LEADERSHIP DURING TIMES OF STRUGGLE
What were you doing last year at this time? It’s easy to look back on that time and reminisce about how naïve we were then. Currently, you are still working hard, making strategic decisions, paying the bills, and leading your organization. But the landscape has changed drastically and, as a leader, you must slow down, especially this year, and ensure your employees feel a sense of connection, comfort, and humanity in ways that you may have never shown before.
Several years ago I was introduced to the Conscious Capitalism community. I found the tenets to be something that resonated with my own core values. The term Conscious Capitalism refers to businesses that serve the interests of all major stakeholders – customers, employees, investors, suppliers, the community, and the environment. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods was one of the central leaders of the movement and realized this concept on Memorial Day 1981.
At that time his fledgling Whole Foods Market was basically wiped out by a flood. Unexpectedly, dozens of customers and neighbors showed up to help; employees worked for free, not knowing if the store would survive; suppliers resupplied on credit; investors stepped up, too, and the Whole Foods Market’s bank loaned it money to restock; the store reopened in 28 days. This is when he realized the inherent good that can be found in humankind.
Things are hard right now. We find ourselves in a moment in history where so many people are struggling – whether it is their work from home situation, helping children who are in distant learning, not able to see family far away, or having problems juggling even making ends meet. Right now we are seeing individuals step up as never before…working longer hours, being put into situations we never dreamed of, and, for most of us, trying to make other people’s lives better in some way.
The Four Characteristics
Leaders today often ask me – what can I do to remove obstacles for people and support them as best I can? As we scramble to adapt to current circumstances, at times it feels as if we are “building the plane in the air”. Now more than ever being able to remember the core ideology that made your company so special in the first place needs to be revisited and placed front and center. Some of the elements specifically relating to Conscious Capitalism are:
- Focus on a higher purpose. There needs to be some other reason why you exist, not just to make money.
- Align all the stakeholders around that core purpose. Recognize that their interests are all connected to each other, and therefore there’s no exploitation of one for the benefit of another.
- Be driven by purpose and by service to people. Now is not the time to be driven by power or by personal enrichment. A servant leadership mindset is crucial.
- Understand the importance of culture. Your culture should really embody all of these elements: trust, caring, compassion, and authenticity.
Some of the Fortune 500 companies that you will recognize and who is a part of the Conscious Capitalism community include:
Whole Foods Costco
Panera Bread Trader Joes
Container Store Nordstrom
Jamba Juice Starbucks
Southwest Airlines Lululemon
Conscious Leadership During the Holidays
So how can you implement some tenets of Conscious Capitalism in your own workplace? There is no playbook, and definitely, no one-size-fits-all approach to how we should deal with our current set of circumstances. One of the simplest and most timely ways is by impacting your work culture in a positive way over the holiday season.
While the holidays are a time for celebration, they can also be busy, overwhelming, and stressful. A great workplace isn’t just about throwing an online Zoom party or sending out bonuses, it’s also about connecting with employees, listening for how they are really doing, and lending support wherever possible.
Here are just a few ideas to inspire you and spread holiday cheer in your organization well into the New Year:
- No Last Minute Surprises. Don’t release any major product/service updates or unveil any new projects until after the holidays. It will stress out your employees and will be lost on your customers anyway during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
- Focus on What You Can Do. Instead of feeling guilty about not being able to host a big company event, focus on small wins that connect. Host a virtual football watch party, have a recipe exchange or have an ugly sweater contest during one of your Zoom meetings.
- Provide Free Food. Have groceries or home-cooked meals delivered to employees who work the holidays and don’t have time to shop or cook. Even a small amount of groceries valued at $50 can mean so much.
- Lend Families a Hand. Companies can provide parents with much-needed free time to shop for food and gifts and wrap presents, as well as include the children in the festivities. Remember, most employees are working an additional 3 hours a week during this pandemic so give back a little of that time to them.
- Help Connect Others. If you haven’t already, make it clear to employees that they can use their video-conferencing technology to call family and friends that live too far away to visit in person. It won’t cost anything and highlights the fact that you are attuned to their needs.
- Offer Flexible Hours. Make sure to provide ample time off for employees to be able to spend time with their families and re-energize. This will help to alleviate burnout and improve retention.
- Pamper Your Staff. Send a beautiful flower arrangement or a subscription to a streaming service. The need to encourage self-care is especially important during the holiday when stress levels are especially high.
- Sponsor Wellness Resources. Many companies are offering (at no cost to the employees) online well-being modules, access to mental health professionals, and paid online virtual healthcare services to ensure that employees have the support they need through this pandemic.
- Don’t Forget Employees Children. Sending board games or sponsoring a virtual scavenger hunt for kids can break up the monotony of staying at home. We are naturally endeared by those people in our life who love our kids!
In summary, we are all given much in our lives and, as leaders, it is our responsibility to give back to our employees, our customers, our community, and society as a whole. Making an extra effort to connect and care for our employees in a very tough environment is absolutely needed. How businesses respond will have a lasting impact on employee behavior including, engagement, productivity, and loyalty. I truly believe that people will look back on this time and remember how you lead! My goal is for you to be remembered fondly for not just your strategy and stewardship, but also for your compassion and care.