This is the sixth in a series introducing our keynote speakers and their HR Tech Conference topics. Read more here.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to prompt massive changes to the world of work, employees today need to harness resilience more than ever—and that starts with their leaders, says author and business consultant Marcus Buckingham. With his team at the ADP Research Institute, Buckingham has undertaken two large, global surveys about resilience in the workplace, the surprising results of which he will present for the first time at this month’s free, virtual HR Technology Conference & Exposition®.
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Before his keynote address, Buckingham spoke with HRE about COVID-19’s impact on resilience and team-building—and what leaders, at the prompting of HR, should be doing today to bring out the best in their employees.
You published Nine Lies About Work last year; how would you update it to reflect today’s working conditions?
The research that started the book was that people don’t care which company they work for; they care which team they’re on. In subsequent research after the book came out, we found that the most engaged workplace was made up of people who felt like they were on a team. So, if you said you were on a team, you were 2.7 times more likely to be fully engaged. We also looked at work status—if you’re at the office five days a week, if you’re 100% virtual—and it turned out that the most engaged people work from home three to four days a week and are in the office one to two days a week. This implies being on a team isn’t a physical thing—it’s a state of mind. And the best team leaders seem able to get people to feel connected, no matter where they’re working. So all this talk at this moment about people being desperate to get back to work to reconnect, there’s no data to support that at all. In fact, the data tilts more the other way: If you can make me feel I’m part of a team virtually, it’s easier for me to feel engaged. So in terms of the core things we want from work—like someone sees us, that we’re connected to the people on our team, that we feel psychologically safe—they all remain true. The only thing I would change [about the book] is to add a whole chapter on resilience. That’s really relevant today.
What types of skills do senior leaders need to hone within themselves to encourage team success in today’s uncertain world?
In terms of what we want from our senior leaders—two to three levels above us—we want you to tell us the truth about what you see around the corner. We don’t need you to make grand pronouncements about what’s going to happen in a year’s time; Facebook is saying, “We’re not going o have in-person meetings until June 2021.” OK, but we don’t think you know what’s going to happen in April 2021, so goodness knows you don’t know what’s going to happen in June 2021. We want you to be able to tell us very specifically what’s coming around the short-term corner, and leaders need to learn how to do that. We don’t know what’s going to happen—we didn’t know Trump was going to get COVID—and things are moving so fast right now. So one of the skills they need is to know how to rally the certainties around the short-term corner. Along with that, they have to learn how to be vivid, how to tell stories and anecdotes—maybe stories about heroes in our company or what some people are doing to live out the company’s values today—that make us go, “Oh, I get it.” You don’t have to be Mark Twain, but you have to bring things to life.
And what about team leaders?
The antidote to dynamic change is frequency. When things are changing so rapidly, the best managers and team leaders need to learn how to do frequent check-ins. In these short little conversations, something may come up about what resources this employee might need for the next week or what obstacles the manager may be able to move out of their way to help them reach their goals. It can help people talk about things they didn’t know they needed before they need them, which is such a great gift to that team member. We talk a lot about the quality of coaching and of management, but frequency is the ugly stepchild when it should be the other way. We don’t need every single interaction between leaders and team members to be an amazingly brilliant piece of coaching; what we do need is frequent, disciplined, light-touch check-ins. And it may not be in person right now—it may be on an app, online, on the phone, on Zoom—but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this employee knows they’ll be talking to you every single week about what’s coming up for them and then they’ll be doing it again the next week, and again and again.
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