As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, leaders across all industries are looking for ways to return to what is oftentimes called the “new normal.” I’d like to challenge this term, in that it’s not really new. In many ways, we’re really craving what we’ve had before. One thing for sure, though, is that things are different, and different can actually be a really good thing. Presenting (drumroll)—the B.E.T.T.E.R. normal. Out with the old, in with better. And here’s why.
Highly stressful, highly disruptive events in the reality of our lives, both personally and professionally, are often opportunities for growth. Research shows consistently that crisis forces us out of the status quo and into change. It forces us to change in the way we do things, both as individuals and as an organization. Whatever was stagnant gets shaken up.
Yet, as people get back to whatever is the new reality of their workplace—whether virtual, hybrid or on-site, whether in businesses that are struggling to adapt or others that are experiencing rapid growth—leaders have a lot on their plates. With many team members experiencing burnout on the one hand but then on the other having to get back into a motivated, innovative, adaptable mindset, leaders often find themselves wondering what they can do in order to get their tired, overwhelmed team members to that state of mind, especially after the reality of the last year and a half.
Getting back not just to a new normal but actually to a better normal requires leaders to double-down on their soft skills and provide the people they’re leading a lot more support. Here is how leaders can lead their teams to a B.E.T.T.E.R. normal.
Morale is defined as the team members’ overall attitude when it comes to their organization. Positive employee morale is directly correlated with increased productivity, and must never be dismissed or undermined. If you find yourself sometimes thinking, “Well, their morale is their business, it doesn’t affect me,” think again. According to a 2021 Gallup report, a highly engaged workforce increases profitability by 21%. So yes, morale is by all means a leader’s business, just as much as the company’s profitability and success is. The best strategy for boosting employee morale is to focus on small gestures—a kind word, support when needed, being present, acknowledging their efforts and struggles. Boosting morale is not about big pompous gestures. It’s about the small gestures, being attentive, and being a good leader by first being a good person.
According to Gallup, employees who feel that their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. At the end of the day, we all want to feel that we matter, not just to our families and friends but also to the organization we work so many hours a day for. And yet, global studies indicate that 79% of people who quit their job cite ‘lack of appreciation’ as their reason for leaving.
Just like in your home life, empowerment is a huge component in employee motivation, and the fascinating thing about it is that the same strategies that work with your kids will also work with your employees. Here it is in one sentence for you: Believe that they can, and then tell them so. That’s it. No matter how high you set the bar (within reason of course), believe that they can reach it, and let them know that you believe it. Showing your belief that someone is capable will not only make them succeed, but make them go above and beyond.
Out of our own insecurities and anxieties we so often doubt others, micromanage and belittle them. In doing so, we’re making them feel small, incompetent and constantly frustrated. When we believe in someone, we lionize them, and every little kitten wants to feel like a lion. Start treating your team like a bunch of lions, not like a litter of kittens. Treat your kids the same way, and everyone else in your life. You will be amazed by the outcome. This is what true leadership is all about, and it changes not only organizations but also lives.
TALENT IS EVERYTHING
I find that many leaders are highly engaged in strategic goals and metrics, but either forget or don’t even bother to recognize talented employees. Empty platitudes like ‘my door is always open’ mean absolutely nothing. Prioritizing talent amidst all strategic organizational efforts and goals is key to success, and requires daily mindful focus. To remind yourself of how important talent is in the workplace, remind yourself how important people are in your own personal life. In order to succeed, in our personal lives and on an organizational level, we really need other people. We need them to work with us rather than against us so that we can reach our goals, and we need them to want to go the extra mile. How do we do that? Daily mindful focus on what really matters for organizational (and personal) success—people. Believe in your people. Support your people. Nurture your people. Talent is everything.
According to the Harvard Business Review, compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout. The best way to build trust is to build a culture of communication. This means:
- Team members’ voices gets heard
- Leadership is transparent and open with the team
I’m asked by leaders many times, especially through organizational change, mergers, acquisitions, leadership and operational changes, what to do when they don’t have the clarity for definitive answers. My answer to that is simple: be honest. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. That alone builds trust.
ENERGY AND EFFICIENCY
Did you know that the average employee receives 121 emails a day? The Washington Post suggests that the average worker spends about 4.1 hours a day checking their inbox. Teams spend about 17.5 hours a week on ineffective communication, which many times can be more concise and waste a lot less valuable time. Inefficiency of work processes, poor communication, and wasted time creates a lot of stress and frustration. It is imperative for leaders to create efficient work processes for their team, and remain respectful to their energy level. The last thing you want is burned-out employees! Create work processes that leave them enough time for work/life harmony, for resting and recharging. People can see when you’re being respectful to their energy and time, and they will put their best foot forward to give you maximum performance in return. It’s when leaders are not mindful to team members’ energy, and work processes are unclear and tedious, that people get frustrated and disengaged.
Research consistently shows that people work more effectively, are more motivated, and perform better at companies that include a rewards system and eliminate threats. It’s known as the ‘incentive theory,’ and is based on the notion that people naturally behave in a way they believe will result in a reward, and avoid actions that may entail punishment.
Today, almost 90% of all organizations have a formal reward and recognition program in place, and yet only 41% of employees say their employers effectively reward employees for their great work. In other words, more than half of employees feel that they are not being rewarded effectively.
See the connection to engagement there? A recent Gallup study shows that lack of recognition remains one of the most common reasons for employees to leave an organization. Another Gallup study showed that team members who don’t feel they are being recognized for their work and efforts are twice as likely to quit the following year. These studies suggest just how important recognition and appreciation are when it comes to making employees feel important and valued.
Interestingly, a common assumption is that employees prefer cash rewards. Surprise—65% of employees actually prefer non-cash incentives. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that employees don’t like money. But according to the Incentive Research Foundation, what really motivates people (65% of those surveyed) are personalized rewards that are remembered longer, such as specialized merchandize and opportunities for travel.
With all of that said, let’s also not forget that verbal gratitude is another form of reward that people truly appreciate. The Journal of Personality & Social Psychologycites a study that indicates that people who were shown a simple expression of thanks by someone in authority led them to be 50% more productive.
Together, as teams, leaders and individuals, we can up our game when it comes to our people skills. We can lead better. We can become better. We can get back to a B.E.T.T.E.R. normal, ready to learn and grow.