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Managing human resources through the pandemic

Leading people in agility

By Anna Trochim, country HR manager, Cushman & Wakefield
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For most organisations in Poland, the last nine months have been a period of great uncertainty, continuous analyses, development of future scenarios, and reformulation of the way they think and operate. Leaders and managers – albeit seemingly less visible and hidden behind computer screens – are now stepping into the spotlight on a much larger arena. Each decision they make, each word they utter and each action they take is instantly evaluated by their employees, business partners, friends or strangers – in the offline and online realm alike. Will leadership skills in the ‘new normal’ have to differ from those that were desirable in the pre-Covid-19 environment?

Many organisations - and leaders in particular - have been put to their toughest-ever test in recent months. In times of great uncertainty each of us gets the same chance to become a true leader of the future, or fail in HR and company management, because none of us knows for certain what tomorrow may bring. Established operational plans should be regularly reviewed; action strategies should be flexible; and this - due to uncertainty, the lack of full information and ambiguity – forces leaders to remain ready to act. They should not be paralysed by the situation. Who can survive this long-term?

Brave decisions, brave leadership

We can read about brave leadership in Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead (Odwaga w Przywództwie) . According to the author, a brave leader – in addition to other important behaviours – does not pretend to know the answers to all questions, but rather attempts to ask the right questions and shows curiosity. It is a leader who does not avoid difficult conversations and situations and is capable of displaying sensitivity. And finally, it is a leader who knows that they can have more power if that power is shared with others.

It takes courage to make decisions when you are short of information and time and to communicate such decisions transparently. It takes courage to make changes and to assess the consequences of action taken. It takes courage to be consistent with your values and to act ethically and resist the temptation to cut corners. It takes courage to say “I don’t know” when everyone looks up to you to know what’s next. It also takes courage to act, to co-create the new normal and to speak about socially important issues instead of passive participation.

At Cushman & Wakefieldin 2020, we - together with our leadership team - have taken strategic action to create One Cushwake. As part of this initiative we execute activities based on three pillars: knowledge, skills and attitudes, the latter being our focal point. We would be unable to execute this project, which is significantly transforming the organisational culture of our company at a time of such great uncertainty, if we lacked courage.

Mindfulness, empathy and self-awareness in business

Josh Bersin explains the meaning of a leadership reset in his publication The Big Reset: Making Sense of The Coronavirus Crisis . In his opinion, the pandemic situation is a lesson in empathy and sensitivity for all of us – for leaders in particular. He says that the CEO is the Chief Empathy Officer who is aware that the employees are the biggest asset.

In Cushman & Wakefield’s podcast A leader for good and bad times, Joanna Sinkiewicz, partner, head of Industrial & Logistics, emphasises that empathy and mindfulness play a fundamental role in building and maintaining employee engagement, especially in continuous remote working when we do not see our colleagues on a daily basis . Regular contact with leaders, combined with an ability to pause on the battlefield in the fight against the pandemic, and an authentic conversation have become a key point on the agenda for each of us.

It is also important to be aware of the impact each of us has on others and where we stand as leaders, what energy level we have, what we can bring to the team, what feelings and thoughts our behaviour evokes in others, what our concerns are, and where we need support. We must remember that leaders are now shouldered with more responsibility than ever before for running a business, achieving financial results, and for ensuring a sense of meaning and ‘mental’ safety felt by employees. As a result, a fundamental skill required of leaders today is being able to nurture self-awareness and taking action that will have a positive impact on their mental resilience of employees, as well as their physical and mental health.

Flexibility in every respect

High complexity, incomplete and unreliable information, severe burnout, concerns about the future, and employee turnover are just some factors forcing us to change the way we operate. Organisations that want to build a competitive advantage need to act determinedly and flexibly. The attachment of leaders to past strategies, assumptions and rigid plans of action should be replaced by their ability to build a vision of value-driven teams and organisations where making decisions and fast changes, and preparing employees for various roles in a variety of sectors will be a part of everyday life.

Leaders should be aware what skills their team members have, and what skills other leaders need for ongoing in-house projects. Such a trilateral approach (leaders mapping the current skills of employees, employees’ readiness to undertake new tasks, and investing in their development as part of a strategy for talent development) will enable them to build an agile organisation where joint responsibility translates into tangible benefits and creates a space for flexible action.

Agile has become the latest buzzword. But what is it actually about? “Agile incorporates such values as Courage, Respect, Engagement, Openness, and Focus that all translate into concrete behaviours. Agile is a way of thinking and acting where the human being is the focal point” . Making such an assumption, we can say that a leader for the new normal must be an agile leader.

What role do HR departments play in building strong and brave leadership? In my opinion, HR leaders should have all the above skills and should act as strong and brave partners on a joint journey.


Diagram: Leadership skills in the new normal, own work

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