In March 2020, business leaders were faced with the unknown: how to lead their teams through a pandemic and still keep their companies afloat.
During our recent C200 event, the Ins & Outs of D.C., Sylvia Burwell, president of American University, shared with our community of successful women in business that this pandemic isn’t over. Instead, it’s something we’re learning to live with. What became apparent from our discussions at the event is that while we as business executives learned a lot this year, there is still so much that will evolve. This next phase of leadership will present a new set of challenges and questions.
As business leaders, we need to consider the best ways to navigate the constantly changing business landscape and support our employees while growing our companies.
What is my role as a business executive, and what can I do to make a difference?
Responsibility lies with the leader, and we have a responsibility to put the health and safety of our employees first. The guidance shared at the Ins & Outs of D.C. from Burwell and Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician, is that the most important thing people can do to keep themselves healthy right now is get vaccinated.
As leaders, we can emphasize the importance of community health while being transparent and straightforward about what is expected of employees to keep everyone safe. There will always be vaccine hesitancy, but if you are a trusted leader who is there to answer questions and help your employees make the right decision, you’re doing your part.
You can take it one step further and make these health resources accessible. By giving your employees access to a full spectrum of physical and mental health resources as we navigate this uncertain time, you can reach beyond the individual and impact the community.
How to most effectively take care of the health and safety of your employees may evolve, but when you listen and adjust accordingly, you can take care of the overall well-being of your employees and their families, ultimately leading to successful returns in business.
How can I be a trustworthy leader?
Being transparent is key as you plan for returning to the office, adjusting to a hybrid model or going remote full-time. With this changing business landscape, employees are going to have questions and concerns. Answering those questions directly will help your employees feel supported and heard.
You need to explain the “why” behind your decisions. Clear leadership means simultaneously acknowledging that these changes will feel awkward and take time to adjust to while reminding your team that everything is fluid right now and things can change. Invest and prepare for the time it will take to adjust. Abrupt changes will not only harm your employees but harm your business. Being transparent about a plan, timeline and expectations will lead to clear execution.
Keep the flexibility
How can work remain flexible yet engaging?
After more than a year of working remotely, many employees and job seekers expect an entirely different work environment in the future. We’ve realized this past year how important it is to meet people where they are. But flexibility doesn’t mean leaving people behind, especially women.
During the Ins & Outs of D.C. event, Vanessa Fuhrmans with The Wall Street Journal said that we don’t want flexibility to mean women are disproportionately working remotely to cover at-home responsibilities, potentially missing out on face time with executives and promotion opportunities or not being considered for a new project because they’re remote. Flexibility means engaging with all employees no matter where they are, being diligent about inclusion for the entire company, applying the right policies that support your setup and monitoring how these changes are going.
Equip your managers
How do I monitor how these decisions are impacting my employees?
As executives, we have the benefit of seeing our company from a bird’s-eye view, but our managers are at the ground level. They are closest to the workforce and can translate policy into everyday action.
It takes a good manager to understand what challenges women in business face and how young people joining the workforce are looking for flexibility. Your managers need to be equipped to support all types of employees at every level. For working parents, they may need child care support, whereas new employees may need in-person mentorships.
Keeping that support in mind, executives can set up policies and systems that continue the pipeline of advancing people in business. Support your managers by staying engaged, having those conversations, listening to their perspectives and adjusting the plan based on what they’re seeing.
Hold yourself accountable
Are the decisions and changes I’m making as a leader having a tangible positive impact?
The past year has brought about more change in the workplace than we’ve seen in decades. By taking responsibility, being transparent, giving employees the flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to and equipping your managers, you can hold yourself accountable to a new standard of business leadership.
Actions speak louder than words. When you are implementing policy changes, like DEI initiatives or mental health support, revisit them regularly and evaluate whether they’re working. Every few months, check with your managers, survey your employees and communicate clearly so you can create long-lasting change that makes an impact.
With the right leadership, we have a chance for our businesses and our business cultures to come out of this pandemic better than we were before