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Leading through lockdown: how our clients are creating connection during COVID

By Nicola Winn
November 4, 2020

With lockdown 2.0 happening, goodwill waning and businesses straining under increased pressure and high-pressure pivots, the challenge for leaders looking to ensure stability, safety and maintaining of morale is, without question, a bigger ask than ever before.

Yet one of the things I’ve been privileged to witness with so many clients over recent months is the acceleration of empathy and purpose – bringing people back to centre stage with a momentum that perhaps only such a crisis can create.

So, to spread a little of the good stuff, amid unhappy headlines and restricted behaviour, here’s a roundup of what some our clients have been doing to help create meaningful connections over the last few months.

If you don’t know how they are, ask

One of the things we’ve been able to work on with clients is simply checking in with people. Sometimes, going back to basics wins the day – if you’re not sure how your staff are, just ask. And keep asking

We’ve found short pulse-type surveys sent at regular intervals work well. It’s been good to be able to provide a benchmark for clients against other organisations going through the changes at the same time to show how their results map to the wider picture of staff morale.

Feedback has shown that staff have felt really cared for as a result, which matters. Not only because the organisations we work with really do care, but because in the longer term it builds loyalty to your employer brand.

Create a digital home

According to the Barrett Values Centre COVID-19 Cultural Assessment digital connectivity just leapt from #50 to #2 in organisational values. We’ve seen clients successfully engaging in new wellbeing initiatives using the likes of channels on Teams to replace those water cooler moments, daily coffee chats to get a sense check on how people are feeling and virtual hangouts to combat the isolation of hours spent at a screen.

With 3D interaction removed from so much of our daily relationships, the need for another dimension of connection has emerged. And it’s up to us as leaders to create it.

Give people purpose

Even before COVID, putting purpose at the heart of your business was increasingly enabling success.  And since COVID, global consciousness and personal reflection have accelerated at an even faster rate – it’s no longer acceptable to just talk about money.

One of our clients, Livv Housing Group, was the first housing association to launch its new brand in the new 2D world, going live on 1 April 2020.

While in many ways the buzz of the physical celebration was missing, on reflection it was perhaps the best thing they could have done. An absolute focus on purpose, impact and putting local communities at the heart of their brand, have enabled the organisation to bring people together in a new way. By inviting people to be part of creating something bigger than themselves, at a time when the world feels more disconnected than ever before, the new brand offered an opportunity for people to meaningfully reconnect with purpose in their every day.

Equally, it’s been interesting to watch business to consumer brands lean harder into empathy and purpose to retain loyalty during COVID, by helping people feel connected in this strange new world.

Yorkshire Tea’s social distancing tea pot advert (which suddenly already feels scarily out of date despite being only a couple of months old) is a great example of empathy at work. The recent evolution of the John Lewis brand to John Lewis and Partners is another. By putting staff, known internally as partners, back at the heart of its brand, it has dialled up its people-focused purpose to remain relevant, differentiate and show it’s a company that cares.

So whether you exist to create safe environments, connect people over a cuppa or give people opportunities that can come from the security of a good home, as leaders in the new world, we have to show the way.

Profit-for-purpose is no longer a choice, it’s our new normal.