We are all having to work differently, right now – whether that’s in terms of our physical environment, decision-making processes, the lack of connection with key individuals or simply the shift in our daily routine. The challenge and disruption will inevitably impact our performance.
This is our ‘new normal’. As such, we need to find a way of not only becoming more comfortable within it, but also understanding how we can create opportunities for ourselves and each other to thrive.
What do we need to perform well?
Natasha Elvin, writing for HR magazine, talks about the following as being vital in creating the conditions for high performance:
- Purpose – understanding why we are doing something; both on an individual and collective level
- Challenge – the appropriate amount, giving the right amount of stretch for a positive impact on performance
- Attention – regular, open and honest feedback
- Growth – the belief that we can improve and the knowledge around how to get there
- Recognition – when it is fair and proportionate (remembering that fairness isn’t necessarily about treating everyone the same)
- Choice – where individuals are equipped, enabled and encouraged to make their own choices
All help the individual to take greater control of their own performance, while suggesting that a leader’s role is to act as an enabler, to create an environment where employees can choose to perform. As Dan Pink, in his book Drive suggests, creating a sense of autonomy in the workplace is one of the key differentiators when it comes to increasing performance levels.
Given the current circumstances and the level of uncertainty we find ourselves in, we may need to shift our thinking around what good performance now looks like. For example, the focus and goals we had last month may now be, at best, unrealistic (or moved further down the priority list) and, at worst, totally irrelevant. This can be unsettling when people have been working towards something that has been clearly defined.
Our teams and organisations may need to come up with a new purpose – a new reason for existence, in order to stay productive and relevant. The focus, now, must be on output. We should not be overly prescriptive about how we achieve things as, given the current need for agile working, this will need to look different for everyone.
We may have to loosen our expectations – of ourselves and each other. We are going to be working in complex and ever-shifting circumstances for a while. This may feel uncomfortable and require us to become more ‘ok’ with the unknown. Consider what you may need in order to get yourself used to delivering work which is imperfect. Sometimes good is good enough.
Encourage your people to think about their work in terms of its impact, not about the method by which it was delivered, or the number of hours spent on it. Has it made a difference? Did it achieve what you needed it to? This will help people to remain engaged and give them the necessary criteria to judge how their contribution has landed.
Create clarity and shift your focus
Goals and areas of focus will undoubtedly need to shift. Big, lofty, long-term goals are unlikely to be as compelling as they were prior to this crisis. It will be challenging for individuals and teams to continue to engage with something that doesn’t feel as relevant as it once did. Instead, focusing on shorter-term goals – so that people feel confident that they can perform and contribute – will be more beneficial given the current context.
Consider: what is your strategy? What will your areas of focus be? How can you ensure that everyone is clear on the shift – and the role that they are able to play?
It’s also worth thinking about how you will maintain your feedback culture – it will be more challenging, whilst working remotely, for individuals to fully understand the impact of their work. How will you continue to check in with them and provide feedback – and, of course, thank them? The simple things matter, especially at times like these, and go a long way in motivating and engaging someone. And remember, ask those around you what they need from you.
What are the opportunities created?
Consider how we can turn this around. Look for opportunities that have been created through this situation? Calling on individuals to contribute to some thinking or work which doesn’t usually sit within their remit can have a huge impact on engagement and performance.
We all need to consider how we can positively challenge ourselves and each other during this time. This might require chameleon-levels of adaptation from that which we thought we knew. Keep asking questions of yourselves and each other:
How can we think outside of the box and get creative? What haven’t we explored yet? What is possible today that wasn’t yesterday? What is my contribution here and, ultimately – how can I make a difference?