In times of uncertainty, people look to leaders to help them process and understand change and provide a clear – and fully visualised – path to the future. At times of extreme change – like we’re facing today – this can take a significant toll on leaders, leading to overburdening and burnout. What can leaders to do ensure they embrace their role instead of feeling crushed by it?
To begin with, leaders need to reassure people about the change that is taking place, take action to help them adjust and co-create with them an immediate future that feels fair and certain. They also need to equip themselves with future-facing capabilities that will allow them to be well networked, curious, capable of effective purpose building, and able to take a lead in enabling wellbeing. Finally, they need to diversify. Many leadership teams lack the diversity and relatability they need to truly empathise and connect with their workforce – something that only hampers their effectiveness in times of change. One way to combat this is to bring people from around the organisation into the conversation to offer a more diverse perspective.
Delivering what matters at Auckland University of Technology
In one of our recent webinars we spoke with Beth Bundy, Director of People and Culture at the Auckland University of Technology, who provided an excellent example of leading through change during the pandemic. Beth says: “Three weeks before lockdown, our academic workforce assured me that going online to deliver their courses digitally was never going to be possible and four weeks later we were doing it!” Changes like this were made possible because leaders provided as much context as possible around how decisions would be made and what factors or developments might lead to further change.
Experimentation has also been crucial. On returning to office-based work, Beth provided clear guidelines and expectations to promote feelings of security. She also provided leaders with guidance on how they might want to gather with their teams, as well as minimum standards around what they wanted people to achieve within six months when it came to office attendance and returning to the office. This allowed people to build flexibility models around their needs as a team and the business needs they were responsible for delivering on.
Gathering feedback about what everyone involved in the process needs and wants has been an essential part of the process – with the university running an online HSM Collaboration Jam with HSM Advisory to really understand what people were thinking, feeling, and grappling with. This has resulted in an increased appreciation for collaboration, with many academic staff taking greater interest in collaborative projects than they did before.