The benefits of supportive and agile leadership during uncertain times
With the potential economic impact of Brexit still unknown, the subject of leadership during uncertain times is frequently being raised.
A core theme that we are seeing is how business leaders, supported by their HR teams, can lead the way in developing and maintaining an agile and supportive workplace culture. As Peter Drucker famously said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and with long-term strategy planning currently more complicated, the culture of the business is something leaders can focus on here and now.
Employees are a businesses biggest asset. Supporting them through periods of uncertainty and creating a culture which embraces positive change and continued innovation, will help to retain top talent and keep employees engaged. It will also help organisations to become more adaptive, flexible, innovative and resilient, preparing them to move forward successfully when the economic landscape becomes clearer.
To be truly effective, workplace culture always needs to flow from the top down. The Agile Business Consortium, a not for profit organisation, has carried out extensive research into defining the key characteristics for agile leadership. It has identified the three common principles of communication, commitment and collaboration, and the reoccurring theme behind each of these is the need for a people-focused, supportive approach. Business agility isn’t simply about pushing through change regardless, there should be a culture in which employees feel trusted and valued, united in common goals, supported to suggest new ideas and empowered to work together to implement them.
Uncertainty and a lack of information will reduce people’s engagement, motivation and morale and increase the chances of people feeling stressed, worried and undervalued. As a result, a business can end up not only facing challenges caused by uncertainty but also reduced productivity levels, increased sickness absence and the risk of talented employees leaving. Leaders who actively communicate through times of uncertainty are more likely to maintain the trust and loyalty of their employees. Keeping quiet won’t protect employees and prevent them from worrying, it is more likely to increase speculation and unfounded fears. Even when leaders don’t have all the answers, they can be open and transparent in saying this and instead share regular updates on what they do know and what they are planning for different scenarios.
As well as sharing information, leaders can also benefit from listening to their employees, encouraging upward communication and from being open to ideas from everyone. Listening will help gain a better understanding of any staff concerns to be addressed. It also helps to stimulate a collaborative approach to planning for the future. Employees are often in the best position to suggest innovative ideas as they experience first-hand what is working well and what could be done differently, and people are more likely to respond positively to change if they have been involved in suggesting and implementing it.
Employees will always pick up on the actions of their employers. It’s easy to imagine what they will think if it becomes obvious that leaders are saying one thing and doing another. Actions speak louder than words. If leaders don’t believe what they are saying, or if they are not committed to delivering results or open to the idea of change, they will struggle to inspire their teams. They need to be able to authentically lead by example and model the behaviour they want to see in their employees.
Some of the most inspiring examples we see of award-winning workplaces are where it is obvious that everyone really looks out for one another. This type of supportive culture will flow from the top level down and when teams are committed to helping each other to overcome challenges, come up with new ideas and achieve shared goals, a business is much more likely to succeed and thrive. Leaders can help to shift the focus from uncertainties about the future by empowering teams to collaborate on what can be accomplished on a day to day basis, including the introduction of new ideas. Continuing to celebrate the achievement of short-term goals will help to maintain a feeling of positivity and maintain employees’ sense of purpose.
A feeling of togetherness and belonging not only encourages people to deliver their best every day it can also be very reassuring when there is a risk that employees could be feeling insecure and uncertain. Leaders can help to reinforce a collaborative and supportive culture by actively creating opportunities to bring their people together. This can be through meetings, the creation of open office environments which encourage interaction, team lunches and social events. Uncertainty also shouldn’t get in the way of chances to have fun together while also giving something back to the community through charity fundraising or volunteering.
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