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Part 2: Engaging Yourself and Your People–Next Steps in Leading During Uncertain Times

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

If you're anything like me, one of the toughest lessons tied to the recent changes has been motivation. What to do first? Do I need to start at my normal workday time, or should I sleep a little extra? What's expected? What's needed?

Recently, I attended a webinar with the Studer Community Institute, Leading Change in Times of Uncertainty and Disruption. The discussion was led by Kristie Tobias, an innovative and dynamic national consultant, and speaker with Huron Healthcare. In order to lead change, we need to engage ourselves and our people.

Who are you and who are your people?

Engagement does not come from a one-size-fits-all solution. The first step in deploying an engagement strategy is defining your team. Your team may include some or all of the following: business owners, business leaders, team members working from home, team members working on-site, and some that are not working or are in school.

Business owners will own the stress of the organization's viability. Business leaders will be trying to figure out how to steer the ship. Team members working from home will be adjusting their schedules and working habits. Team members working on site will be adjusting to less traffic and new responsibilities. Folks not working or still in school are still feeling the pressure of adjusting to a different way of day-to-day life with new routines, restrictions, and opportunities.

Moreover, people in your circles may fit into several categories, compounding these different stressors. Thoughtfully deploy empathy to consider how to respond to and support each of your people.

Key engagement drivers.

One tool to check-in is through employee surveys. Asking the right questions can help uncover where your people are.

It is always most important that your people feel cared for as a person, that their supervisor values them, and that they do meaningful work. This is a great time to increase personal communications like thank you cards. In his book, The Busy Leader's Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive, Quint Studer shares some tips on hardwiring a thank-you note system into your culture.

First, handwrite the notes. Handwritten is much more impactful than a typed note. Second, be specific. Take the time to spell out what the person did right and the positive effect it had on a customer, coworker, or someone else. Third, send the note to the home if possible. Receiving a thank-you note at home makes more of an impact, gives the person a chance to share the work success with their family, and creates a lot of goodwill.

Another driver is rounding on employees. Now is the time for personal check-ins. Video is best so that nothing is lost in translation. Next in line is a phone call, followed by written communication. With video, you communicate both with your intonation and body language, something that can be lost in written communication. Also, do this as frequently as is necessary. This is not just to check on the status of work, but to continue to communicate that you care about each person. Use focus questions. Focus questions are open-ended and are meant to clearly specify the issue that needs solving. These questions guide your people, encourage curiosity around the issue, and emphasize reasoning over a "right" answer. Finally, be transparent.

Performance management also encourages engagement. As always, clear expectations help. Communicate consistent expectations. It is much easier to remain engaged when we know what is expected. Leverage high and consistent performers. Another side effect of all of this change is that a magnifying glass has been placed on us all. Are we those that do just enough? Do we do what's expected? Or do we do whatever it takes? Now more than ever, high performers will be apparent. Lean into them. For those at the other end of the spectrum, the low performers, communicating clear expectations is key.

Diversify your engagement bank account.

Now is also a great time to engage with folks that add to your bucket. It's a great time to solidify these relationships. Think about who you've connected with over the last year or two. Think about some that you've been meaning to connect with.

Can you identify peers and colleagues you admire? How about trusted advisors? Mentors? Dive deeper with your inner circle–those that you are brutally honest with and that you can "check yourself" with. Finally, your family and friends. Even the busiest people in these circles may have more time now than ever to connect and deepen your relationships. Don't miss it.

Keep realistic expectations.

Here is a good list of principles for working remotely during this crisis that we can apply going forward.

First, you are not "working from home," but "you are at your home, during a crisis, trying to work." Give yourself some grace to learn this whole thing. Change is always part of the equation, but the scale and speed of this change will leave you reeling, and that's ok.

Second, your personal physical, emotional, and mental health are far more important than anything else right now. I have always been an easy-going level headed person. I've not struggled with anxiety. However, during this crisis, I have daily anxiety episodes. I've had to adjust by adopting my coping mechanisms. Be real with yourself and adjust as needed.

Third, do not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours. Set daily and weekly goals, track your progress, and adjust how you need to work to meet expectations. Don't fall into the trap of trying to burn the candle at both ends.

Fourth, be kind to yourself and don't judge your coping based on how others are coping. This is a principle that can apply across all areas of your life. There's an often-quoted saying, "don't compare your chapter one to someone else's chapter 20." This is a great time to practice. Remain honest with yourself and make progress in your time.

Fifth, your team's success will not be measured the same way it was when things were "normal." Look for new wins and celebrate them all.

Invest in yourself.

Finally, you have to take time for self-care. In times of rapid change, recentering yourself is vital. Take time daily to invest in your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care.

Physical self-care might include: sleep, stretching, walking, exercise, healthy food, yoga, and rest.

Emotional self-care might include: stress management, emotional maturity, forgiveness, compassion, and kindness.

Social self-care might include: keeping boundaries, support systems, positive social media, communication, time together, and asking for help.

Spiritual self-care might include: prayer, alone time, meditation, connection, nature, journaling, and keeping a dedicated place to shut out all other distractions and be in secret.

We're all in this together. Let's continue to support and encourage one another.

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