8 HR Leaders Share the Crucial Management Insights They’ve Learned During COVID

By now, we all know that Covid-19 has been an incredibly difficult experience in so many ways. The worldwide impact of the virus—on both people’s health and the economy—is something we’ve never really witnessed in our lifetimes.

circle-hands-teamworkThere are just so many unknowns, and with that comes a lot of fear and anxiety. It’s during these challenging times that great leadership is so crucial. We need people who can help teams navigate their new normal, adjust to a different way of living and working, and look forward to an increasingly uncertain future. So what does great leadership look like in times like this? I reached out to eight brilliant Chief People Officers and other HR leaders, who shared the top insights they’ve learned so far during the pandemic. My hope is that their lessons and guidance will help you lead your team through this unprecedented time.

1. “I’ve Been Reminded of the Power of Diverse Teams.”

Lisa Friscia, Chief People Officer, Democracy Prep Charter Schools

Over the past few months, Lisa Friscia shared, “I’ve been reminded of the power of diverse teams, and that the best use of my time is to create an infrastructure in which [everyone on] my team feels comfortable sharing their viewpoints, debating, and collaborating on a solution.”

Friscia knows that “people essentially want to be a part of a solution,” which is beneficial because overcoming the challenges her team faces requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“I’ve always framed our team meetings as a question,” Friscia explained. “But when the crisis began, I found some junior members of the team were cautious about jumping in.” In order to fix this, she implemented these three key practices:

  1. Sending a meeting agenda in advance, giving everyone time to prepare
  2. Calling on folks based on their expertise, which helped junior members feel more comfortable chiming in
  3. Talking about articles they read, podcasts they’re listening to, and other miscellaneous resources, which “gave everyone access into a conversation”

“More open dialogue has led to higher quality solutions and increased agility,” Friscia added. “Out of crisis comes opportunity, and my team and I are excited to continue this work into the future.”

2. “More Mini-Time Slots For Management Meetings.”

Jennifer Hill, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, Remedy Analytics

When the crisis unfolded, Jennifer Hill and her team at Remedy Analytics created more time for management meetings. “While we are often pressed for scheduling due to client-focused travel,” Hill shared, “being home-bound means that it’s easier to find 60- to 90-minute slots in the day.” To her surprise, these virtual gatherings have been quite effective.“Shorter, but more frequent, conversations (2-3 times per week) focuses our work in a more efficient manner,” Hill noted. “We can circulate notes to digest the previous conversation, summarize agreement, and then use those learnings to move on effectively to the next matter. We have gotten further faster this way than an all-day off-site.”

This new method has been so effective, in fact, that Hill said the team will “use this model going forward instead of focusing solely on the all-day in-person meetings that can be difficult to schedule.”

3. “Lead With Compassion.”

Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer, ServiceNow

Pat Wadors has a goal of “always treating people beautifully.” With that in mind, her highlighted insight is no surprise. “The piece of advice I’d offer to others is to make sure you are leading with compassion,” she offered.

“Compassionate leaders can say, ‘I can feel your pain and I have tools that can help you.’ For example, I was amazed by how many people on my team have toddlers, so I’ve made the rule that, as we are all working remotely, we should not have meetings between 11 am and 2 pm so my employees can make sure they get lunch for themselves, their kids, and help put them down for naptime.”

Going forward, this approach “will allow me to have more freedom to be perfectly imperfect,” Wadors explained. “We all know there have been hiccups. We’re all juggling work and personal life. We all need to have forgiveness for being imperfect. Leaning into this ‘perfectly imperfect’ mindset has allowed us to already be more engaged and have an agile mindset, which I hope will continue as we return to the office.”

4. “We Need to Know What’s Going on With Our Employees.”

Lake, Chief People Officer, Twilio

“This experience is bringing your whole self to work on steroids,” said Christy Lake. “Suddenly, our work, family, school, and social lives are all happening in a single space, and employees are juggling those often conflicting responsibilities. Before, the focus for managers and leaders was on how to create a work environment that felt safe for everyone to be themselves. Now, we’re literally seeing into employees’ homes and lives in a direct, intimate way. This means managers are truly responsible for the whole human, not just the employee.”

Lake believes that this is a pivotal moment in time for those in leadership positions. “We have an opportunity and a responsibility to reframe management based on this experience. We need to know what’s going with our employees to accommodate flexibility and help people be the best, most productive versions of themselves. Those previously uncomfortable conversations about work-life integration that were hidden before—now they’re a standard part of managing well.”

Twilio has already started putting new practices and policies in place to adjust to this “new normal,” such as supporting flexible work schedules, exploring a more geographically distributed workforce, and trying out what they call “No Meeting Fridays,” which provides one full uninterrupted day each week to get work done and address personal obligations.

5. “Emotional Intelligence is More Important Than Ever.”

Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer, VaynerMedia

“It’s a known fact that human beings are wired for connection, and thus this is not a ‘new’ insight by any stretch,” explained Claude Silver. “However it is one that we may have taken for granted and now we have the body of evidence to see how necessary relationships are to us. Emotional intelligence and emotional fluency are key now more than ever; showing our vulnerabilities and humanity is the gateway to building authentic bonds with your co-workers.” Silver added that “the bonds we create with other people give our lives not only purpose and meaning but an overall sense of happiness and well-being, and that has never been more essential than today during this epidemic. These bonds can alleviate loneliness and create safety while also developing new rituals between people and teams which, in turn, brings a greater sense of belonging to all.” Silver’s advice for creating these strong connections? “Remember to listen to others, validate them, and make space for the other person to share their experience,” she says.

6. “Culture is a Living Thing.”

Tony Vlahos, Chief Storyteller and Head of Brand and Learning, ExecuNet

Over the past few months, Vlahos has been reminded about what really matters when it comes to ExecuNet, a company that helps top-level executives with job searching and career pathing. “The organization’s systems and charts, where people are physically located, their job titles and who reports to whom—those things are not the company or its culture,” Vlahos shared. “The culture is living and the company is constantly changing. Because it’s a living thing, it has to prove its resilience and adapt, especially in a crisis.”

Vlahos believes that, now more than ever, the ExecuNet team has to focus on doing things that matter, and performing them as excellently as possible. “Every day, the organization has to answer the question, ‘Are we the kind of company that does things like that?” He added, “When [we] get to the other side and look back, we’ll be able to say we acknowledged emotion. We understood what senior-level executives in transition were feeling and what they were up against. We remained focused and handled change beautifully. We cared, we created new things, and we made a great difference in people’s lives.”

7. “Values Are More Important Than Ever.”

Christine Deputy, Chief Human Resources Officer, Nordstrom

According to Christine Deputy, “In times of incredible uncertainty and almost no precedent, it is more important than ever to be guided by your values. In organizations where values are strongly held and understood, everyone is able to align quickly on what the right course of action should be.” This isn’t new to Deputy, but she says that the pandemic has amplified its importance. “At Nordstrom,” she added, “we have strong, well-understood values, which has enabled us to move quickly. While making decisions in an environment fraught with unknowns, we can be proud that we are maintaining our culture through this crisis.”

Speaking of culture, Deputy also noted that the pandemic has shown the team that “the culture of the company can live beyond our ability to be in an office, store, or fulfillment center every day.” The key to keeping it that way? “You cannot over-communicate or be too transparent. We’ve learned that even at scale we can move faster than we ever thought we could. I think we will continue to move fast and to communicate frequently, even when we don’t have all of the answers.”

8. “There is a Massive Need to Be More Personal.”

Kate Barney, Head of Human Resources – Global Business Solutions, TikTok Americas

In this new, almost completely virtual environment, TikTok Americas is focusing on creating personal connections between co-workers. “Since we’re missing that face-to-face connection,” explained Kate Barney, “there is a massive need to be more personal and build connections in a completely new way.” To achieve this, TikTok leadership is experimenting with themed town hall meetings, virtual happy hours, and Barney’s favorite: movie nights. “Everyone hits ‘play’ at the same time on a classic movie and together we live chat our commentary.” “With our home lives blending in with our work lives, we’re discovering opportunities in this new work style as a way to connect our teams on a deeper and more personal level,” Barney said. And, she added, this has really allowed the team to approach and embrace authenticity (which the TikTok platform centers around) in new ways.“At TikTok, we’re using this as an opportunity to show teams we care about them, and that celebrating the little moments is as important as the big ones. We’ve seen teams come together and build a closer bond now than ever before, and it’s exciting to see how our teams will continue to implement these seemingly small but creative initiatives to build our sense of community.”

Originally published by Forbes

Laura Garnett

Laura Garnett

Laura Garnett is a performance strategist, TEDx speaker, and the creator of the Genius Habit. Her book, The Genius Habit: How One Habit Can Radically Change Your Work and Your Life (Sourcebooks, February 2019) shows the path to finding long-lasting professional happiness.

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