How To Improve Your Post-Pandemic Leadership

Louise Taylor

What are the main challenges facing people managers in the Future of Work?

When we look at the Future of Work now, essentially what we’re talking about are the broader technological and societal changes, particularly hybrid, which have been propelled forward by Covid. This has brought a raft of unprecedented challenges for people managers, at a time when they themselves are under mounting pressures to deliver performance, drive culture change, and become the leaders of tomorrow. Some of the main challenges we see are:  


Understanding & effectively responding to employee motivations

Despite plenty of data sources showing that employees can be just as productive, if not more so, working in a hybrid set up, many people managers still feel uneasy because they can't physically see what their teams are doing. This wariness hasn’t reduced, even after a few years of working in this way.   

Whatever new ways of working an organisation has, people managers need to be clear with their teams on implications and expectations. They need to talk to their people and understand the range of responses, from resistance to advocacy, and the reasons for them.  
All of this is shifting the type of leadership that's needed from people managers. There’s much more focus on understanding employees’ motivations, which helps enormously when trying to get them to buy into new ways of working, and change culture.


Lack of motivation and burnout

A common concern we hear from companies is that with teams more dispersed, collaboration has taken a hit, which leaves people feeling isolated, disconnected, and lacking in motivation. There’s been a lot of talk about burnout, but persistent mental health problems such as anxiety have also been on the rise. In a hybrid world it’s easier for employees to hide behind emails and pretend they’re ok, rather than speaking up and seeking support.  

For people managers, this means they must be more intentional and proactive about how and when they check in with their people, both as individuals and a team. The key is to set clear goals, communicate regularly, actively listen (hold 1-1s with your team, and listen to them without judgement or interruption), and ask for feedback on what more you could be doing to support them. Being open, admitting your own mistakes, and showing vulnerability will also build trust, which is essential when embarking on culture change.  


Facilitating clear, cross-functional communication

Increasingly, people managers are not just directing their own teams, but bringing together people from different functions, who may not have worked with each other before, to solve a specific problem.  

In these scenarios, the way people managers communicate is critical. They need to be crystal clear on the broader team’s purpose, assign roles and responsibilities, and motivate people who do not directly report to them. This heightens further the importance of inclusion, being able to understand different drivers, appreciate what each person brings to a team, and communicate and engage with people in a way that brings them together – fast.  
In ever-more matrixed, networked organisations, people managers who can do this will be able to accelerate culture change.  


Every generation is different

There are now up to five generations in the workplace, each with their own view on what they want from their employer. Gen Z, for example, are more focused on the purpose and values of their company than their older colleagues (74% rank purpose above pay vs 67% of baby boomers).  

What this means for people managers is that they need to not only be able to articulate the purpose, values, and culture of their organisation, but also tailor their message to the needs and motivations of each generation in their team. This is a particular risk with the newer generations, as there is a global talent shortage for many of their skills, so they have more choice about where they can work. They are also more likely than baby boomers, for example, to leave if they feel that the organisation is no longer aligned with their values.  
So, when leading culture change, it’s imperative that people managers understand they have several sub-audiences within their team, and target their messaging accordingly.  


An increased focus on psychological safety

In a hybrid world, there's a greater need for trust. While part of that comes down to hiring and training the right people, a key element is vulnerability-based trust. This is about people managers showing they care about their team as individuals, and creating a safe space where they feel they can be themselves. If you connect with each of your team on a human level, as a person, they will trust you and bring challenges to you earlier, before they become crises.  

This is a new way of leading, with less focus on tasks and more on emotional intelligence, empathy, and engagement. For example, do you pick up on cues that someone in your team is struggling in a virtual setting? Are you making space in your team meetings to discuss how the team is feeling, not just what they’re doing?  

Psychological safety takes time and effort to build, but it is essential when you want to change your culture, because in doing so you will need to be able to have the important debates, share openly, and move forward as one team. Handling this sensitive issue will be new to many people managers. They must receive appropriate education and training from their organisations so they can address it effectively.  


Resistance to change

Often when people think of change, they focus on what's being taken away, rather than what benefits change might bring them. That's just the natural human reaction to it. This is exacerbated by the fact that organisations are transforming with ever-increasing frequency and intensity (nearly 75% expect to multiply the types of major change initiatives they will undertake in the next three years), which is leaving employees confused, spinning, and even more resistant to change, no matter how necessary it may be.   

It’s critical, therefore, that people managers explain explicitly to their teams:  

  • What is our culture?
  • Why is it so important to the delivery of our strategy?
  • What does this mean for our team?  
  • What does it mean for each team member individually?  

At root, people want to know: why are we making this change, and what’s in it for me? How will this change benefit me professionally, personally? This is about translating the culture change into tangible actions (behaviours) your team needs to adopt, and making it clear to everyone how the change will impact them.  

Having this common language and shared understanding is so important. It enables people managers to tell a story, bring their team with them on the journey, and give individuals clarity on what it all means for them.  


Upskilling your current employees

It’s not just the challenge of the seismic shift into hybrid working that has fundamentally changed how people managers need to operate. It’s also the rapid adoption of technology such as AI, which is constantly evolving and can be bewildering.   
Here, people managers wear two hats:  

  1. Upskilling themselves on new tools and technologies.  
  2. Ensuring their teams have the education and skills they need to best utilise them. 

AI in particular can be a steep learning curve, and while there are widespread fears about its impact on jobs, people managers need to be aware of how it may change roles, automating certain elements and placing more focus on the strategic value and emotional intelligence that only humans can add.  


What are the key post-pandemic leadership skills for guiding employees through change? 


1. Be super-specific about what you need employees to do differently.  

Post-pandemic attention spans are shorter than ever. Your people are flooded with information day-in, day-out. You must break the culture change down into simple, actionable steps that integrate into your team members’ daily activities to cut through the noise and gain traction.  


2. Be agile in your approach.  

We often underestimate the importance of micro actions in culture change. But essentially, all change starts with making tiny tweaks and being consistent. Work with your team to agree on small steps you can all take, see what works and what doesn’t, and adjust if needed. The way to get your people to engage in culture change, especially when they are dispersed, is to make them feel involved and included, and an agile approach encourages this empowerment and experimentation. 

3. Share successes.  

As we said above, hybrid working can engender feelings of loneliness and disconnection. For culture change to be successful, it needs togetherness. One effective way to bring people closer is to share successes. Storytelling especially can reinforce the changes you want to see, as well as helping people to understand the impact of their actions on the broader organisation. Sharing successes creates wider visibility, increases belief, and promotes recognition, which is a big driver of engagement. 


Why do some people managers struggle to engage with culture change?

With the Future of Work demanding different leadership skills of people managers, it’s perhaps no surprise that some of them are struggling to engage with culture change. Here are the top three reasons we see for this:   

1. Not consulted on culture change.  

Often, culture change is simply announced by senior leaders with diktats about what people managers need to do, without understanding the critical role people managers play in driving change on the ground. As a result, cynicism creeps in, and people managers feel shut out of important decisions that they will need to implement. Bring your people managers in early, hear their voices, and your culture change stands a much better chance of success.  


2. Don’t fully understand what culture means.  

We still hear complaints that culture is fluffy, intangible, or so big and complex that people managers have no control over it. It’s vital that the senior leadership are crystal clear on the desired culture in terms of concrete behaviours, and use a common language, because as with values, culture and its associated behaviours can be open to wide interpretation. The more specific leaders are, the more their people managers will know what is practically expected of them.  


3. Senior leaders don’t walk the talk.  

If your senior leadership aren’t seen to role model the expected behaviours, or at least to be working on them, then people managers won’t trust them, and will simply revert to their old behaviours. You need your middle layer to drive culture change into the heart of the organisation, but they won’t do that unless they see those above them walking their talk first. That’s why organisations often start their work with us at the senior level, and cascade to people managers a few months later, once there have been some symbolic shifts. 

4. Time.  

People managers are already under huge pressure, and culture change can feel like another thing to do, an unnecessary distraction, or even a nice-to-have extracurricular activity, rather than being central to their role. The reality is, change takes time and energy and brings extra work, but it’s a vital part of a people manager’s job and is critical to the delivery of strategy.

People managers must make the time to be intentional about all their interactions. At the same time, culture is ‘how we do things around here,’ so making small tweaks in their day-to-day behaviour is the most efficient thing people managers can do to change culture: it takes more awareness than time. 


What support can you give people managers to deliver on culture change? 

Given the variety of challenges they face leading culture change in a post-pandemic world, what support should leaders be providing their people managers with?:

Training on new ways of working.  

As we’ve seen, hybrid working requires a different kind of leadership. It’s about new skills and fresh mindsets, which managers need training to become comfortable with and competent in. Organisations need to allow for this in their capability planning and ensure managers have sufficient means to develop these skills and reinforce them in their teams.  

Support with communications.  

Culture change typically sparks many more questions than there may be immediate answers for. In uncertain situations, it’s important to keep communicating, as this reassures teams and keeps them focused. Managers need support with their communications – what’s the story, what messages should they deliver, and how can they provide feedback about how they’re landing? If managers aren’t provided with these tools they will either freestyle or say nothing at all, neither of which are helpful for culture change.  


External Expert Support 

If your people managers need more support to help drive culture change, we have a range of solutions - just contact us to find out more.  

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Post-Pandemic Management FAQs 

Why are people managers more important than ever? 


  • In a globally more dispersed workforce, people managers are more important than ever to help individuals feel focused, connected, and supported.  
  • With a greater velocity of change, people managers play a vital role in helping their teams respond, develop new skills, and continue to thrive.  
  • With increased uncertainty and growing ambiguity, people managers help their teams feel a sense of calm and control by instilling routines, checking in, and maintaining connection. 

What skills do the next generation of leaders need? 

  • How to focus on results vs. hours worked. When you can’t physically see your employees, you need to measure their productivity in a different way, and agree these metrics with them.
  • Having more conversations about accountability. Contracting with your team members more formally about what they’re expected to deliver, and what they need from you to do so. And checking in regularly to ensure you’re both on track.  
  • Self-awareness. To talk about values, or be vulnerable in any way, people managers need to understand themselves and their drivers so they can connect emotionally with their team members.
  • Facilitation and connection. People managers have less direct influence these days, and instead need to bring together and contract with colleagues across their organisation, often far beyond their own department. This is also about connecting people, collaborating openly, and removing barriers to enable projects to move forward.  

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