It’s official! We’re back: feet under desks, in-office, off-screen and in high-speed, target-ready recovery mode. It’s go-go-go as The Great Return is locked in, clocked in, and loaded — with the entire workforce collared-up for every 9-5 working minute of it. We are all back to work with an altered, transformed work culture and leaders are finding themselves in uncharted waters; with their work cut out for them in ways that extend far beyond a P&L.
The fear is real. As is the responsibility to lead a company — with tens, hundreds or thousands of employees — back to business. CEOs are being forced to question: what did our company culture once look like? What should our company culture look like now? And how do we work to win? Many leaders are grappling with the confidence to reinstate traditional policies, to set down rules and to rebuild their company culture while having the courage to lead it.
Kerry Morris, CEO of South Africa’s leading specialist recruitment agency, The Tower Group, says: “It’s hard – not just for the employees but for the business owners too; there are many moving parts in returning to the office, and the spotlight is on Executives, CEOs and Business Owners to make decisions; but we don’t have the answers because – guess what – we are scared as hell too; and this makes leading our companies in the current landscape a ‘not so peachy’ experience.”
As a means to building better in the Covid Century, Morris weighs in with her 3 how-to’s of learning to lead again and rebuilding a company, from fear to future-proof.
#1. You’re not going to be everyone’s peach.
Boundaries are important, but not everyone likes them. Example: wearing tie-dye on Zoom was once considered cool, but it isn’t acceptable at Head Office; what this means is that some rules are here to stay – and the sooner you communicate this to your staff, the sooner they will come to accept it. But – there will always be those tie-dye vigilantes that’ll snub you in the kitchen, the corridor, the bathroom and even, on social media. It’s okay. As a leader, you need to be okay with not being the most popular person in the room.
How to be okay with not being everyone’s peach:
•Have the courage to redefine your company culture in the way that is best for the business; even if it goes against popular demand.
•Keep communicating (over-communicating) and remind your teams ‘This is who we are, this is why you joined us, come walk the journey with us.’
•Lead from the front: be confident in the choices you make and set the right culture tone.
#2. ‘Sell don’t tell’ your Company Culture.
Everyone in the business needs to be aligned with the voice of the brand, the objectives of the brand and the ‘selling strategy’ of the business – and it starts with the ones at the top. As a leader, you’re either selling or telling what your company and culture is — and the two get very different results: one gets buy-in and the other doesn’t.
How to sell your company culture to your people:
•Remind your team (and yourself) of your Company values. What does your business stand for? When you grow confident about this, sell these values to your teams – and keep repeating it. Then, even, design a poster and stick it up!
• Lead by example: always have your company hat on! Be consistent about your values and get your teams to do the same. Invite them to collaborate on the old and new values, in a way that makes them feel heard, happy and proud.
•Open up the space for buy-in from your leadership teams so as to eliminate push back. Collaborate with them in ways that allow the refueling of their passion and commitment so that they may inspire others in the organisation.
#3. Be the Energy in the Room
As a leader your energy informs your office culture, ultimately. Prompt your team to take responsibility for the energy they bring into the building, the meeting, the room. It seems face-to-face interaction is not entirely enough these days, leaders need to dig a little deeper and show up with energy, with commitment and with a new and evolved mindset to inspire, not deplete. The team will follow suit.
How to evoke good energy inside your office space:
•Use your words. Remember that your words matter, in person and on email. Use positive statements and encouraging affirmations amongst colleagues to create an upbeat environment.
•Get them excited. Arrange a casual monthly get-together (where no-one needs to prepare a presentation!). Keep it real, chilled and fun.
• Place quirky reminders around the building that remind your teams that you are all in this together; that everyone is responsible for what they are bringing to the company on a daily basis.
•Decide to be the benchmark, not the ball breaker. Embody your company vision: how you dress, how you speak, how you respond, how you engage. This is the good stuff – and we could all do with more of it in the room.
“It’s tougher than anyone can expect at the top, and that’s why you’re there: to make the tough calls, to trust your gut, to take the reins and to lead. There will be some who will not choose to follow you – but those that do – will become accountable for achieving a singular aim: success,” says Morris.
“While company culture is meant to be led, not lost, the onus is on the front-runners to set the tone, the office constitution and the company culture for what is truly right for the business. As leaders, the vision sits with us – it always has,” says Morris.