Taking into consideration the impact of the Covid crisis on individuals and companies and now the possibility of a business downturn, both companies and employees have been and are being challenged. As we move forward dealing with these causes of stress, we welcome your analysis of the present situation as it impacts both companies and individuals along with your advice with suggestion for mitigating these stresses and risks. We note that the FranklinCovey organization within BeNeLux is just celebrating their 20th year of existence and has just had a banner year of 50% business growth. This tells us that you have much to offer companies and individuals and we welcome you to share your wisdom and advice with our audience:
Amcham: What phases of a changed business environment have companies and employees gone through during the past two years and what have been the best remedies?
Sebastian Eberwein: Our world – business as well as private – has changed dramatically over the past 2 years and there is little doubt that we will not “go back to normal”. This is true from most perspectives – employees, leaders and organizations – both in small, medium sized or large (multinational) organizations. The supply management issues, reliance on single suppliers, focus on the lowest price and delivery at every moment, i.e. the mindset of having “everything on time, at the lowest price and all the time” created a real challenge since the outbreak of the pandemic. The need to change this mindset seems irreversible as new habits and practices have been widely adopted for more than two years. Most of those practices have been accepted without resistance by most parties.
We see three phases of adoption in this transformational change:
– Phase one was the short-term response to the shock of the first lockdown. Employees moved into remote working and home office virtually from one day to the next and everyone was looking for ideas and solutions to keep business running at least in the short to medium term.
– Phase two happened from summer 2020 until late 2021/early 2022. Businesses invested in building virtual solutions and capacities and learned to adopt to the “new reality”. A lot of them kept remote/home office working as the “new normal” for a major part of the workforce – where at all possible. Many “pivoted” successfully, some developing new service offerings as well as new ways of working.
– Phase three is the one we are in right now. Many companies realized that while there were productivity gains due to remote and virtual work, there was a loss of connection and cohesion within teams, amongst colleagues and in entire organizations with the result of an increase in staff turnover and a decrease in complex problem solving and innovation capabilities.
What challenges have arisen as a result of home working from a company and manager perspective?
I would see four major challenges (amongst probably many more):
- Loss of cohesion and employee engagement, resulting in a loss of employee loyalty and a decrease in turnover
- Increase of a feeling of overload by employees due to a lack of separation of work and private life, resulting in an increase in psychological issues and burnout
- Reduction of effectiveness particularly in the context of more complex business challenges requiring collaboration.
- Business development is getting more challenging as new connections often cannot be established virtually relative to in-person meetings. The reason: building trust requires in-person connection, which is hard to achieve in a “Teams” call.Overall, many are now realizing the importance of the notion that my colleague Chad Littlefield keeps reminding us of, namely “Connection before content”. Before we can work together effectively, there needs to be a relational basis to do the joint work from. And that connection often happens best in informal settings, both within organizations and when it comes to building relationships outside of organizations.
Managers become aware that the new office environment so called “home office” has a substantial impact on family and relationship life – and therefore on the productivity of employees. There is no separation anymore between private and office time, being constantly challenged with taking care of children, having quality time with the partner, enjoying family life and having some leisure time – next to be available 24/7 … this puts a constant pressure on team structures, decision processes and individual competences.
What successful initiatives can companies take to mitigate these challenges?
It is vital to keep investing in people as human beings. If companies don’t do it, people leave, or worse: stay and do not give their best. The pre-Covid leadership paradigm has changed into a more people centric one. Employees have come to realize that purpose is more important than they thought before.
Companies need to define what their new normal looks like. Many have not done their homework to take strategic decisions on the future of work in their organizations. What is the role of the office? What kind of work is more effectively conducted remotely and conversely what kind of work benefits from an office setting? What should that “new office” look like to offer the best possible framework for creating connections, for collaboration, for complex problem solving and innovating?
Generally speaking, the “new normal” will in most cases be a mix of remote and presence working and learning.
What really needs to happen is to develop a culture of connection in organizations. A culture in which trust can grow and where employees feel safe and that they belong. That kind of culture requires regular initiatives outside office hours, will need regular initiatives during working hours that bring people together, where employees can network.
A key is to ensure that employees feel appreciated so that their loyalty to the organization grows rather than diminishes. That requires a new style of leadership, with more 1:1’s – both virtually and face-to-face. Leaders need to show up in live settings, make themselves available, travel to locations outside of the headquarters.
Employees don’t like to be seen as a commodity. The “new leaders” are those that see the human being rather than a “human resource” and treat their staff in that way.
While homeworking reduces employee commuter time and gives employees more personal flexibility, it likewise cuts employees off from their teams, superiors and subordinates. How adequate are digital conferencing and group discussions connections to maintain connectivity within teams and how best can these digital technology solutions be employed to enhance communication?
The tools and systems are not the issue – they work remarkably well. A shift in mindset happened and now virtual working and conferencing is generally accepted. A lot more is possible, also in terms of creating connection, than most would have thought being possible before the pandemic.
The key issue is the mindset of the leaders running those virtual meetings, who must shift to a more trusting and inspiring way of leading, rather than being micromanaging. Feeling a bond with an organization has become more difficult with remote working and less physical interaction. We have lost the “moments at the coffee machine” and need to institutionalize new means for connection with the values of the organization. Learning and development has played a vital role in bridging that gap.
Also leaders and organizations need to realize that while some initiatives are developing faster in a remote setting, others take a lot longer relative to a face-to-face environment. You need more time to connect with people in virtual meetings than in “normal”, face-to-face business discussions.
What shortfalls are not adequately addressed by these digital solutions and are there other things which should be done as well?
As mentioned, a new skillset is required. New leadership abilities are needed around virtual leading and organizations with foresight are prepared to invest to train and equip their leaders with this new skillset.
The need to put “connection before content” is not acknowledged, often with the excuse of “lack of time”. However, connecting on a personal level, being really interested in people and their issues is essential to build employee engagement and loyalty on mid and long term. If you are merely leading from goal or result orientation you will as an outcome undermine engagement and loyalty.
As you reap what you sow you will find that you, as an organization, become exchangeable to employees. Without engagement, they will leave if they find that competitors offer a more attractive package and environment.
What advice would you give to managers to help them maintain healthy employee connectivity and avoid loneliness?
There are a numerous ways to connect virtually, but they do not mean anything, if the connection is not sincere. In fact, it is even harder to really connect online than it is in person. If -as a leader- you thought you could get away with pretend-connecting, you no longer can when you are online. You are just not credible anymore to your team. You will have to step up your game and becoming more congruent and dedicated.
In our workshops on improving remote leading, we recommend participants to:
– Hold regular 1on1’s. Catch up on a very regular basis with each team member on a personal level. Be interested how they are doing personally, not just in terms of the project or work objectives.
– Show appreciation actively and express the importance of their contribution.
– Become clear about your vision, mission and values and communicate them. Be equally clear about the role of each employee, team member and entire teams and their contributions to that overall purpose.
What advice would you give to employees to self-manage themselves to avoid loneliness and ensure positive connectivity with their team members, managers and other co-workers.
As an individual contributor within the organization, you start with leading yourself taking over the responsibility to becoming proactive and focusing on your circle of influence. With this mindset, you are in the driver’s seat and are shaping yourself, your environment and your results on all levels. On this basis, a constructive communication can take place and you are able to create a clear purpose and vision aligned with private and organizational values.
As most effective recommendation on short-term make time to connect. It does not happen automatically anymore, so you need to plan it. When you do so, be “in the moment” and feel free to enjoy the connection. Efficiency is great for remote work, but effectiveness is much better in the long run.
In our workshops on dealing with the remote working we recommend participants to:
– Invest time to get a clear understanding of their role and contribution within the team. If they are not clear – ask!
– Learn and improve their time management rules adapted to the virtual environment
– Use the new flexibility and additional time of no commuting to improve their wellbeing on all levels – health, personal relationships, work-life balance.
What advice would you give AmCham to help us serve our constituencies of companies and their employees?
Some advice to your member organizations: Invest in your people, as they will leave your organization if you fail to do so. The war on talent has never been fought as hard as it is now, and employees can change jobs easier than ever. With remote working, distance is no longer a heavy burden. We often recommend to leaders that they should make sure that each of their subordinates feels that they are a “valued member of a winning team, doing meaningful work in an environment of trust”. If you are able to provide that, you are going to win. And it is the leaders who need to do it.
Some advice to AmCham: Support your individual and corporate members becoming better in this key area that will secure the future of our business and the “raison d’être” – in Luxembourg … providing a platform for organizations to exchange, share best practices on key topics of personal and organizational development and have pragmatic examples shared amongst their members is one of the greatest assets the Chamber can provide. The business environment is the same for most members. To have an interactive knowledge sharing helps organizations, leaders and employees on the future of Luxembourg as the business hub it is at the moment …
Are there any updates to the FranklinCovey philosophy and approach because of the past years of COVID crisis and the pending economic downtrend we are facing?
FranklinCovey’s adapted business model provides clients unlimited access to our world-class content by offering flexibility, impact and value as well as developing leaders and effective individuals to drive the organization’s most important results …
Adapting these solutions for our clients “job to be done”, we always have been delivering live-online and online, in addition to classroom trainings, so that has not changed. What we do notice is that what we call “Flip the Classroom” is gaining a lot of popularity. In that way of working, learners get the content presented in self-paced eLearning, and then have facilitated sessions about the application and consequences of what they have learned. This approach gives people more freedom, more fun and more impact. The level of connection in this way of learning is very high and its effectiveness surpasses traditional classroom trainings.
What skill sets are most in demand by employers and what steps can employees take to enhance their employability?
There is much more focus on the interdependence. People need to be very independent AND also be able to connect well. If you are not able to organize yourself, you are lost in the modern world.
The ability to adapt to change is also more prevalent as a key skill as “change is the constant for the future”. Therefore, we notice a high demand on leadership, mind- and skill-set, time and change management as well as culture, trust and execution.
What are the biggest employee management related challenges and how can companies deal with these?
Talent is very hard to come by and poor leadership chases it away at an unprecedented pace. If your leadership is not doing a great job to initiate trust and inspiration, you are starting a downward spiral that no paycheck can compensate. Employee loyalty cannot be bought, it has to be earned. That change of paradigm is by far the biggest challenge we see companies struggle with. They are surprised to see that their employees are not loyal while they themselves are not inspiring loyalty.
What challenges are being created by the ongoing digital transformation we are going through and how will be the workplace of tomorrow which emerges be different from today? How can employees and managers adapt to deal with this new reality?
Change is constant and new digital possibilities are arising nearly daily – technology is changing rapidly, but in itself is not the key. It is the mindset of the people behind the screens that determines success or failure. For a long time, people have thought that lack of access to content was the reason why people were not developing themselves. We now know that it is lack of inspiring role models and leaders that causes that.
Digital transformation simply adds to the challenges posed by the environment dominated by a series of crises. Like these crises, it requires a high level of agility and adaptability of organizations.
Digital transformation changes processes, it changes the role of humans in the value chain and it changes entire business models. In many cases it requires new paradigms and shifting paradigms is one of the most difficult operations in organizations. However, if those paradigm shifts don’t happen, many businesses may cease to even exist because the transformation renders their business model obsolete.
What are the 10 most important competencies for parents to teach their children and how can they help their children acquire these competency skills.
- Love – being unconditionally loved regardless of what they do, simply for who they are. That way children can in turn step into their potential and learn to love others unconditionally
- Responsibility – no-one but yourself is responsible for your life. You are not a victim, you are the creator of your destiny
- Potential talent – finding out what they are really good at and cultivating those strengths. Strengths in terms of knowledge and skills are inherent in the children, and the parents role is to help children to grow into this inherent greatness
- Connection community – love people and share this love in abundance, adopting a win-win mindset. Realize that connection always comes before content
- Intention – cultivate a positive intention in all that you are doing
- Attitude mindset – develop a positive and optimistic mindset and an attitude of possibility
- Listen – seek first to understand then to be understood – truly listening with the intent to understand is the key competence required to be able to communicate effectively
- Dream – realize that all things are created twice and that to dream is to create.
- Prioritize – learn to prioritize the important over the urgent
- CANI – constant and never ending improvement is essential in a dynamic and fast changing world
What are the 5 biggest complaints employees have about their managers and companies and how can they be best mitigated?
- They are unheard and unseen
- They are mistrusted
- Their talent is underused
- They lack opportunity to grow and learn
- They see their managers inability to do the right things
What are the 5 biggest complaints managers have about their employees and how can employees themselves avoid these labels?
- They are lacking responsibility and ownership
- They are not engaged – not going the extra mile
- They have insufficient willingness to develop trust
- They are rather busy than result oriented
- They are not speaking up
How much progress has been made abolishing discriminatory inequality and what further advice would you give to ensure each and every employee is equally empowered to be the best they can be?
In an environment of trust – where it is safe – people are much more willing to give their best. The way you treat each and everyone has a huge impact on the bottom-line result of your organization. If you are inclusive, you are creating a safe environment where people will want to be creative and productive. In our view, D&I is not about “wanting to be woke”. It is about wanting to achieve better results by providing a great culture in which people thrive.
What other advice would you like to share with both managers and employees?
Our world is changing dramatically as we speak. This change is accelerating year by year and change will be the the only constant variable which we will have to deal with if we want to stay successful in the future – Covid was an excellent test of “how fit we are for the future”!
As FranklinCovey, two of our key areas of expertise lie in leadership and individual effectiveness. The need to focus on achieving results on all levels of the organization and teaching all stakeholders effective mind- and skill-sets … this is done on the basis of our inside-out approach. Everything starts with oneself (the individual) and in the second phase you involve others. First leading yourself and then leading others!
This can be translated in the corporate environment as “lead yourself and help others leading themselves“. It is the role of the leader to shape the framework and set up/align the systems. The role of employees is to take responsibility for their job and improve on a constant basis to secure results in the future.
It is our conviction that you cannot change people and shape their behaviour. They need to have the intrinsic willingness to change themselves. Leaders are working in this system to enhance self-responsibility / ownership on all levels of the organization.
Stay relevant, have impact and focus on the right objectives to achieve lasting results!
Human connection is of upmost importance and building relationships with people within and outside of your organization while supporting each other will be key in the future.
Amcham would like to take this opportunity to thank Sebastian Eberwein for this extremely insightful interview!