This is a very personal text, that shares what we in the German IT did to keep morale high in these challenging times. We do not claim to have been right with what we did and it could be completely different in other companies or countries. Still, it might inspire some colleagues, lead to reflection and increase sharing of ideas. And yeah, it worked – our employee engagement score rose by 0.5 points…
I think the best practices in Corona are the best practices of all times. A crisis like this reminds us to actively seek ways to apply our knowledge about leadership and to further improve. As people themselves are looking and longing for transparency, guidance and proactivity, Corona gives each leader and also each team member (lead yourself!) a chance to bring out the best in her/him to help us all to realize our true potential.
We, the IT Management Team of Germany, realized very soon, that we stepped into uncharted territory: In addition to our responsibility to enable the entire headquarter and, depending on the development of Corona, all branches to work from home (WFH), we had to ensure that all IT services continue to run smoothly. As the very base of WFH we saw the mental health of our people and the necessary leadership to nurture it.
Since we are now sharing our good practices: is there any indication that we were successful with what we did, so that sharing them might inspire and help others?
Not only did we experience much more engagement in meetings or our (virtual) townhall meeting; we also felt a lot of energy and fun when meeting online and observed an increase within the employee engagement value in Peakon, rising by 0.4 points compared to February and the average of last month. Looking back, it feels like we have done a few things right…
We consider some aspects to be so important that we want to highlight them:
- Being fast is more important than being perfect
One week later, today’s information is likely to be out of date already. If you need another week to prepare for spreading the updated information, it is surely out of date again. Be quick and deliberately imperfect in appearance so that users accept information with less formal composition, which speeds up the future process of message distribution.
- Experiment a lot and do it often
As no one seems to know what really works when working completely away from colleagues and other social contacts for weeks with uncertainty and a more or less life-threatening disease everyone should try as many experiments as possible to learn from the reaction of the teams. Invite all your managers to do the same and share experiences in your management team.
- Bake fun into it
Life does not get easier these days if you take it too serious ;-). I personally feel that accepting a certain amount of imperfection, uncontrollability and experimenting frees up my mind and creates energy. Looking for ways and learning from others how to do fun stuff brings an ease to feel able to cope with the current situation.
To share some of the stuff we did, let’s go through the leadership challenges which are well pictured in this chart:
Where can I get support?
Right at the beginning in March, we clearly stated that we all do not know exactly what would happen but that we would inform our staff asap about all proven facts and measures that the company takes. We made it clear that the objective of the IT-department is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. So we immediately extended the IT Management Team with an expert of the Secure 20-project to BCDR (business continuity/ disaster recovery) and defined clear objectives for each team. That seemed to have given everyone a sense of direction and control even under uncertainty. Furthermore, I found it extremely important to state that a Corona-infection of a person is not a result of a bad behaviour or indicating a bad person – it is an accidental event. An accident which chances can be reduced by the right behaviours – while at the same time we need to acknowledge and master the uncertainty. This is a precondition for transparency and open discussions and it places us all in the same boat.
We offered our people full support on the personal side early on. Our daily meetings start usually with a check-in-procedure to really share the personal situation and state. We all knew and acknowledged that our work might be obstructed by cabin fever, home schooling or missing toilet paper ;-).
We now use Peakon to have meaningful dialogs with our people – something that very rarely occured before. Some of these dialogs we shared in our townhall meeting because they help to recognize that we all share similar challenges and that Randstad does the best to help. An example might be a complaint about the chair in the home office which led to a call in a townhall meeting to get the stuff people need from their office and simply write this into a Google sheet.
What brings me joy?
We are still actively seeking ways to have fun and to create fun. The teams are experimenting with all kinds of small challenges. Because of closed hairdressers a team did a hat-challenge: Join the next daily hangout with a funny hat.
We experimented with a lot of stuff like this: Posting lunch meals into the IT hangout-group to see what the colleagues do. Some of this works and creates feedback and some does not. So we learn a lot and stay connected.
Then we have something that no other Opco has – we have Richard, our CEO with seemingly unlimited energy and ideas. He introduced a quiz into our daily crisis-hangout and this leads to starting the day with five minutes of fun. Just four questions, always presented by someone else, and always accompanied by jelling and joking. This is really awesome and I transported this tradition into the IT MT whose members are now using it in their teams as well.
Is it a fact or a feeling?
We are very precise in our communication on what we know and what we do not know. We state where we are uncertain and we acknowledge the feelings of people towards this situation. When making decisions we explain the reasons and then act consequently.
Practice positive self talk!
In addition to all the fun and openness that we try to bring into discussions with our teams, it is important to us to ask future-oriented questions instead of looking for the culprits when things go wrong. Right now motivation is difficult to maintain and even more difficult to regain. So mistakes should be the trigger for improvement and not for punishment. From a solution perspective, the conversations automatically turn to the things we do, achieve, and bring back a sense of control.
Am I looking after myself physically?
Routine seems to be very important for WFH. The worst practice is to wake up, go to the PC and stay there until evening in one hangout after the other. We encourage the people to actually protect their lunch breaks, to plan for a walk in the street in the morning and in the afternoon. One team does a fitness-hangout where they meet to have a workout following a YouTube-video. Apart from doing these practices in a team, it is so important to share them to inspire other teams.
What am I grateful for?
We try to give our staff a reason to be grateful by showing them our gratefulness towards our people. When we had to move our long-planned townhall meeting to a virtual meeting we thought hard of how to re-create the social experience of the lunch break together. We came up with the idea to create a netflix-moment where we all would attend the hangout and have popcorn and chips. So we packed a small package and sent it to everyone in advance and created a huge delight when one after the other received boxes from Randstad and posted images in the IT-hangout group. By adding some hygiene-products we showed that we care about the well-being of our people.
Reach out to others in need!
Helping each other really has a positive impact on everyone. In Corona, everyone is somehow vulnerable and we formulated this as an invitation to openly say when assistance of any kind is needed and to recognize support when given As IT, one part of our business is to assist people to use our digital tools and to correct errors and outages – we never received so many thank you-emails as during these last weeks. We share them with the team to make everyone proud of what we do for our colleagues.
Actually, we are actively looking for opportunities to show our people that we care about them. E. g. when the masks arrived at the headquarters we sent them out by mail rather than having our people come and fetch them at the headquarters. Not only did this save a lot of travel time but it also gave us the opportunity to bundle a hand-written note and chocolade with it.
Break negative thought patterns!
Looking at what we achieved rather than what is still missing was part of the fun-stuff. And it also helps to change the direction of thinking: Away from problems to challenges that we master. And away from isolated tasks to a team success.
Last week we opened the IT MT-hangout for everyone: For the first 30 minutes in our weekly meeting we shared the status report with the whole IT team. That was an exciting experiment: We weren’t sure whether people would appreciate this high-level overview or whether it would be of no value to them. It was a great success: As after all the other meetings, we carried out an online survey and received super good feedback. While only 10% of the team stated that it concretely helps them with a specific task, 80% replied that it helps them to better understand the environment and dependencies. In this way, we have created trust in our decisions by transparency.
This was a brief overview of what we did in IT. Randstad Germany, as a solid base, has done a lot of initiatives on a much broader level to reach the whole company. Starting with up-to-date news in the intranet, cascading necessary information quickly down the cascade and offering all kinds of ways to get in touch with the members of the german Management Team: A virtual coffee corner with an MT-guest every day, a 1-hour radio show every week: Music and fun with a professional moderator and Richard, our CEO, and live guests from every corner of the organisation, e. g. to talk about how the seize opportunities in Corona.
Finally a team effort
Finally, this is a team effort – a CIO can only prepare the stage, give inspiration and work hands-on with his colleagues. To leverage the effect the whole management team is needed. Also needed is freedom and permission given by top management to experiment and to spend a few bucks on chocolade and stuff. A tiny investment that really pays out in employee engagement.