Transform your workforce with empathy and an eye on the future
Learn three tips to take a more empathetic approach to workforce transformation during times of change.
Published by Jessica Modrall
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Another day and a fresh challenge for the new British Prime Minister. A change in leadership usually brings a change in direction, new policies and initiatives. But none of us could have foreseen what has unfolded in the last few weeks.
For many organizations, these turbulent economic conditions will mean revisiting their business strategy and assessing whether they have the optimum workforce to withstand the pressures that currency fluctuations and market disruption bring.
Yet, while the desire to rush headlong into spreadsheet analysis and make quick changes to their operations, it’s important for leaders to pause and consider the impact on their people.
Don’t get caught by “spreadsheet sight”
During periods of transition, it’s easy for businesses to get caught out by spreadsheet sight. By that I mean they push through initiatives and take actions based purely on what spreadsheets says.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent times, it’s that running any organization or system involving people can’t be fully represented in Excel. It’s my belief that leaders have a better chance of navigating change during times of turbulence if they manage with empathy.
There have been notable examples throughout the pandemic of empathetic leadership that helped organizations through tough conditions. PepsiCo gave monetary support to its factory floor workers, who were either in quarantine or took time off to look after poorly relatives. The company weathered the storm well in 2020 and, in Q1 this year, announced revenues of more than $1bn above expectation.
While it’s all but impossible to link an empathetic management style with an increase in revenue, it’s fair to say that managing with empathy alongside data insights helps leaders retain staff in difficult times, and may even attract new talent.
More than just the numbers
The aviation industry has been through the mill over the last few years. Now in the UK, airlines are struggling to find enough workers to meet the huge demand for international travel since governments lifted COVID restrictions. When the pandemic first hit, the industry cut staff en masse. British Airways alone let go of 10,000 staff members.
Fast forward and today many of those workers have found alternative employment with better pay, conditions, and working hours. Now, the aviation industry is being forced to rethink its recruitment strategy and offer return-to-work incentives with sign-on bonuses and other enticements.
Undoubtedly, airlines and airports would’ve preferred not to have made the tough decisions they did. But time has shown they underestimated the future impact of these decisions.
Modeling and testing strategic decisions against different scenarios would have helped them better forecast their workforce needs once restrictions were eased. Hindsight also shows that making a rational business decision without empathy can leave a mark that’s hard to erase.
A change in approach in light of these learnings could make all the difference as the world stares now into the face of a global economic downturn that will affect people’s livelihoods. Against that backdrop, I have the following suggestions to offer.
Three tips for stable and lasting business transition
In taking a more empathetic approach to change, business leaders could consider the following:
- Acknowledge your team championsLeaders should look hard to find the team managers, team leads and squad leaders that helped keep their teams together and resilient over the last few years. Empowering and nurturing them will ensure future transitions are well managed, well communicated and embraced.
- Keep culture front of mindEconomic and political uncertainty is not a green light to chuck culture out of the window. In fact, culture should be nurtured and protected in times of crisis. It’s not something you’ll find on a spreadsheet but it’s perhaps one of the most important things to get right during periods of change.
- Take a long viewDecisions should be made with consideration for their future impact. By simply focusing on the here and now, you may feel like you’re solving a challenge but it could cause greater complications down the road if not modeled well. Get to grips with the ‘what if’ and you’ll be better set for today and tomorrow.
Moving with the times
So, as the UK adjusts to new government leadership, we’ll inevitably see a change in response to the issues at hand. In the US, the mid-term elections may throw businesses a curve ball too. Add to this the continuing energy crisis and geopolitical instability, and it’s easy to see why organizations are looking to make radical changes to weather the storm ahead.
But by learning the lessons of the past and leading with an eye on the future, organizations will be better placed to avoid knee-jerk reactions and the risks that ensue with the relentless pursuit of agility over empathy.
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