BY MELISSA JEZIOR, PRESIDENT AND CEO, EAGLE HILL CONSULTING
Ready or not, we’re taking our first tentative steps into a country that’s not just reopening, but also changing dramatically. We do not yet know all the ways we are changing, both in our personal lives and in the workplace, but one thing seems certain: for federal employees to meet a changing future with confidence, leaders must embrace an unexpected responsibility: as champions of consistency.
I’ve been writing about Eagle Hill’s “Four C’s” of federal employee resilience and how each are playing out during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, I’ll focus on the fourth: Consistency.
Federal agencies still must fulfill their missions even as the workforce navigates change and uncertainty. Consistency in leadership is critical because it creates the stability for employees to accomplish their work. Consistency keeps employees connected to each other, to the culture of the organization, and to the organization’s mission, despite rapidly unfolding circumstances.
It’s up to federal leaders to champion consistency for the workforce. Here’s how:
Keep mission top of everyone’s mind. With disruption coming from every corner, it’s easy for employees to lose focus. Regularly engage employees in conversations about the mission and their role in it, especially now that they are confronted with competing demands that can pull their attention, resources, and energy away from the mission.
Communicate consistent messages. Advertising’s “Rule of 7” says people need to hear a message seven times before it takes root. Given all the current distractions and stress on employees, your workforce needs to hear clear and consistent messages more than ever, from every level of organizational leadership. Specific messages may become more targeted as they move toward the team level, but there should be a straight messaging through-line from top to bottom of the organization.
Build the culture that supports your goals. Progress comes through learning how to be comfortable with things that are uncomfortable; leaders work with their people to ensure they have what they need to be successful, no matter the context. If your employees feel disconnected to each other or challenged to go the extra mile for the mission, seize these unique times as an opportunity to rebuild the supportive work culture you imagine.
Be consistently forthright. Resist the temptation to retreat into a shell of silence when employees have tough questions. It’s irresponsible and unfair. Instead, acknowledge when you don’t have clear-cut answers, and talk openly about how you’re addressing known risks and possibilities. Build in a feedback loop so you’re listening to concerns, and communicating back honestly on how issues are being addressed. Showing this respect demonstrates you are a leader that employees can count on, come what may. Your workforce will thank you for it.
Recognize your personal limits. Forty-five percent of U.S. employees say they are burnt out, with one in four indicating that the cause is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Set the tone for the workforce by taking time off before you’re maxed out. Consistently demonstrating this positive behavior is the best way to encourage those behaviors widely across your teams. Remember that all employees need to recharge, including leaders.
Stay positive. It’s easy to become frustrated during extreme change and stress. But the best leaders are “shock absorbers” during turbulent times. They react calmly to surprises, changes and crises, which in turn influences their team’s ability to problem solve. Consistently staying positive about your organization’s ability to accomplish its mission sets the tone that will shape workforce behavior.