How do I know they are working hard? (Part 1)

Leadership Memo 2020-3

“The art of leadership consists in bringing and keeping people in the highest performance levels, and this happens when people are in the best state of personal well-being.” – Daniel Goleman

I think we can all agree that leadership has been severely challenged in the past 6+ months. With the global pandemic, which leads to lockdowns, we are all working remotely. We are glued to our screens all day. Zoom fatigue is real. (if you want to know how to reduce your zoom fatigue or how not to feel overwhelmed, read the blogs I posted back in April). If you’re a parent, not only are your kids at home 24/7, you also need to figure out how your kids “go to school” from home. Juggling work life and home life is a challenge. On top of that, you don’t see your colleagues in person. Everyone is represented by a little video box on your screen. You may wonder, “How do I manage my employees when they’re all remote and I can’t see them in person?” There are many aspects of remote management. Today, we’re going to concentrate on one aspect, or rather, this question:

“How do I know that my employees are working instead of slacking off, watching Netflix all day?” 

You don’t. Let me ask you a different question. Are you sure your employees were actually working and not surfing the web when you saw them at their desks before? If your cross-functional teams are happy, working effectively together and produce frequent increments of products that delight the customers, isn’t that your answer?

I discovered a scary trend lately. Employers are installing surveillance tools onto employees’ computers, so they can monitor employees’ productivity. Please don’t do that. That’s a declaration of mistrust. It’s bad for morale and causing employee disloyalty. Surveilling your employees does not put people in their best state of personal well-being. You may think, “I don’t do that”. Good. But how do you ensure people are in the best state of well-being, especially when they have to juggle work/home integration during the pandemic? 

First, trust! Gone are the days when the boss knows best. Ideas can come from anywhere. We need to cultivate networks of competence rather than a top-down hierarchy of authority. Part of leadership’s job is to create and maintain a safe environment (both physically and psychologically) so that such networks and learnings can happen. Give people freedom and autonomy to do their work and to build relationships (and give them resources to work), and they will be thrilled to work in your company or group.

Second, be human centric. You need to focus on human factors and behaviors. Have empathy. Leaders today need to have emotional intelligence. There are 4 basic dimensions (listed in order):

  • Self awareness
  • Self management: self-regulation and internal motivation
  • Social awareness and empathy
  • Relationship management: ability to relate, to communicate, to reach agreements, to connect positively and respectfully with others

In my next blog posts, I’ll expand on the 4 basic dimensions and how to train emotional intelligence, so keep an eye out for my posts.  

As a 21st century leader, you cannot look to the 20th century management practices as your model even though they have been highly successful in the past. The world has changed. So, the way to lead and manage also needs to change. If you only do these two things: trust your employees and be human centric, you’re well on your way to ensure that your employees are in the best state of well-being. In turn, you’ll be able to bring and keep your employees in the higher performance levels even during this unprecedented time. Just be aware that it’s much easier said than done 😉 

Latest Talks:

In case you missed the talk on Agile and Senior Leadership that I collaborated with 3 other colleagues from the US and the UK on Sept 10, we’re repeating that talk in late October. Go to Talks & Workshops for more details.

I’m also giving a talk on Sept. 29, where I dared you to open the HR pandora’s box. Hope to see you there!


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