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Coaching Employees Through Uncertain Times

By Angela Schloer | July 21, 2020

We are all still facing the pandemic, although at differing degrees. For those of us lucky enough to be working, we are either still in our offices with less interaction or working completely from home. Even then, most are stressed, scared or nervous about their health, their family’s wellbeing, finances and a different range of factors.

We are physically separated from our colleagues, clients, the usual workplace and find ourselves either alone or with a very small group of people, often staring at our computer screens and phones while trying to make it all work! Leaders may have been caught off-guard and may still be unsure how they should manage and lead us through these trying times. It may still be easy to manage our resources such as budgets, workforce numbers and KPIs, but let’s not forget that the people on the other side of the phone, Zoom or Teams screen, are living, breathing human beings, who could use an active and dedicated leader right about now.

So, as leaders, how can we best serve the people that we lead during times like these? Have we reached our people enough over phone calls and video streaming sessions and ask them how they are doing or what we can do to help? Are we still having those watercooler conversations, albeit virtually, to make sure the human to human connection is still present and thriving? As leaders in these unprecedented times, our coaching skills will be even more valuable than ever before. This is the time that we can be of service to our people and really make a difference in their professional and personal lives. Here’s how it can be done.

According to an article by Harvard Business Review, we should “think about how you can serve the people you lead. Take time to reach out to those you lead in phone and video calls. Ask them how they’re doing and how you can help. Then do whatever you can to get them what they need, even if it has nothing to do with work. “Servant leaders” view their key role as serving employees as they explore and grow, providing tangible and emotional support along the way. Research shows that they create greater engagement and help employees bring more of themselves to work”.

We can also provide extra value by asking questions around our employees’ personal purpose. It is normal to go into self-inquiry during difficult times and people normally ask themselves questions like: What do I actually want from my career? We can help them through this process by coaching them into finding clarity as well as help them find new meaning in their roles. This kind of clarity and sense of meaning can help people prioritize better and find a sense of calm and feelings of gratitude for what they have and how they are still able to contribute.Finding higher level goals and a purpose to our work can improve an employee’s sense of wellbeing. Asking your team why something matters can uncover how even a small task can bring about value. HBR provides this example:

“Suppose a manager is in charge of completing performance evaluation forms for each employee. In response to the question, “Why does completing these forms matter?” she might answer, “I want to let my people know where they stand.” Next, she’s asked, “Why does it matter that people know where they stand?” The answer might be, “So that people can know how they can reach their career goals.” And a third time: “Why does it matter if people know how to reach their career goals?” The answer might be: “They may focus their energy at work differently.” Then a fourth question will follow: “Why does it matter whether people focus their energy at work in a different way?” A possible answer might be: “So that people feel like they are thriving while helping the company thrive.””

This activity allows us to have a stronger connection to our work and link it to our ultimate aspirations and attaching a sense of value and importance into our day to day work.

Another suggestion is that we can also use the work changes during the pandemic to recraft and redefine jobs or positions together with our employees. You can explore, together, the strengths your incumbents have that can be used to enhance the way things are done in their role. You can also ask what competencies and talents they would like to develop that would be useful in future positions the y may be aspiring for and how you can work on building those in to their current role. This puts the focus of the employee on future possibilities instead of all the hindrances that they may be perceiving right now. When people have mid to long term goals that they can latch on to, they have a higher tendency to perceive their futures in an increasingly positive way, which also impacts their current mindset.

At times, managers are uncomfortable about bringing personal conversations to the fore and prefer to stick to purely business matters. Fortunately, there is ample evidence that when we allow people to bring their full and best selves to work through our leadership, they are more likely to be committed to their work, their team and the organization. At the end of the day, we may be able to manage resources but we must lead people.