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As this page in history is being written, we are at a critical crossroad to help shape the future. Through our decisions, we collectively have the power to influence both our daily lives and the workplace of tomorrow. The challenge is certainly daunting and fraught with pitfalls, but the opportunity to be a part of this movement is very inspiring.
Through this blog post, we aim to open up the discussion with leaders and managers. Our wish is to reflect and co-create the future with you, each with one hand on the wheel.
Let us start with a bit of science first, to better understand how we react in times of crisis. The neocortex, the part of the brain that sets us apart from other animals, allows us to analyze complex situations. It is also the seat of critical thinking, inhibition, and imagination, among others. The reptilian brain, on the other hand, is responsible for reflexes and survival instincts, and the limbic brain, emotions. In a survival situation, reptilian and limbic brains consume most of our mental resources, which interferes with the functioning of the neocortex. Therefore, in situations of intense stress, the ability to concentrate and make thoughtful decisions is greatly affected or even inhibited.
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to make an impressive number of decisions under pressure in a context where our brains have a natural tendency to take a short-term view.
Being aware of these mechanisms can help managers and HR professionals assess their own ability to project themselves into the future (am I able to plan or am I too emotional to make quality decisions?). It also helps them to better support and lead their employees. Ultimately, having this forethought will allow them to better anticipate the long-term impacts of each decision they make.
Every decision made within an organization, especially in the context of a crisis, generates new behaviour, which has an impact on the evolution of valued skills.
In this context, it becomes particularly important for HR professionals and managers to assist leaders in making informed decisions and anticipating the consequences. This sequence can be represented in the following image:
When making a decision, we can adopt different postures that greatly influence its impact. We have identified three of these postures below. Although each person has a natural posture, this concept is fluid and can evolve over time. None is inherently better than another.
In the first weeks of the crisis, many of us adopted a soldier’s posture. The soldier performs best in action. With great discipline and attention to the mission of dealing with the crisis, we sacrificed ourselves to meet the imperatives: to introduce layoff scenarios, to communicate with employees and answer their questions, to adapt HR monitoring tools, etc. However, as soldiers, we have little hindsight to question decisions.
The monk, unlike the soldier, is stable, calm, empathetic, and laid-back. This individual welcomes the emotions of their colleagues. Their posture is engaging and inspires others to better manage their stress. In times of crisis, this attitude can sometimes irritate policymakers who experience a high sense of urgency.
The emergency physician is efficient, courageous, and in full control. The physician knows how to prioritize emergencies and anticipate the consequences of their actions. They continually reassess situations based on all variables. They also know the value of their colleagues whom they consult if necessary. They ensure that their allies have the necessary information since the opposite can lead to tragic consequences.
As we have just explained, the decisions being made by organizations in response to the crisis will certainly have an impact on the skills of the future. These decisions are made by a perfectly imperfect machine: the human. It is therefore important to consider both the neurological limits of the human being and the decision-making posture of ourselves and our colleagues in these times of crisis.
Of course, we do not pretend to be able to predict the skills of the future leader.
However, we are seeing the rise of the following:
To make the best decisions for an organization’s ecosystem, you need to be able to communicate your intentions well and not be afraid of challenges. Intentions are what make a person credible in the eyes of others. We must continually validate whether the decisions made by our organization are aligned with its DNA. Intentional leadership allows individuals to look beyond the problem itself and assess whether the decision is aligned with the organization’s greater objectives. Having full awareness of the decision-making sequence (described earlier) makes it easier to show intentional leadership.
Resilience in the face of adversity
The fragile economic environment and distancing measures are testing our ability to cope with adversity. People who are able to cope with it will have a distinct advantage over others.
Tolerance to ambiguity and turbulence management
We only have a vague idea of what the economy and the work of tomorrow will look like. Many other decisions will be made by organizations that will radically change the world of work. Managers who can mobilize their teams in the context of perpetual change will be one step ahead.
Remote influence and impact
Confined, we will have to reinvent our capacity for influence, both in formal and informal meetings. We need to learn to do politics through a screen, to negotiate via webcam, and to motivate our teams despite the distance between us.
Although this crisis is having consequences on an unprecedented scale, we must develop our talents in line with this new evolutionary reality. Are you ready for the adventure?