Leading the Way: The Future of Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World

All | June 15, 2021

Author: Sid Nair, President & CEO

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There was no playbook for how to lead during a pandemic. But that comes with the territory—in order to be a strong leader, it is crucial to keep a keen eye on situations as they unfold while always keeping your mission close to every decision. In 2020, our collective workplaces were filled with new levels of stress due to countless unknowns making each decision that much more delicate. According to a survey from mental health provider, Ginger, nearly seven in 10 workers claim the COVID-19 pandemic was the most stressful time of their professional career—rated higher than major events like 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession.

Employees’ needs began to drastically shift, as did businesses working to survive, and it was up to leadership to confront these unique challenges head on. To retain and engage this workforce, leaders at every level need to shift their mindset and refocus on the new needs of today’s employee. In my previous blog, I outlined four tactical ways to improve leadership within your organization. Now, it is time to strive for the essential qualities that will help leaders create the most success in a post-pandemic world. Below are three prominent hallmarks making up the future of leadership:

Empathy

There is a reason empathy has increasingly become a buzzword across both professional and personal communities: humans are wired to connect! Often in professional settings this can feel more challenging, but it all starts with listening to your people. To truly hear the voice of our associates, Affinitiv held 100 round table sessions with 6-7 people per session. In these sessions we learned how they feel about actions we have taken, the future of the company and other concerns they wished to share. With almost 95% employee participation as of now, the feedback from both People Operations and our people has been very positive. Good leaders are open to feedback and suggestions from their teams, allowing all to learn from the past and create a stronger future that feels truly collaborative. Create opportunities for dialogue and use it as data to make necessary changes, as employees want to be heard now more than ever.

According to a recent study from Achievers, 40% of employed Americans say they would put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.  At Affinitiv, we practice ongoing recognition in many forms. Recognizing individuals and teams frequently ensures they know how valued they are and how fortunate we feel to have them consistently putting in the work for our clients. We are always in awe of the incredible work that comes from our associates, also known as the A-Team, and we want them to know it.

Agility

With 2020 in the rearview, and now being halfway through the journey of 2021, the automotive industry, like many others, will be feeling lasting effects for years to come. While we can follow the trends to forecast the strongest possible decisions for our business, leaders still need to be able to pivot at any moment. In this transitional year, businesses are working to power through new challenges, such as the widely talked about chip shortage that is impacting multiple industries. To stay agile amid today’s challenges,leaders must ensure their teams have the right setting and tools to work swiftly and cohesively in order to increase productivity and engagement levels.

Another topic that has been trending for years—and has even more relevance today—is work-life balance. After a year of prolonged stress and hard, steadfast work, it is up to leadership to set the stage for work-life balance. At Affinitiv, we have worked to ensure our employees can have their personal needs met while still meeting the needs of our clients. Our “Work from Here” policy, recently covered by Built in Chicago, was a big step towards curbing employee concerns and personal preferences around returning to the office full-time. This policy allows our people to continue working from home even if they are near one of our office locations. While many companies are mandating at least 2-3 days a week in the office, we have given our employees full flexibility to come to the office whenever they want to. We consider this policy the best of both worlds, giving our associates the flexibility to work from home productively while maintaining the opportunity to bring teams together.

With today’s technology, increasing team communication, collaboration, and efficiency has become much easier and more important than ever. Creating truly agile teams takes time, but it starts with dedicated leadership.

Optimism

Whether business is good or bad, it is crucial to lead with a confident outlook. As the old saying goes, attitude is everything. Strong leadership today requires a blend of determination and optimism, as it also sets the expectation for how your teams should work together. As we deliver a steady cadence of communications to our teams, we are both realistic and optimistic about any challenges in front of us, always keeping a positive point of view as we take the journey ahead together.

The most effective way to strengthen work relationships and spread optimism across the organization can also be the easiest: have some fun! While it can be challenging to create engaging events in today’s virtual settings, it’s not just possible, it’s necessary. Studies have shown a conclusive link between happiness and productivity. At Affinitiv, we have a committee dedicated to fun—the Fun Force—who create virtual events and activities to break down the department walls and help our organization connect in new ways. Leaders must encourage and celebrate activities that boost morale and new avenues of collaboration.

Leaders must continually stay open to listening, learning, and evolving. As today’s workplace undoubtedly holds some residual stress of 2020, all levels of leadership must continue to build unity and enthusiasm amongst teams. We will continue to face ongoing challenges in 2021 and leaders can lead better with empathy, agility, and optimism.  

Positive working environments, where team members feel comfortable sharing and developing, can only thrive through strong leadership. Even when teams are working from home, they can continue to deliver results, and leaders that trust their teams will see better outcomes for the business in 2021 and beyond. 

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