White Paper: The Engagement Paradox
Remote and hybrid teams are fast becoming the new normal. In a world where most of our meetings are happening via a screen, it’s understandable that the way we lead our team members needs to adapt and change.
Organizations need to rethink the way they equip their teams to meet the demands in this changing environment. Without changing what leadership skills we teach and who we include in training programs, our teams will lose productivity and motivation, and our businesses will lose talented people.
So, where do we begin? By unpacking the factors currently causing friction in hybrid and remote workplaces.
What is stifling hybrid workplace productivity (and it’s not what you think)
The first step in a playbook for Hybrid workplace engagement
The root cause of disconnection in the workplace
How to fuel sustainable performance for your hybrid and remote teams
Leaders have historically been seen as the person with all the answers. We expected our leaders to be strong, stoic, and always in control, focusing relentlessly on productivity. It was frowned upon for leaders to show emotion, admit that they had needs, or even show their personalities — they were trained to leave these things at home when they came into the office.
There were solid boundaries established between a leader and their teams, the result of which was a rigid “us versus them” mentality, a top-down management style that left a divide between team members and their managers.
When you have been taught to stifle, mask, and repress your needs in the workplace, you eventually experience depletion, exhaustion, poor performance, and, in extreme cases, illness. At Juice, we call this experience Stuffering — the suffering caused by stuffing our needs under the proverbial carpet — which knee-caps a person’s performance and can result in a business losing a lot of talented people.
But it doesn’t have to be that way—by eschewing the traditional idea of leadership and embracing a leadership vision. Dr. Brené Brown in her Dare to Lead™ research proposes a much broader definition of a leader, that “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” Organizations would be better served by training teams more broadly than focusing on developing the leadership skills of only the top of the hierarchy.
But which leadership skills do you focus on? And what does that even look like for businesses that have had to adopt remote and hybrid workplaces? The key is equipping your teams with a framework for building true connections.
Most of us have said the phrase “when we are back to normal” in the past few years, probably more than once. But at this point, what is normal? What is it we’re trying to get back to?
In the workplace, the reality is that we will never be back to what we used to consider normal. Remote and hybrid teams are the new normal and people are under extreme stress, dealing with things for which there is no playbook. This blend of remote and hybrid teams is pointing out fallacies in how we thought productive teams are built.
We’re quick to blame technology but is that the true root cause? The ways we’ve been taught to communicate have been disrupted. We’re realizing we had a false sense of connection created by proximity vs. true connection. You were “connected” to your colleagues by being in the same place and experiencing work together. Now the gaps in true connection are coming to light, when working in separate physical locations is impacting engagement and performance.
A 2021 Deloitte Human capital trends report highlights the importance of connecting with the person behind the worker. They found that businesses and leaders who adopted a thrive (instead of simply survive) mindset were three times more likely to focus on the human strengths of their team members. That connection allowed these businesses to grow and find success during a time when a lot of businesses struggled to survive.
“There’s more to nurturing a productive relationship with workers than the immediate question of how much flexibility to offer. And figuring out how to bring people back to the workplace is not the same as creating a sustainable workforce strategy. Building a worker-employer relationship that empowers an organization to thrive depends first and foremost on a clear, compelling vision for differentiating and sustaining that relationship.”
So knowing that hybrid workplaces are here to stay and that how we connect will never be “back to normal”, what can be done? It’s time to shape a new future of teams, communication, and connection that fits with our current reality.
As we shape this new future of leadership, there is one main takeaway that needs to underpin all that we do—performance is driven by true connection.
At Juice, we know that in order to sustain performance, you need sustained energy. And to fuel that energy, your needs must be met. There are five driving needs that drive employee engagement — belonging, security, freedom, significance, and purpose. But the importance of each need varies for each individual. We know from Brené Brown’s research and the Dare to Lead™ research, to uncover, understand and communicate what matters most to you and everyone on your team takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable.
True connection therefore starts with vulnerability. When we are willing to be vulnerable, it opens up honest dialogue and creates understanding and connection — what Dare to Lead™ refers to as “rumbling with vulnerability”. This means showing up when you don’t have control over the outcome,from face-to-face conversations to emails and phone calls, and bringing needed humanity back to the workplace.
Dare to Lead™ teaches that vulnerability not only helps us build connection, but also drives creativity and innovation. The processes of innovation and creativity are filled with uncertainty and failure and require a deep well of vulnerability.
“Show me a culture in which vulnerability is framed as weakness and I'll show you a culture struggling to come up with fresh ideas and new perspectives.”
This kind of leadership is far from the stoic, hierarchical leadership strategies of yesterday. Leaders need to understand the driving needs of their team to accelerate and achieve sustainable performance, which means the team needs to understand these needs to identify them in themselves and others. Rumbling with vulnerability is a human-first leadership skill that needs to be embraced by all levels within the team — the head of the team can’t do it alone.
The idea that there are people who are natural-born leaders and others who are natural-born followers is innately incorrect. Leadership skills are something that can — and should — be learned. Anyone can, and by that token, everyone should learn leadership skills.
Leadership skills training is most effective when the entire team participates. A workplace cannot operate when it approaches its people as many singular teams of one. Organizations need to work as a holistic team to see sustained growth, success, and energy.
“Great”, you say. “I get it, but I’m so busy managing my team and our workload that I don’t have time to stop for training.”
We hear you. But in our current social and economic climate, right now is the most important time to focus on broader leadership skills training. When we are working in rapidly changing environments, it is integral that we embrace the uncertainty that comes with that. We need to be open and honest with our team members about this unpredictability and also be receptive to their needs and fears during this time. If you aren’t able to provide that vulnerability, your teams will suffer.
The investment that you make when you undertake leadership development and training comes back to you 10-fold. You must either invest the time to develop your leadership skills or waste that time managing ineffective and unproductive behavior. Brené Brown said it well in her book:
“If you read these stories and think Who has the time? I'd ask you to calculate the cost of distrust and disconnection in terms of productivity, performance, and engagement. Here's what I know to be true from my experience and what I consider to be one of the most important learnings from this research: Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”
Investing in leaders and creating connection within your teams will pay itself back over and over again. And you can’t afford to wait until things “return to normal”.