Will “management” mean something different after the pandemic?


It’s already different.


According to numerous reports, managerial practices have already evolved throughout this pandemic. Managers have adapted their behaviour in ways that have increased trust in their teams. Employees are reporting managers demonstrating more empathy than before. Managers are engaged in more regular communication with their teams, with an increased focus on the personal challenges employees are facing. Managers have shifted in many cases from micromanaging their employees’ time to managing outcomes instead. There’s almost no part of the manager’s responsibilities that has escaped the need to adapt.


Crisis fuels change
Previously when a crisis happened the timeframe was usually short. Managers needed to react, to rally their team, to weigh the options and take decisive action. This usually ended in the manager issuing directive instructions to get the team through the crisis so they could get back to normal. This crisis is so much longer and can’t be addressed in the usual way. Instead, Managers have had to become far more inclusive, drawing ideas and energy from their teams and preparing for a long period of upheaval. This has produced a more lasting change and has involved teams in ways that many have never experienced. We’re not likely to return to how things were before so the involvement and engagement of the team are crucially important. This also means the changes that have been adopted and implemented have a better chance of being sustained in the future.


Managers have had to reset goals for their employees to suit the short-term and unknowable time horizon for performance during the Pandemic, the setting of more short-term, more fluid goals is something they can expect to continue doing from here.


Clarifying expectations has proved to be critically important during this crisis, even though we have already known for some time that employees are generally not clear what’s expected of them. In conversations with employees, usually over video calls, managers have explored not just if their employees are clear about the work to be done, but also whether their working at home environment will allow them to do the work. Reviewing performance has also improved and managers are now engaging in regular formal and informal discussions about performance.


Managers have improved their supporting behaviours too with many employees noticing improved listening on calls, with many managers making good use of their coaching skills. Recognising the effort of employees is much more difficult in these conditions so managers have had to work extra hard to understand who’s doing what and who’s going above and beyond what’s expected. The manager can’t do this alone and this has helped managers to develop a more complete picture of performance by involving the team in talking about each other’s work and outputs.


Switching to team meetings via video chat is not as simple as it sounds, and many managers found that keeping the team together and engaged took a lot of work. Some employees are inclined to become detached and distant when working remotely, so managers have had to become adept at noticing which employees are showing signs of disengagement or reduced motivation.


It has not been possible for many teams to conjure extra resources at a time like this, so managers and teams have worked to uncover previously hidden talent and capability in the team. Discovering someone in the team knows how to get the best out of Zoom, or someone knows how to create an automated process using Microsoft Office 365 – the discovery of hidden expertise has proved to be very valuable indeed during the constraints of a pandemic.


Finally, managers have realised the dramatic and vital importance of communication between them and their team members. Previously a manager could assume that silence means no problems. Now silence may mean something entirely different, so managers have been working hard to stay alert to potential problems and issues. The team wants to know how things are going and what’s coming next, so the manager’s ability to communicate effectively and empathically has grown in importance and impact.


Is this the future?
In the first few weeks of March as the impact of COVID-19 was becoming evident, many managers wisely resisted the temptation to speculate about the future, what would happen, or even how long this upheaval would last. As we contemplate when we might progress to the next stage of this experience, nobody can be sure what will happen or when things will change again, so all we can do is step into the future, one week at a time. In the meantime, try to remain agile in your ways of working. Regularly assess with your team what’s working well and what’s not working. Be open to changing things quickly to lock in learning and improvements. Recognise that the changes you have already adapted to as a team have taught you important lessons you should lean on when the next change arrives.


Justin Kinnear is Head of Research at HPC

Justin is a highly experienced facilitator and coach who advises HPC’s clients on their most pressing development issues.  As well as his extensive research and facilitation experience, he was formerly Head of L&D at IBM and Britvic.


Justin features as part of the IITD’s Ask The Expert panel and specialises in organisation development. You can read more questions answered by Justin in the IITD’s Developing Your Organisation Archive.

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