As a leader, you must put in the work to build relationships.
How many people do you know who have moved, changed jobs, or made another big life change in the past 18 months? Thanks to the pandemic, our lives have been upended. Some have lost loved ones. Many people are questioning everything about their lives during this period of transition back to something like ‘normal’ life—including their work-life balance, and where their work fits into their lives.
Now is a crucial time for you as a leader to be focused on team engagement. In the developed world, the worst of the crisis has passed, leaving people space and energy to reflect on what’s happened and look ahead to what’s next.
As a leader, you need to be proactive in reaching out and connecting to your direct reports, so that your voice is part of their deliberations. If you don’t prioritize relationships, you will likely lose some of your best people.
WHY IT MATTERS:
With less face-to-face contact, your relationships can’t be on autopilot.
When everyone is in the office, it can feel like you don’t have to be as deliberate about connecting with your colleagues. You know you’ll run into almost everyone on your team during a typical workday in the office, whether it’s in the hallway or the kitchen or the conference room. You can make casual chit-chat during those chance encounters and imagine that’s enough to keep your relationships strong.
But this was always a comforting fiction. The statistics on employee engagement were dismal in that pre-pandemic, in-person world so many managers are desperate to return to. In 2019, only 35% of employees were fully engaged. Obviously, just being in the same physical location was never enough to build the strong relationships employees need to remain engaged.
Relationship building has always been a key part of the work of leadership. Transitioning to a world where more people work remotely more often simply takes away the crutch of feeling like you’re connected to your team just because you see them every day and occasionally ask them how their weekend was.
Deliberate relationship-building can be a huge career boost.
During the height of the pandemic, a senior leader in my network reached out to me for advice. He was joining a new organization, and because of COVID-19, he was doing it all remotely. He would be taking over a team of 60 employees.
As an accountable leader, he developed his 90-day plan for engaging with his new team. He used the same approach that worked well for him in the past—but he’d always done it in person, never in a completely virtual and remote manner. He wanted to talk to me to get my perspectives on how to approach things now.
I suggest to him to dial up his focus on relationships – to reach out and talk to even more than he’d typically expect to talk to. Based on my advice, he decided to schedule a one-on-one virtual meeting with each team member and a host of other internal peers and colleagues from different functions and departments.
When he checked in with the executive team to discuss his early progress, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone on the executive team had heard great things about him and his work from their own direct reports. The consensus was that it already felt like he’d been with the organization forever. When he shared that with me, I was so happy for him.
His story shows the power when a leader makes a deliberate focus on relationship-building. If you put in the work, it will pay off, and you will build trust and engagement. The amazing thing is that it works, regardless of whether you do it in person, or virtually.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Look for ways you can reorganize your time to prioritize relationships.
When I took on a truly global role for the first time, I quickly learned that some days, I’d be on the phone from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. I’d go into the office and spend the whole day locked in a meeting room. I’d be in the office, but I wouldn’t see any of my colleagues. I was so frustrated.
I decided to change things. I started organizing my time so that I worked from home on my heavy call days. I was able to focus and connect with those far-flung global colleagues and customers without distractions. Then, on freer days, I’d go into the office and book lunches and coffees with colleagues or take time to walk around and check in with people.
As we transition to a new world of hybrid work, we’ll all need to do this kind of learning to figure out routines that will not only make us more productive but make relationship building a priority.
- What’s the best way for you to organize your time now?
- Do you have time in your schedule to connect with colleagues and direct reports?
- What do you want those check-ins to look like in this new world of work?
Be deliberate about learning how to organize your time so that you can prioritize building relationships. The payoff will be amazing.
Are you prioritizing building relationships right now?Gut Check for Leaders
- Building a high-trust community in the age of hybrid work
- Are you driving high engagement in your company?
- Are you aware of the personal struggles of the people you lead?
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