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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How to Manage New Remote Employees

COVID-19 has made us rethink many things about our businesses: how we do our work, who remains and who goes, how we keep our employees safe, how we share information and how we support our customers, just to name a few. One of the newest changes from this pandemic is that many of our local employees have become remote employees.

As a manager, how will you ensure their success as remote employees?

We believe it has everything to do with the way you manage (and actually coach) them.

Let’s say you have used a methodical process to assess which roles can be shifted to remote, and that you have evaluated whether the employees in these roles have the capacity to work remotely, including having a remote workspace. If they are incapable of working independently and don’t have workspace to complete their jobs, they should not be allowed to be remote.

But let’s say they are a good candidate for remote work. They are now set up at home and, because they haven’t done this before, you know you will need to interact and connect with them differently. The reason? You want them to be amazing in their roles, to be productive, successful and happy, so they will contribute, grow and develop with the organization.

Consider these four tips to help your new remote employees rock at their jobs.

  • Think and act like a coach. You have to start with you. Regardless of how you managed this employee / these employees before, what they now need is a coach. Coaches make time to ask, listen, support and guide. Coaches hold others accountable for their commitments and their work. Coaches help others solve their own challenges instead of filling in the blanks and doing the work of others. This approach activates greater personal connection, accountability and loyalty. Before you start managing your remote employee, learn the fundamentals of coaching. These include learning how to be self-aware and self-managed to shift the attention on the other party. Focus on gathering information, brainstorming ideas, choosing ideas and implementing performance plans. As you shift from controlling (managing) to guiding (coaching), you will interact differently with your employees, both those who are local and those who are remote. You will make time to explain, review, support and develop your employees. The reason for this is that it gets the work done more effectively while building rapport, increasing engagement and encouraging loyalty from your employees – particularly remote employees. This helps the remote employee be more committed to their role (that now has less direct supervision) leading to successful performance.
  • Define or redefine the performance expectations of the job. Since the remote employee may not be new to the job but new to the remote environment, defining, redefining or reconfirming the expectations and assessing what is reasonable based on the new environment is critical. The goal is to help the employee be successful in this new arrangement, and business as usual is not likely to happen. This could include a daily huddle or 10-minute review of expectations and challenges. As a coach, making time to review, guide and support encourages the employee’s confidence and competence. This helps to make a more effective remote employee.
  • Regularly assess performance. As this approach to work is new for the remote employee, increase the amount of time you assess and evaluate their performance. This isn’t to come down on things not done, but rather to create a recurring performance conversation about what’s working and not working so the employee knows they are supported, can improve in areas needing improvement and is applauded for successes. Again, acting more as a coach than a manager encourages an easy discussion about performance instead of one that is defined by worry about being reprimanded or scolded for things not done well.
  • Include the remote employee in local employee meetings and activities. Being remote may create a benefit for the employee in one respect, but it also can interrupt their ability to feel connected to their team. It will require intention to continually include remote employees in the discussions and activities of local employees. Challenge the team to develop ways to constantly and successfully include all employees and to ensure morale, engagement and the feeling of inclusion remain high. Activities such as team meetings, brainstorming sessions and even birthday celebrations can include remote employees so they feel included. Get creative in how you can have remote employees participate in the things local employees do.

New remote employees will need support. Though they were capable employees in a local environment, even the best employees can find themselves distracted, disconnected and disappointed in a new remote environment. Unless, of course, you create a successful environment for them.

Take Action
Stop and assess your management style. What is effective and ineffective about it with your new remote employees? Make the time to ask how your connection and support with your new employees is working. This will give you feedback and set up an honest exchange that will facilitate your working relationship and their performance success.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 3 Ways to Get Your Employees to Want to Do More

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How To Keep Your Team Energized When Some Now Work Remotely

You had a great team. Everyone was focused and engaged because you had your daily huddle, you shared your performance expectations, you spent time each day connecting and developing your team and you made each team member feel included, valued and special. Then COVID-19 struck. Now, this tight-knit team is working from home. Your team now feels disjointed, confused and less connected than before.

How do you get back the great culture you created when some – or all – of your team now works out of the office?

Despite the fact that the remote workforce has become more of the norm over the past few years (since more of our work can successfully be done remotely), it has never been done on such a vast scale before. Sure, working remotely is a great benefit or role attractor for many people, so we have started to see managers learn how to keep the team cohesive, energized and engaged, but that just scratched the surface.

Consider the following ideas to keep your team connected and feeling supported when world events may move them to different locations.

  • Adjust your attitude. Yes, it would be great to have the entire team together in the same room, but some things in life are beyond your control. Spending any energy wishing it were different just uses your energy to be disappointed instead of solving how you want to keep the team excited and engaged. How you choose to look at this situation will allow you a narrow or wide view of the options to create a remarkable and connected team, regardless of the distance. So, as in most things, start with you first. Work to change your perspective. When you see that this is just a change that needs a new approach, you will find the energy and excitement to do it well.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Define what a great and high-energy team looks like and what makes it. This could include defining the quality of the relationships that exist between team members, the way the team supports and communicates with each other, or even the way they support each other on tasks because they share deadlines and expectations. Knowing what a high-energy team acts like creates a clear goal. From here, the team can brainstorm and consider meaningful options to achieve it.
  • Engage the team for ideas. It is in the team’s best interest (as it is in yours) to have a team that is wildly successful together. Have the team suggest ways to keep their energy high when some – or all – of the members are working remotely. As in effective brainstorming, accept all ideas. From these ideas, you can collectively choose the best ones and give them a try. A few ideas to consider as ways to engage remote employees include a daily Zoom or Skype huddle; a daily individual call to the remote employee to check in on progress and to talk about the work experience; an activity each week that requires team members to reach out to each other, such as a fun scavenger hunt or a project that puts employees with different abilities together. It is the intention of constantly connecting the worlds of local and remote employees that creates the ability for all employees to feel connected.
  • Try the ideas and assess their impact. Give any idea chosen a timetable to be fully implemented. Then assess what worked and what didn’t work about it. Have the team discuss how to do more of the successes and propose ideas to improve what didn’t work. This will keep the ideas coming and keep the focus on having an amazing team.

Local or remote, you need your team to connect and work seamlessly together. Sometimes this is easier when everyone is local, but in today’s COVID-19 world, that may not be possible. So, spend your energy helping the team define their new normal, how they want it to be and what they would be willing to do to have a high-impact and connected team.

Take Action
Engage your team to define how they want their interactions to be. With this clarity, host conversations to generate ideas, try the ideas and assess what works and doesn’t work. Keep developing and trying ideas until you consistently deliver the team experience you want.

Having a team that includes remote employees doesn’t mean the team has to be disconnected and disengaged. We all work better when we are valued, cared for and are included – regardless of where we work. Knowing some of the team will now be working remotely challenges us to come up with greater ideas on how to make this happen. We can respond. We are smart, resilient and capable. Guide them to build what they want.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How to Get the People Thing Right for your Business

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You May Be the Reason Your Employees are Job-Hunting

I know managers and leaders work hard. The number of important decisions that need to happen in a day are staggering. But I firmly believe that there are few decisions more important than those relating to your people (i.e. your talent).

It is your people who make the important connections with your customers, improve your processes, invent new services and do most everything the organization needs to thrive. What are you doing to ensure you are building a strong and supportive relationship with each? If you’re not making this a priority, the truth is that your top talent is likely job-hunting.

Stop and notice how you interact and treat your people. If you are doing any of the following, there is a good chance your best employees are job-hunting:

  • Not treating your employees as people, but instead as resources used to achieve your goals.
  • Forgetting to applaud exceptional work and instead only finding fault and highlighting shortcomings.
  • Losing your cool instead of managing your emotions.
  • Telling, controlling and directing instead of asking, guiding and coaching.
  • Not taking the time to know who your employees are – what they are good at, interested in and what matters to them – and using that information to build better and more authentic relationships with them.
  • Not providing supportive or corrective feedback in a way that helps your employees do more great things and improve and grow where and when needed.

The greatest resource an organization has is its people – their knowledge, passion, experience and commitment. It is a requirement of all leaders and managers to look in the mirror and assess what is working and not working in the way they connect with and activate their employees. If it is ineffective, they are likely encouraging their employees to leave.

Remember: people quit people before they quit companies. In a low unemployment workplace, organizations are poaching great talent from average companies. Managers and leaders who don’t build and sustain strong relationships with their employees become victims of poaching. 

Take Action
Spend time with three of your best employees. Get their fair assessment of the way you manage, lead, engage, activate and inspire them. Don’t refute their comments; simply appreciate the feedback and improve what needs improving. Without this exercise done periodically throughout the year, you will find yourself spending your time hiring their replacements.

By Jay Forte

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

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Three Things to Amp Up the Effectiveness of Your Meetings

Meetings. They fill our days. And let’s be honest: most of them are unproductive or poorly managed. The result is that we waste a lot of time that most of us don’t have available to waste; we are already overcommitted.

Like it or not, meetings will always be part of the workday, so it is critical that you make them effective (they achieve what they should do) and efficient (they do it in as little time as possible). Remember: the value of meetings is what they accomplish or inspire, not just the act of meeting.

In my more than 20 years of coaching, consulting and working to amplify performance, I’ve discovered three things you can do to amp up the effectiveness of your meetings. 

1. Make it Personal. Meetings are more effective when those attending can relate to each other. For that, we need to remember that we are each human. So consider starting each meeting with a quick run around the room, asking everyone to share any of the following:

  • What is the best thing that has happened to you today?
  • What is something personal that you want us to know about?
  • What is a success or achievement that you are proud of?
  • What is something that we would never have guessed about you?

When we share our humanity, we connect at a deeper level, which encourages greater sharing of ideas, less apprehension to contribute and, therefore, more productive meetings. Connecting personally builds a stronger bond than just meeting to solve problems, discuss ideas or share information.

Devise a bank of questions you can open your meeting with to help those involved see their shared humanity.

2. Define the objectives and expectations. According to Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end with mind.” With clarity of a direction, goal, objective or expectation, the meeting can police itself to stay focused. Without this clarity, a meeting can run in all directions, distracting the participants and wasting time.

I call this defining the goalpost. Ask yourself: what will we have to achieve to make this a successful meeting? Define it. Share it. Hold all meeting attendees to its achievement.

3. Use an agenda to stay on task. This might seem like a no brainer, but some of the most ineffective meetings are often the result of running with an unclear agenda, or no agenda at all. Even with clear objectives, meetings can wander because of the diversity of the meeting members. Use an agenda to stay focused on what matters and to stay committed to the time allotted to each topic. And ensure your meeting has a time or agenda manager, someone who keeps everyone accountable for their time, contribution and ensuring the meeting continues to move forward.

Nobody has unlimited time; it’s why seeing your calendar fill up with meeting after meeting can be so frustrating. So, make the time to define the topics that need to be covered, understand the time required to adequately discuss each topic and identify the goal(s) of the meeting. This creates the ability to use time wisely and to ensure the meeting attendees to stay focused.

I never attend a meeting I don’t have an agenda for. An agenda is not only a time saver, but it also helps me know how to prepare, how much time I will need to provide and what the meeting will accomplish. With this information, I can be effective in supporting it and making good use of my and the meeting’s time.

Take Action
Before you attend your next meeting, insist on knowing the objective or goal of the meeting and see the agenda. Then, once in the meeting, be sure to first make it personal and be committed to living to the focus and time define in the agenda.

Meetings are truly an invaluable tool when they are organized and run correctly. They can be the place where great things happen, or they can be an abject waste of time. Take control of them to get them to deliver great things for you and your organization.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Managers: How to Identify and Correct Your Blind Spots

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Be Clear if You Want Employees to Perform

You know what you want to happen in the workplace and with your employees. But how do you ensure that your employees have the same understanding and are able to deliver in the way you are expecting? Clear communication.

The goal of communication is to be understood. Remember that all communication has a sender and a receiver. The sender encodes a message and the receiver decodes that message. Because everyone is different, what is the likelihood that the receiver will decode the message in the exact way the sender sent it and meant it? Not likely. Add to that the increasing use of digital messages in the workplace – emails, texts, IMs – in lieu of face-to-face interaction and the intended message can easily be misconstrued simply as a result of the receiver’s own interpretation of tone.

All of this can be avoided, however, if the sender takes great care to ensure that the message is fully understood by both parties. This may require clearly defining terms the organization uses without any real intention.

For example, consider the word that shows in many performance reviews – “better” – “do better.” Improvement is important, but it is more valuable when the word “better” is defined. It could mean improve your sales by 5% or your collections by 10%. It could mean arriving on time for work every day or completing all projects by their due date. Without a metric or greater clarity, the employee may think they are doing what is expected, but the manager may not see the required improvement.

Another example: consider the word “excellence.” Doing things well is indeed important, but it is more likely to happen when it is clearly defined. It could mean provide exactly what the customer wants or it could mean provide what the customer wants, AND do something more to activate their loyalty. It could mean build supportive and collaborative relationships with your colleagues, or it could mean focus on your job and get it done well and on time. To strive for excellence is a great goal to have, as long as everyone knows what it means and how it looks when it is done.

This approach applies at home, as well. Consider the term “clean room.” How you define it and how your kids define it may be two very different things so, when asked if their room is clean, in their mind, it may be. But it does not meet your expectation based on your interpretation of a clean room. A battle ensues.

In each of these examples, clear communication is important. And beyond that, clarity matters.

Take Action
Choose your words wisely and carefully. Take ownership of ensuring that your words or the concepts supported by the words, are understood by others. They may show in words like productivity, performance, service, engagement, development, results, teamwork, entrepreneurial, collaboration or even success. Define them in a way that everyone understands. From there, you can rally the teams to achieve your goals.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 3 Ways to Help Your Employees Become More Mindful

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3 Things Every Manager Can Do to Increase Employee Engagement

There is a direct correlation between the level of employee engagement and the level of productivity, performance and retention. That means that understanding and affecting employee engagement is the responsibility of every manager.

First, I will share that engagement, defined for the purpose of this post as the discretionary effort an employee puts into their job, is not the sole responsibility of the manager or the organization. Employees have a role in expanding their self-awareness to help align themselves to roles that need what they do and like best, and to have a voice in participating in their work in a way that matters. But that is the subject of another blog.

For now, let’s focus in on three things that every manager can do to increase employee engagement.

  1. Know your employees. It seems odd to say this, but the truth is that most managers don’t know their employees’ strengths, liabilities, interests, values and what activates and diminishes their performance. Without this information, you frequently and accidentally respond in unsuccessful or unproductive ways or misalign employees to roles that need more of what they are not good at than what they are good at. Spend time with employees to help develop their inventory of abilities. Use an assessment tool to help create the practical language of their strengths and their liabilities (the behaviors that are the opposite of their strengths that need management). Get guidance from a coach for tools to help all employees learn to look inside themselves to discover their unique abilities and preferences, then to share them with you so you can better guide them to the areas that need what they do and like best. This encourages competence which activates engagement. You don’t feel engaged if you are in a role that doesn’t fit you.
  2. Make time for each employee each week. Relationships are key to trust, and trust drives engagement. Employees want to work for managers who make time for them and treat them as valuable and important in the workplace. Knowing employees’ inventory of abilities and making time for them, will help you connect more authentically and interact more successfully.
  3. Focus on employee development. Today’s employees know they need to be constantly learning and growing. Managers, when they make the time to connect with employees and use that time to help employees assess what works and what doesn’t work in their performance, make learning and growing important in the workplace. This is key in the shift from managing to workplace coaching – to guide employees to better see and assess their performance and to own any required improvements. This encourages greater performance ownership and engagement.

There is no shortage of information and statistics supporting the premise that engaged employees consistently outperform disengaged employees. It is therefore the responsibility of every manager to intentionally choose how to be and what to do to encourage their employees’ engagement.

Take Action
Three simple things can help employees show up more engaged: know them, make time for them and develop them. What are you doing today to improve your employees’ engagement?

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Don’t Drag Your Feet When Hiring New Talent

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Three Ways to Help Your Employees Become More Mindful

Mindfulness is all the rage, and for good reason. Mindfulness is the process of using what you gather by being aware in this moment to be more intentional and effective in your next decision or action. Think of it as going through your work day on purpose (not in habit mode or on autopilot).

Most employees do their jobs without much intention. They get into a routine and they look at customers, their workplace, their colleagues and their lives in very much the same way they did the day before. It’s not a flaw, it is just that we haven’t learned how to be really aware of what is going on in front of us to mindfully and intentionally use it to make our next choices, actions and decisions better. We’re unintentionally mindless, stuck in our habits, missing out on opportunities to see more, do more and be more.

But imagine if all of your employees paid attention on purpose and regularly asked the question, “What could I do to make this better?” What improvements and efficiencies could you see or benefit from? What improvements could result in your customer relationships? How might your workplace culture improve?

Here are three ways to help your employees become more aware and mindful to be tuned in and present, and to do more in the workplace on purpose.

  1. Reframe mindfulness. Many people think mindfulness means meditation – and they are either pulled to it or repelled by it. Though you can certainly develop mindfulness through meditation, I find reframing mindfulness for the workplace to mean “focused attention – paying attention on purpose and using that information to make better decisions.” This reframed definition helps organizations openly support and welcome mindfulness training. Consider making mindfulness an expectation of all roles and a core value of the organization.
  2. Teach mindfulness. Helping your senior managers learn how to be more mindful enables and empowers them to develop the same skills in their people. Engage a coach to help your senior team learn how to be both more aware and mindful. Then, provide education and practice for your employees to help them learn, use and benefit from being more aware and mindful. Constantly reinforce the value of attention and intention as a means to achieve goals and improve results, both personally and professionally.
  3. Applaud mindful performance.  As the saying goes, “what gets rewarded, gets repeated.” When you applaud your employees for their effort and progress in tuning in, thinking more intentionally and acting more mindfully, you encourage them to continue. By naturally paying greater attention, employees will see opportunities to resolve challenges, think differently and improve responses. Be on the watch for these improvements to applaud, support and encourage them.

Being mindful is a way of being in work and life. It is about being tuned in, present and watching on purpose to use the information in this moment to make your next moment better. This yields greater results than the habit and autopilot approaches most of us currently have.

Take Action
Develop your mindfulness habits then commit to helping your employees develop theirs. There is a great big world filled with information for you and your team to notice it, so you can use it to make your next decisions, actions and choices better.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading When is it Okay to Do Just Enough at Work?

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