By Tom Winter
Insights from Lexico Lead Advisor, Tom Winter
The pandemic forced change quickly, which has been extremely taxing for businesses, employees and customers alike. Many people are still challenged by how we’re working now and will be for the foreseeable future, without a clear roadmap insight. In a time of constant and unprecedented change, a return to fundamentals can guide you to successfully manage and conduct business. According to Lexico lead advisor Tom Winter, while the “what” of business – cost management, revenue growth, customer service – remains constant, the “how” you conduct business has shifted.
The key is to be mindful of the “what” while navigating the new “how”. Winter points to education as an example of this dynamic in action. When the pandemic took hold, school systems around the world switched practically overnight to remote learning. While kids attended classes via Zoom, they were missing the essential structure that in-person school had provided. The “what” of learning hadn’t changed, but “how” the lessons were delivered did and had a negative impact on the structure that K-12 students require from a developmental standpoint. The takeaway: When decisions are made about the “how” without considering the impact on the “what,” the “what” can unintentionally suffer, which is a helpful cautionary tale for business leaders.
According to Winter, for most businesses and leaders, the fundamental “what” of business remains, and navigating the new “how” requires embracing change and leading with clarity, conviction and taking a back-to-basics approach to be successful. Here’s the landscape today:
Focus on the Customer
Customer focus has always been a fundamental business priority. Understanding your customer, their needs, and how they are evolving, and exceeding their expectations – none of that changes. Whether it’s in a crisis environment or one of extreme social or economic change, there’s always a laser focus on the customer and how you meet their needs.
Contain Costs/Drive Revenues
We still need to provide options that are as cost-effective as possible, Winter says. For businesses that play in the technology space or have transformation needs there, we know that IT projects are always looked at from the cost side of the business. And as these projects involve more and more customer-centric applications, driving further engagement for revenue generation is just as important. Digital engagement can lead to business transformation that many businesses are not even considering.
Deliver the Goods
Another key priority that hasn’t changed is delivering on what you say you’re going to deliver on. Whether it’s internally or to a customer or as a consultant representing a firm, delivering on your commitments continues to be the most effective way to build trust, confidence and long-term relationships, and this is most prized in a dynamic environment.
Go Back to Basics
It’s important to note that the degree of change in how we’re doing things depends on how much an individual is already accustomed to working virtually. People with global roles or responsibilities are likely to have adapted or will do so more quickly. But for those leaders, Winter says, empathy is critical in ensuring that everyone on their team is engaged and a collaborative virtual environment is fostered.
With the prevalence of the virtual workplace, the days of the hallway meeting are on hold. For those who are used to having colleagues in the office or available locally, communicating and doing business in a dispersed setting is alien. The need for good communication is always important, but even more so today. So Winter recommends to “over-communicate,” using all the tools available to us, from email and video conference to instant message and text – and even the old standby, a phone call. Use an agenda for virtual meetings. Publish meeting minutes afterward to ensure alignment. In a constant state of change, nothing can fall through the cracks.
Facilitating a meeting is even more important in a virtual environment since there is natural facilitation in face-to-face meetings that takes place through visual contact and prompts during discussion, which don’t always exist virtually. Being physically displaced from the team, less assertive members may choose not to say anything unless prompted. And from a global perspective, cultures come into play as to what is considered respectful in dynamic conversations. We need to ensure that regardless of how someone engages, that they’re given the opportunity to do so.
Make Time to Socialize
And, don’t forget to make room for a “water cooler” conversation. Social interaction time needs to be built into virtual meeting agendas, whether it be one-to-one or group meetings. It is critical to building relationships and making everyone more comfortable in order to have an open discussion. We’re all working in some degree of isolation, so leaders need to facilitate a sense of belonging among dispersed teams.
In the office environment, we’re quickly exposed to the organizational structure, departmentally and company-wide, mainly by exposure to projects we are working on. All of this context can get lost when you don’t have face-to-face interaction. For a dispersed workforce, providing a general understanding of how the organization operates is essential; and within projects, providing charts of people’s roles, who they are reporting to and their accountabilities becomes key to project success. Furthermore, Winter says, leaders need to establish a communication cadence to replace cubicle walkups, with time on the calendar for one-to-one and traditional staff meetings alike. Equally as important, structured engagement with individuals and teams gives leaders the opportunity to assess not only project progress but individual skills, and address any concerns that may be identified. With an established cadence of open and honest communication, trust is built.
The changes in how we’re working now are likely here to stay in some form, with companies moving to all virtual or a hybrid model. For now and the foreseeable future, leaders need to acknowledge that things are different and embrace change in a way that will position employees to do their best work, while remaining focused on business priorities that remain steadfast. And as Winter has shared, leaders need to also be mindful that when the “what” and the “how” are not aligned, the “what” can unintentionally suffer. But with clarity, conviction and a back-to-basics approach, leaders can set up their teams for success even in the most dynamic of environments.
If you’re looking for guidance in navigating the new “how” of business, contact Lexico.