The leadership approaches and strategies emerging from the pandemic and the legacy that will be left behind. An expert view from Jane Cox, Executive Leadership Coach and Director at CoachintheCity.

Here at Avencia we have designed our ‘Avencia Consults’ blog post series to bring you first-hand insight, knowledge and expert advice from leaders within the Insurance industry.

 

We were recently joined by Jane Cox, Executive Leadership Coach and Director of CoachintheCity, who provided her insight into how different approaches and strategies are being adopted and implemented as a result of the pandemic. The impact upon employees and organisational design, and how HR functions can lead organisations through this time.

 

We’re in the age of connectivity and we’ve seen through this pandemic the importance of physical connections; being able to see people. As a result, what do you think organisations have learnt about their employees?

Organisations have been reminded that each employee is unique.  We all have individual circumstances, different capabilities and challenges, whether that be towards mental health, wellbeing or work/life balance. Impacting how engaged we are at work, and where we sit on the ‘surviving to thriving’ Covid-19 continuum.

No one is having the same journey. Some of us are more able to cope with the stresses of the pandemic, such as social isolation or anxiety. Some are finding working from home challenging with home schooling and sharing office space with partners or housemates. Whereas others are thriving, finding their wellbeing has improved with the increased time for exercise.

Organisations have realised just how much relationships matter to their employees. Resilience is increased when employees are given the opportunity to shape the kind of support they need to thrive, feel listened to and cared for by their leaders. Organisations are truly beginning to understand and action this.

 

What do you think employees have learnt about their leaders?

Employees have realised their leaders are human too; they have the same anxieties and uncertainties about the current circumstances, and don’t always have the answers to their questions.

I think there is an appreciation of the degree of willingness that leaders are demonstrating to make things work, being open to different and more flexible ways of working.

There has been a shift towards managing outcomes, as leaders let go a little more than usual, enabling employees to become more autonomous, and so trust is being built.

 

What changes are you beginning to see in organisational design as a result of Covid-19?

Lockdown has been a great proving ground. It has shown that with good technology you can work remotely. You can still connect, learn and collaborate; physical distance is no barrier. There is no longer the need to be co-located, in order to work effectively.

From an organisational design perspective, some of the typical organisational design principals’ organisations have used in the past have been challenged. Markets are reshaping and in doing so leaders are placing real attention on restating or redefining their own value propositions and purpose. They are thinking about the capabilities they will need to thrive in the future, making the most of this opportunity to rethink how they structure themselves. Investing in effective workforce planning.

Accountabilities are also being clarified and expectations are being reset. I have noticed changes to decision rights and information flows as businesses are being simplified. Non-productive meetings are being stripped away as people are finally recognising the value of quality learning management systems or video conferencing facilities.

However, organisational design in relation to culture, mindset, motivation, reward and talent, doesn’t feel like its shifted. It needs to, and for this the role of the line manager is crucial.

 

How can HR support managers who have large teams with large numbers of direct reports?

Communication is paramount. The pandemic has raised so many questions and people need to know where they stand. Both leaders and employees need to know what is expected of them, what they can and can’t say, and what rules they can and can’t flex.

Providing your employees with consistent and regular communication on topics such as: life after Covid-19, what approach the organisation is going to take, how the organisation is going to support you, along with signposting all available support resource, will help provide employees with a sense of reassurance and confidence.

Organisations can also push down autonomy to their leaders. For example, I have seen organisations focus purely upon the output of teams and providing leaders with cash funds, enabling them to support their team with technology needs quickly, without having to go through the usual multiple layers of sign off.

Ultimately, leaders are a vital front-line communication channel. Offering support, advice, inspiration and hope to employees. HR can support leaders by equipping them to have great conversations, providing them with the resource and backing to help them provide the best possible support for the rest of the team.

 

Are you seeing organisations improve in their communication?

Most of the organisations I work with are already engaging and investing in coaches.

Interest in the mental health and wellness agenda has certainly increased as a result of the pandemic. Organisations are seeing the importance of people tending to their own wellbeing, with many introducing mental health first aiders and weekly sessions on topics such as nutrition, navigating the politics at home, and the importance of kindness.

More recently I am being approached by organisations for advice and expertise around bereavement and how they can navigate these difficult conversations.

The pandemic has forced us to take the time to pause and reflect, allowing us to focus on what we want in the future. It has also certainly shown that flexible working does work. Which will fundamentally shift how organisations will look at the way we work in the future.

 

You’re a big advocate of Gallup’s Clifton Strength Finder Assessment, what are the top three strengths leaders will need to develop for the future of work?

Positivity - Leaders need to create a sense of hope and inspire people for the future. Optimism will guide people through these uncertain times.

Learner – It is paramount that leaders want to learn and continually improve. The pandemic has shaken every aspect of normal life. To stay current and relevant, leaders are going to have to be vulnerable and open themselves up to learning new things.

Relator – Being able to build and maintain strong relationships has never been more important, especially with remote working becoming imminent. Leaders need to be self-aware to understand what they are good and not so good at, so they can ask for the necessary support when its needed.

 

Do you see any traits emerging that leaders will need to demonstrate in order to be effective in a post-Covid world?

Compassion and kindness have been important traits during the pandemic. Kindness boosts the positivity leaders need to inspire people to work towards a new future. Being kind or seeing kindness around you puts you in a great mood and often has that ripple effect on everyone around you.

I believe more emphasis will be placed upon purpose and values. Leaders will need to build more reflective time into their diaries to be able to think about what they are thankful and grateful for. Filling them with good endorphins and positivity.

At the end of the day positivity is infectious. Reflection will help leaders be more compassionate with their team and give them more purpose as they work towards achieving their post Covid-19 ambitions.

 

What do you think the legacy of Covid-19 will be on the future of work, both in terms of psychological wellbeing and physical wellbeing?

Everyone has adapted and adjusted to the new way of working. Some will choose to go back to the office, some won’t. I am hopeful there will be opportunities for organisations to maximise the benefits of flexible working.

People have previously been scared about being the one person at home. Many used to view video conferencing as a bad thing, now people have realised how well it works. Everyone has the same amount of space and it’s more controlled, making it easier to manage those interactions.

Leaders are becoming more efficient with their time through cutting out wasteful meetings, and irrelevant people are also being cut out of decision-making processes.

The pandemic has forced many organisations to think about their organisational design, storage systems and learning management systems. People have recognised the value of technology and how it enables the success of a business.

People have been given the opportunity to experiment with a new way of working. I believe we will never go back to refusing flexible working patters as it has proven to work. Leaders will most certainly become more accustomed to managing flexible teams.

Organisations are spending more time on purpose and values. They are stripping everything back and looking at what they need to do to survive and what they need to do in the future. It comes back to this reflection time; to reflect on what truly matters in the organisations offering. Once you have this, the rest comes easy.

 

In terms of organisational design, which organisations do you see getting it right and which will struggle? How can they bridge the gap?

Unless people and organisations evolve and meet a customer need, if they carry on doing what they have always done they will likely go out of business.

Organisations need to look at reshaping and redefining their value proposition, purpose and capabilities in order to thrive in the future. Those who use the pandemic to structure themselves, invest in workplace practice and redefine their accountabilities will be successful.

 

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