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Impact of COVID-19 on Organizations

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, many business leaders found themselves in emergency mode trying to figure out how to remain viable and manage a workforce that had suddenly become remote. Now they are dealing with questions of how to safely reopen and how or if to call workers back to their workplace.

This is a test of corporate cultures. How successfully businesses meet the challenges of this new normal will depend on the culture of trust and openness they have developed. Long before the pandemic, research conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management in 2013 found that one of the most effective tactics for attracting, retaining, and rewarding the best employees was maintaining a culture of trust, open communication and fairness.

Harvard researcher and founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies Paul J. Zak, author of “The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performing Companies,” found people at high-trust companies report less stress, more energy at work, higher productivity, fewer sick days, more engagement, more satisfaction with their lives, and less burnout.

And Deloitte Consulting’s Talent 2020 survey show 62 percent of employees who plan to stay with their current employer report high levels of trust in their corporate leadership.

The pandemic has only heightened the need for leaders to cultivate a culture of trust and openness. We have suffered a shock to our norms that has shown the vulnerability of all leaders to guide and protect. More so than ever change is the one constant and uncertainty remains high. Health and financial risk dominant concerns, work colleagues are more remote, there are fewer opportunities to bond in person, and international tensions have grown.

Trust and openness create loyalty and belief; they cut across cultural and international boundaries; and they encourage employees to listen, be creative, adopt change, focus on the task and drive results. In all, creating a sense of trust and openness lowers stress, increases agility, and improves results.

Influencing the Culture

Personal power and positive influence are the two critical leadership qualities required to quickly restore a culture of trust and openness. Personal power is about who a leader is as a person—one’s values, empathy, authenticity, positiveness, and open-mindedness. Personal power to affect change is linked to a leaders’ ability to listen and be flexible, seek opportunity, model respect, patience and honesty, and to take on the hard issues for the good of the team. They require self-awareness, confidence, vulnerability, and a strong commitment to walk-the-talk.

These qualities engender goodwill and trust between leaders and their employees, peers and managers. It will allow leaders to take risks and encourage others to take risks with a sense of support and encouragement. Also, openness will flourish as fear subsides and success is recognized.

Leader’s positive influence is the skill and adaptability in applying influence behaviors in working with colleagues and in the influencing of others. Leading research found that people who easily switch between influence behaviors expand their vision, increase their confidence of what they can accomplish through others, and attain higher levels of trust and performance.

Opportunity to influence positively is continual. Whenever there are objectives to meet, leaders are placed into a position of needing to influence those around them. Every touch point with an employee while working to achieve a goal is an opportunity to build trust and open relationships. Even outside work when negotiating with a family member is another opportunity to do so.

Leaders who excel at positive influencing achieve their objectives while maintaining and nurturing important relationships. That sounds simple, but in practice it can be extremely challenging. Many people achieve their objectives at the expense of important relationships, damaging trust and openness. Others habitually avoid challenging situations, sacrificing their objectives and personal power. Leaders build positive influence by always making the extra effort to maintain strong on-going relationships with all parts of the organization.

Personal power and positive influence go hand-in-hand; in fact, they feed each other. One requires self-awareness and courage to improve while the other requires self-motivation to learn and apply. Both require effort. Commitment to both will create the momentum that will help leaders to quickly build an organization’s culture of trust and openness, which, in turn, will increase the agility of the business and the results it attains as it emerges from this crisis.

To quote Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

You Can Learn These Important Skills

Your positive-influence is your skill and adaptability in applying energy, tone, words, body language, styles and behaviors in your working with colleagues and in your influencing of others. Back in the 1960’s, two leading scientists into human behavior, David Berlew and Roger Harrison, began their research into influence behaviors and discovered a pattern in more successful people. People who easily switch between influence behaviors reach their personal career goals quicker and have stronger, positive relationships. Over a few decades of research it was concluded that the understanding of the influence behaviors and the skill to apply them flexibly to a situation at hand is at the key to one’s positive-influence. Also, fortunately, these influence behaviors and skills could be learnt in a classroom more easily than teaching people how to achieve results.

David Berlew and Roger Harrison simplified their influence behavior research into the Situational Influence Model™. It is based on three layers – Energy, Styles and Behaviors. In this model, influence Energy is defined into three forms – Push, Pull, or Moving Away. For each of these forms there are Styles associated.  Push Energy has Persuading and Asserting; Pull Energy has Bridging and Attracting; and Moving Away has Disengaging and Avoiding. Each style as behaviors that can be taught, practicing words, energy and body-language in each case for ultimate positive impact.

Having been taught for over 30 years with its easy to adopt hierarchical of Energy, Styles and Behaviors, the Situational Influence Model™ strength can be broken down into four attributes:

  1. Simple to learn regardless of career experience
  2. Easy to adopt and apply being as courageous as you wish to be
  3. Strong legacy of positive impact
  4. Not just for work, but for life!