow, learn and expand what they know?

Before you answer, consider that development can take several forms in the workplace. Two of those include:

1. Formal education. Whether created by an organization’s learning and development department or through purchased programs, make new skill development available to all employees. Consider a required and elective skills approach. Define the required skills by job. Make electives available to any employee, regardless of position. Encourage those employees who want to constantly learn to select additional topics or skills to continue their development. Remember, not everyone learns the same way. Consider offering all formal education in a variety of learning methods, whether that’s via classroom, webinar, gaming, self-directed or narrated, among others. Take the time to learn what method works best for your team and look to provide your skill training in at least two different methods to encourage greater participation and learning.

2. On the job feedback development. Some of the best skill development happens in the moment. Providing mindful feedback, a process to tune in to both what works and doesn’t work with employee performance, is key to helping employees learn the most in any workplace moment. Though most managers provide “constructive criticism” when they see challenging performance, feedback is the reminder that on-the-job training is about both successful and unsuccessful performance. Don’t miss an opportunity to use a success as a teachable moment, focusing on how to do more of what works, and why it worked. Including this encourages a more responsive employee when there comes a time to share something that didn’t work and why. The lessons learned in these moments are timely, personal and encourage accountability. These lessons stick.

Employees say they want more development. And you want them to have it, as well, because it makes them more valuable as employees. This is a true win-win solution. Don’t be concerned that your employees will learn from you and leave. Instead, focus on developing them and building an employee-focused workplace culture. This encourages their performance and their retention.

Take Action
Identify the skills needed. Create materials to provide the skills in a variety of learning methods to encourage participation and learning. Then, train managers to think and act more as coaches to review employee performance, focusing on both what works and doesn’t work, with the intention of making each a teachable, on-the-job learning environment.

Commit to creating a clear and easy path to helping your employees develop, grow and get better.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Do Your Jobs have a Value Statement?

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