Respond. Recover. Reimagine. Building the New World of Work on a Foundation of People Success
At different points in our lives, I’m sure we’ve all said to ourselves or those around us, “Change is hard.” Here we are, amidst seismic change, and I think we can all confirm that, indeed, it’s not only hard but oftentimes overwhelming.
However there is, I believe, a silver lining: Change also pushes us toward innovation. Many companies we now recognize as household brands arose in the wake of the recessions and other historic events we’ve experienced over time.
By and large I’ve been so impressed with how people leaders have responded to the pandemic, continuously guiding their organizations to prioritize their employees’ interests, and welcoming humanity into the workplace in a way that’s never been done before.
But I also know the demands have at times felt unending, insurmountable, and at odds with each other. I have experienced all of those feelings, too. It’s quite easy to feel lost or unsure about what to do next.
In recent weeks, we in the U.S. have been reckoning with deep and systemic injustice based on race. Personally, I’m heartbroken and have committed to being a better ally. I’ve also been reminded of what I’ve experienced to be true about change of any kind: It’s a journey—at times a long and painful one. Whether change happens to you or you initiate it, it is rarely an effortless act. Effective change is methodical.
But that still leaves us with the question, “How do we people leaders navigate unprecedented change?” Well, I’ve realized we need to respond by asking ourselves, “How have we successfully navigated change in the past?”
I recognize the changes brought on by the pandemic are unlike anything we’ve experienced before. But I strongly believe that the principle I’ve seen help organizations navigate change in the past holds true today, and that is: For organizations going through change—and, in this moment, what organization isn’t?—your people are your North Star.
Habits to help organizations respond, recover, and reimagine
Today organizations are likely to find a path forward in three broad phases: Respond, Recover, and Reimagine. The difficulty in this journey is that it’s not linear; the complexities of both modern business and the challenge at hand (a virus with no vaccine) mean organizations won’t be able to neatly move from the Respond phase through Recover and into Reimagine. Due to everything from geographic differences to wide-ranging job functions, variance in local virus-containment policies, and beyond, a single organization could be going through Respond, Recover, and Reimagine at the same time.
But here’s where the path forward gets clear: No matter the phase, organizations can successfully adapt—and even improve—by relying on five core people-centric habits:
- Frequently gather employee feedback on critical topics.
- Equip managers with insights that help them address concerns.
- Have regular team and one-on-one conversations.
- Check in on goals to prioritize work and time.
- Learn from input in a way that improves organizational and individual success.
You will see this guidance consistently throughout the resources we have developed to help organizations navigate each phase.
Responding, recovering, and reimagining will likely look different for each organization. But the nearly 3 million data points from employee feedback that we’ve collected since the pandemic’s onset have allowed us to broadly define the categories in the following ways:
In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak, when we suddenly shifted focus to both remote work and the concept of essential workers, employees surfaced needs around communication, infrastructure and tools.
When in the Respond phase, organizations should focus on helping their employees get work done. That could mean setting up newly remote teams with technology for virtual collaboration or shifting focus to well-being for all employee populations.
While all of our five people-centric habits will serve organizations in Respond well, manager-employee conversations are particularly critical here.
For organizations on the road to recovery, we’ve found it critical to keep a pulse on employee feelings about safety and preparedness. These topics address employee concerns and expectations on personal safety, long-term work flexibility, and related issues.
Many organizations are now negotiating complications around returning to physical work spaces. Amidst the dizzying balance of local guidelines, health protocols, office reconfigurations, commute changes, and more, it will be crucial for organizations to gather feedback and suggestions during what could potentially be a stressful phase for employees.
Organizations in the Recover phase may see an increase in employees rethinking current roles and career paths. A recent Glint survey of 1,700 LinkedIn members showed that almost two-thirds of people want more time to learn new skills as they return to the workplace. Times of change and uncertainty often unlock human inventiveness and creativity, and this is a prime time to connect people to opportunities to learn and grow. It doesn’t have to be a significant effort—instead, encouraging curiosity, openness, and reflection helps uncover everyday learning moments.
The pandemic forced many organizations to slam on the breaks or veer hard. Several months in, we’re now seeing leaders get the opportunity to ask themselves, “If we were able to pivot to [fill in the blank] so quickly, how do we want to be different in this new world? What changes have we made that we should keep for the long run?”
Undoubtedly we will see major transformations in business strategy, ranging from wholly new operational models to reinventions of supply chains, product innovations, and more. I’m excited to see the ingenuity, and I will continue to advocate for employee feedback to be a central part of these strategy transformations.
But now is also the time for us to take the employee experience to an entirely new level. Not only have the mainstays of people programs—engagement, performance, and learning—taken on different meanings in this new world of work, but also we’re seeing that, largely, employees want something different. They’re done pretending like an out-of-whack work-life balance isn’t burning them out or a one-hour commute is a sustainable trade-off for a job they otherwise love.
I think this is where Reimagine gets exciting. Organizations succeed when their people succeed. So it makes sense that a people-centric approach to reimagining the future will bear fruit. I encourage people leaders to embrace creativity in this phase. But when it comes to deciding where to start the reimagining, I offer my common refrain: Let your people be your guide.
Here are more resources as you continue on your Respond, Recover, Reimagine journey.