Let’s consider the world of an organisation forced to change its operations, telling its 250 staff to work from home. The leaders know every employee by name and ought to know a few things about their personal circumstances. The leaders’ priorities are split between caring for their own family and for every one of the families that work for them.
They know that they are going to be asking those people to do different things in the weeks and months to come and expecting more effort from everyone. There will be some staff who simply can’t cope, a majority who get by, and some who emerge as stars. It is how they are treated right now that will determine their attitude to their employer, and to their work, in the short- and medium-terms.
Right now the leader needs to learn to trust the team, and to earn the trust of every one of them. Some jobs have transferred easily to “home-working”. Some people have been doing this for a long time. Some people have few distractions. Fundamentally, people want to do a good job. We have to trust them, show that we do, and give them the freedom to plan their life for themselves. Of course, if they need it, we must provide just the right amount of ‘direction’, but again most people are more capable than they are often given the credit for.
When I was 13, I changed school. The headmaster had nearly a hundred new pupils joining in year one, and just a handful of us in year two. In total there were over 500 pupils in the school. Within the first two weeks, he had found me, checked how I was settling in and whether there was anything else the school could do to help me. There was a form teacher, a head of year, and two deputy heads between me and the headmaster, but he’d spoken to me personally – not once, but twice. On the school bus going home one afternoon, I commented on this to one of the first years. She said that he had been walking through the dining hall at lunchtimes and speaking to all the new kids (and the older ones too) and within the first two weeks he knew EVERY single person’s name. Now THAT is leadership. It is also about building trust.
You may have a couple of hundred employees out there working. You probably have a management team of four or five. That’s, say, 40 employees each. Get a list and RING them up at home! During reasonable working hours. Chat to them; chat to their partner if they answer the phone. Don’t tell them what to do; don’t tell them how to do anything. Just check that they are OK; check how their family is; check how their wider family is; check if there’s anything that you can arrange for them. 40 people; five minutes each; be systematic; it’ll take less than a day and you will have shown that you care and built a bank of trust that will be spoken about decades later.
Dr. Graham Wilson is an executive confidant and part-time Tutor in Psychology and Counselling at the University of Oxford where he leads their Coaching Programmes. He was awarded the Distinguished Fellowship of the IOD in 1993.
This is one of a series of posts that are also appearing on the Institute of Directors Global Blog (blog.iodglobal.com)