2020 Changed Work, will 2021 Change Leadership?
Updated: Mar 23
It's the responsibility of corporate leadership to keep things simple. Simple messaging, clear solutions, and an empowering employee experience. That's not too much to ask right?
Doesn't matter what plans you had to hire new staff, capture new contracts, or improve corporate culture - everything changed! No matter where in the country you worked, everyone was impacted in a variety of ways.
While the entire industry is exploring the underbelly of 2020, we believe the answers for improvement can be found right on the surface. Here's 3 questions to test the waters.
1) Did the digital divide, expose management's fault lines?
It's Monday morning, everyone's shuffling into another dreaded meeting. Coffee in hand, patiently awaiting the executive to show up so they can begin. Pleasantries are exchanged and toxic leadership pretends to care what staff did on the weekend, workers likewise conceal how they really feel. Does this sound familiar?
If so, you're not alone! Here at Trident Strategies, we follow the science of Leadership and you might be surprised to know:
"Some 90% of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73% admit that they use meeting time to do other work."
Why are firms willing to waste so much time and money, without ROI? This question belongs to any executive who feels compelled to hold an obsessive level of meetings, without objectives, to create an orbit of self importance that does everything, but serve the customer.
So what happened to this dynamic when the pandemic hit? All of a sudden, staff were banished to their living rooms, and controlling managers lost their ability to corral a captive audience on demand. Leadership anxiety reached new levels and workplace toxicity skyrocketed, even remotely! Staff feverishly interviewed for jobs between zoom calls, and there was nothing bosses could do about it, as staff turnover exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
What cracks in the foundation were revealed? Lack of trust, and managerial competence were the two main factors that bubbled to the surface when the workforce went remote. We observed that what was wrong in the office, only became magnified digitally. As a consequence, those in the organization with less exposure to these leadership failures now observed them on full display.
2) Leaders were thrust into brutally honest positions, will that trend continue?
What happened in 2020 to companies that didn't have trusted "work from home" policies? How were they able to evaluate staff, give raises or promotions without face to face interaction? With everyone being physically siloed - flat organizations found themselves unable to pivot. They simply didn't have the time or systems in place to analyze their staff's work product.
“Performance evaluations are one of the strongest anchors and artifacts of your corporate culture.” - Rebecca Knight
Not only did this put leadership into the very difficult position to admit they weren't effectively evaluating performance prior to COVID-19, but it became painfully clear as work carried on (antithetical to how those in charge said things must operate), that any of the mandates (workers must be onsite or dressed a certain way) - didn't actually impact the quality of the work. Ouch!
Having taken away the appearance of teamwork (forcing people to un-collaboratively work in open, "collective" spaces), and exposing some managers as largely ineffective - spoke volumes at many firms. Some groups came to terms with this inconvenient truth, admitted their shortcomings, and thus were able to improve conditions to retain staff. Other companies swept this under the rug and kept sludging along with zoom calls like nothing happened. Staff eventually left for more honest and stable firms, because the company failed to learn. Therefore, it's strongly evident that if any corporation hopes to stay in business post-pandemic, they must begin to view "truth" as a front line asset to fight against the virus of poor leadership.
3) Many staff took advantage of toxic workplaces during the pandemic, but didn't employers just do the same?
Like a strange balancing act for a dysfunctional family circus, hostile workplaces were stuck in the very difficult position of using PPP loans to keep staff - who ironically didn't want to stick around to begin with. Keeping a paycheck however, became infinitely easier given that remote work was the mandate this past year. This meant workers didn't have to deal with poor leadership in person, and the companies got grants to cover payroll. Very strange "win-win" indeed. The tradeoff? Attend a few video calls a day - drum up summary emails for action items and interview like crazy until a better opportunity developed.
Some firms knew this was going on. Others maybe even noticed their staff was taking to social media and bragging about how much work they weren't doing, or that they were hoping to nail the next big interview to escape their current plight. Sadly, these same companies needed the staff to initially stick around to get the government funding - so they turned a blind eye and largely left these unhappy staff alone. Was this the right call? Depends on who you ask. The loser of course was the customer.
There is hope in 2021, for everyone.
This past year has been extremely confusing for every corporation. The leadership challenges have been endless and the solutions are beyond difficult. That being said, there's one thing everyone united around, and that's the absolute rejection of mistreatment of employees and the toxic leadership who only exacerbated the pandemic. It's sad that a global sickness was needed to force this realization, but all things worth fighting for have the most difficult road to victory.
Cheers to a great year ahead, as we all leave a challenging one behind!