Episode 67 – Lockdown Leadership | Individualization

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Across this 5-part podcast series, I chat with Becky Hammond from Isogo Strong and unpack some common leadership themes that we have seen stand out during this crisis. As we’ve coached and worked with leaders over the past several months, themes have emerged where the best leaders are thriving and implementing changes to successfully take their team and organisation forward. These themes include Grace & Kindness, Communication, Individualization, Clarity, and Selfcare.

In this episode, we focus on INDIVIDUALIZATION. The need for tailoring the way we show up for different people, how we communicate with them, and how we can adjust their working life during these times. 
Gallup states that the best managers are those who individualize, and during this conversation Becky and I unpack just how to do that effectively.
Key highlights include:
  • People aren’t assets, they’re humans.
  • Know your people, but have boundaries – leaders aren’t counsellors.
  • Be prepared to adjust your direction once you know where people are at.
  • If we consider that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, consider that the way your team is currently working – their new habits – have been in place for over 90 days.
Actionable steps to take from this episode:
  • Ask yourself, are you managing people to a job description?
  • When deciding which of your workforce works from home and which come to the facility, switch your thinking from ‘who do we need at work’ to ‘who needs to be at home right now’.
  • If short on time, can you do one-word check ins at the beginning of a meeting? This will give insight into the team member’s headspace, but without them having to go into detail.
  • Ask your team members, what parts of this new way of working do they want to continue in the future?
These conversations with Becky are always valuable, she brings a wealth of knowledge and inspiration from the other side of the world. I hope you follow along with this series here on the podcast as we get into the themes that have shined through the best leaders in this time of lockdown.
If you gained inspiration from this episode then you will love our program, Leaders Who Give a Damn, where we take these concepts even further.
In the next conversation of this series, we will be delving into Clarity and how it positively impacts Leadership.

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Becky Hammond  00:00

Well, hello there Murray Guest, I’m so glad that we get to have another conversation today about what leaders are doing in lockdown and have done in lockdown, and the themes that seem to be shining out of the best leaders, the most resilient leaders that we know. So, welcome, as we talk about this.


Murray Guest  00:21

Thank you, Becky. And I know you and I’ve been talking quite a bit in between having these conversations about these themes. And whether people are based in my part of the world or your part of the world or anywhere, there’s some common themes that are certainly arising from our conversations, and also some of the articles that we’ve been reading and things we’ve been seeing as well. So it’s great to connect and talk about these themes. And I think this one is a really important one. I’m hearing this a lot as leaders are in lockdown, and even right now, as there’s so many different versions of transitioning back into the workplace, back into organizations. And this theme of individualization in leadership, so so important.


Becky Hammond  01:05

Yeah, you know, Gallup has said for a long time, that the best managers, the ones that kind of rise to the top are those who individualize. And I think for some leaders, this is a super frustrating statistic, because, you know, it does require, it requires energy. It requires thoughtfulness, it requires work. But what we’re seeing is that it is true, the best leaders out of this crisis are individualizing, they are asking the tough questions of themselves to say, what could I do to add to making this experience to be one that is smoother, to be one that is more flexible, that doesn’t jump to conclusions, or base their theories of what’s happening on assumptions, and they are truly, truly individualizing? I know that we have some stories from some of the best leaders that we are working with right now. I’m curious to know, kind of what’s one of those stories that rises to the top for you, as we talk about individualization and flexibility?


Murray Guest  02:09

Yeah, I certainly want to share a few of those stories, because I’ve been inspired by how leaders really bring that individualization to their daily leadership and the way they’re approaching it. And I think even just to pause for a moment and reflect on this idea of managing people to a job description, and treating them like parts of a factory process, you know, like the old style management. That has been highlighted through this experience that we’ve all been in, in the past, you know, three or four months, how that just does not work, that doesn’t engage people, they don’t feel connected. And honestly, we don’t treat them as humans and as whole people, if we manage people like that. Yeah, and as you’ve just highlighted, Gallup, has highlighted and identified the research that that individualization is so important. And one of the stories I want to share, Becky, is a leader that I’ve been working with, and they manage an operations area, and they needed to, you know, start to have people work from home. While some people still need to be coming to, basically a depot as you would call in America, or down here we call it a depo. That’s the same place.


Becky Hammond  03:32

Oh what a cultural adjustment. Thank you for being so sensitive to my language. I definitely would not have known what you meant if you said depo. So thank you.


Murray Guest  03:45

So I have been corrected by some of my American friends in the past on that one. So it’s one of those ones. But let’s talk about the depot. And how through this process, they needed some people to be based there and some working from home and how they make that work. And I think, to be honest, an ineffective leader and a leader that may be taking the easy route, would have just said, okay, you’re at home, you’re at work based on your job or your role. And just, you know, cut it down the middle. And to be honest, that is easier, and that is faster. But you know what, it doesn’t engage people. It doesn’t treat them like humans, it doesn’t consider what’s going on in their world and their life. And what this leader needed to do was actually, you know, pause and actually say, Who needs to be at home? Not ‘who do we need at work’, but who needs to be at home right now with what’s going on in the world? Yeah, so a totally different approach, which I know took time, took focus, took energy, and even felt difficult because it’s like hang on, we are putting people first. Hang on, but that is is important. And so what they did was they went through that process and didn’t take a long time, but also took some really valuable time and they identified that one of the leaders has a daughter who’s immune compromised. And through that process said, right, so it’s best for you to work at home for this next period of time. So that you’re okay, your family is okay. And she’s okay. And in having that come to surface as in, right, so how do we actually start to even use this as an opportunity for some improved succession planning and people stepping up. Which then there was a flow on effect, where we then had a leader that was working from home and someone else could step up into his role. And then someone else that normally works, let’s say, on the floor, stepping up again. So opportunity out of crisis. So everyone was looked after, everyone could do their role slightly differently. But then we had this great opportunity for development. And that, I think, is a really good example of that individualization and flexibility we want to talk about today.


Becky Hammond  06:11

Yeah, totally reminds me, or occurs to me in this moment that it takes a good deal of creativity. It’s not just the time but like thinking outside of the proverbial box, like, it says, Okay, this is the role that this person has always played. And this is what we need them to do, or what we need our organization to do. So how can we still get the same things done, and how people maybe take different rules or different priorities? Your story reminds me of the healthcare leader that I was working with, who had very similar outcomes of, okay, usually every person is in the office, there are zero remote workers when you are working in a healthcare setting, you know, pre March 2020. And but they said we want to we are committed to keeping these people employed. And so what can they do, they looked at, there was two particular people who had family members who were just higher risk. And they said, it’s not worth it for you to come into the office, we’re exposed to the general population every day. And so they were creative. They had to, you know, reorganize some things, readjust some things, people had to take on different responsibilities and roles, but I think the leader, the leader’s example of showing like, it’s okay, we can do this, you know, kind of gets back to the grace that we talked about in the first episode of this series, which is, you know what let’s all breathe a little bit, like breathe in and breathe out some grace and say, we can we can be flexible, we can individualize to the, to the people that have real human needs. You know, HBR, Harvard Business Review, wrote an article, I think, was back in 2011 2012, that just said, People aren’t assets. You know, we talked about like people saying, you know, people are assets. Well, people aren’t assets. They’re humans that need to be to be cared about and to be looked after as unique individuals, and not as every one of them being exactly the same as being a cog in the system.


Murray Guest  08:18

Yeah, and I think, additionally, Becky, I’m thinking about a conversation I had recently with a leader. And actually, I should say, it was a group of leaders where we were talking about our assumptions. And I know that as humans, we make assumptions all the time. As people we make assumptions, we make assumptions when we drive down the road that the car coming towards us is going to be on the other side of the road. And our brains need to make these, yeah, I was careful how I frame that one. And those assumptions we make in all areas of our lives, and we need to from a brain perspective, otherwise, we’d be focusing on absolutely everything. And we’d have that sense of overwhelm. And I think this is just raising to the awareness and in this conversation, of this group of leaders, about we can’t just assume what people are doing or can’t just assume that they can deliver exactly on their role if they’re working from home, or that they can work from home, or they can or they can do their job elsewhere. It’s about being present, having that grace and kindness that I loved our conversation on, and knowing our people to a depth that shows we care, but also, and this is where the difficulty is, I’m gonna call it, we want to know people but also have some boundaries there as well. So it does take some time and energy and focus, but it’s about this is true leadership.


Becky Hammond  09:47

Yeah, yeah. Reminds me of that concept of emotional templates that we talked about in Leaders Who Give a Damn program, of what you’re reminding me that like some of those things are things that we need, where we need to cut like, especially if they’re positive emotional templates that we can create those things, these assumptions, these filters of the situation that we’re about to go into. But when we find that we’re creating a negative emotional template or a negative assumption, that’s where we kind of as leaders, the best leaders, they check themselves. I was talking to a leader today who, man she’s so good at individualizing. She’s saying, you know, okay, I talked to this, I said, I said something to the effect of how is your team doing? And she’s like, Well, yesterday, I would have said great. And today, I’m not so sure. And so she had a conversation with one of her employees that she usually has great rapport, great trust with. And today, something happened, by the end of the call, it was clear that there was, there was something going on that there was either a lack of trust, or that there was just, maybe toes being stepped on, or I know, as a coach, I was helping her think through that, and what that might be. And I think one of her greatest strengths as a leader is that even in this sense of crisis, where you know, one of the true answers as to why things might be going wrong, is because people are tired, right? They are exhausted, they have been working more hours than they ever have. And she was doing a great job of just saying, Well, what is it for this person? You know, she and I, I coach from a Strengths Finder perspective. So we’re talking about the strength of that particular person, and what might be causing the riff or it might have caused this like, difference in interaction. And in the end, yeah, maybe there were some strengths related things about relator and significance and some different approaches that this leader could take. And so that’s individualizing. Right there. And then also just realizing, fatigue is setting in. And so what can we do to assume positive intent, go back to people with, go back to your your team with, like, hey, that didn’t go so well? What can we do to make that go better? Or, what do I not know that I should know, that will help me to tailor our conversations a little bit better.


Murray Guest  12:06

And I think that’s just another great example, Becky, of a leader that’s really being present, and, and really present to the needs of their team, and how they’re feeling. And I think the important part here for people to just reflect on also is, this doesn’t mean that’s taking away from your job, this is your job as a leader, this is a core element of being a leader. And I’ll even build on that and say, while it might feel like it’s taking away some of the conversation from where you’re up to with your projects, where you’re up to on some of your work, or where you’re up to and delivering on X, Y and Z. By having these conversations, it puts people in a space so they can deliver on their work and actually feel more engaged in their jobs. So I think we’ve got to just, and this has just highlighted so importantly, through this, this process, through this pandemic, how important we are connecting with our people on their individual needs. And a leader I was working with a couple of weeks ago, she told me she had to change the way she conducted her one on one conversations with her team. And it was a great awareness where she realized that it was all project based. It was all, where you’re at with your work. How are you delivering on the timelines? Have you been speaking to stakeholders. And the awareness she got was, Hang on, I’ve missed that leadership component. I’ve missed that conversation. I’ve missed the check in, where are you at? Like you’re leader, a great example. So she brought that in, and the shift on the productivity, the shift on how people were connected, and even communicating with each other shifted significantly, by her showing that care at the start of every one on one. Again, good practice and a simple change but made a big difference.


Becky Hammond  14:07

I love that it’s just the power of showing up first with, this is a human I’m talking to, kind of like, you’re not an asset, you’re not a to do list to me. It was challenging for people like me who are to do list kind of people, like okay, well we have these things that we need to take care of. Right. But it’s like you said, it’s not adding to your job, it IS your job to get to know them so that then you know if you’re going to be able to get through all that checklist of things. And the leader that I was working with who said, you know what, they started to do one word check ins at the beginning of every meeting. So you sometimes you feel like I don’t have time to like get everybody’s like how they’re feeling today and like you know, download everything about how their weekend was and all that. But if you’re having a team meeting, you know, it’s pretty powerful for people to go around the room. And say one word. You know what you don’t have to explain it, you don’t have to, it doesn’t have to be happy. It doesn’t have to be good, or it could be. But what happens if you go around the room and everyone says their one word like, this is how I’m coming to this meeting today, then you as a leader can individualize to the team or to that meeting, or like, if everyone in the room says, overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, then you know that you have a different situation than if most people are saying, you know, what, pretty good, or, you know, I’m feeling content today, or I’m relaxed. Those are very different experiences that you as a leader can then kind of tailor your to do list to after that.


Murray Guest  15:39

Such a simple process. But I can imagine the openness, the vulnerability, that creating the space for people to start to share how they’re feeling. And you know what I think a good leader in that situation might say, we need to pause the conversation about this project. And we need to maybe talk about what’s just come out of that review of how we’re all feeling to make sure we reconnect and how we are looking after ourselves and looking after each other in that moment. I do that often in my workshops, and around with teams and those themes of I’m feeling busy, I’m feeling overwhelmed and feeling tired. Because people, I feel, like are juggling, and we talked about this in one of our I think it was in the training we did a few weeks back. People feel like they’re juggling a lot more balls at the moment. So yeah, I think that check in from a leader is again, a simple step, but really impactful, shows you care as a leader. The bit I want to add, Becky, that’s so important is if you’re going to ask that question, be prepared for the answer, be prepared. Be prepared for what people say, because if they’re going to say, Hey, I’m feeling tired, or I’m feeling a bit lost, or I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed, you know, we’ve given them the space to share that. Now let’s do something with that. Because if someone raises that, and we go, Okay, now, let’s move on to the projects.


Becky Hammond  17:07

Okay, that being said, check, check, check, right, like, yeah, what do you think? What What have you seen some of the best leaders do? Or what are what are some of your experiences of, you know, not derailing your entire project? You might not be able to, but really still addressing some of those, you know, what does it look like to be ready for the responses that people give you?


Murray Guest  17:32

Yeah, so I think that’s a really good point. And I think it’s that preparation. So being aware that if I’m going to ask that question that I’m already thinking about, okay, how do we support? How do we share so I know leaders that are thinking, Right, in my agenda that is a part of the process. And then what I’m going to make sure I can do is, I’ve got some suggestions that I might bring to the table, after more of a coaching approach. So for example, if people saying I’m a bit stressed, I’m a bit overwhelmed, or I’m feeling too busy right now. Okay, so the coaching approach would be so what are you going to do about that? Or what support do you need? Or what additional resources? Who could we delegate some work to? So ask some coaching questions, but as a leader, also having ready to bring to the table some ideas in case the team, you know, don’t quite get there. So but you know, in the start with that coaching approach, so I’d say that’s the first thing. The second thing is, you know, being very mindful on and listening with intent for anyone that needs follow up after that meeting. So one of those tailored one on one check ins. Yeah. So you might need to check in with someone and and catch up with them and say, Look, hey Becky, I noticed that right now, you’ve said you’ve got so much on your plate, you’re not too sure where to start. Let’s catch up after the meeting and talk through that so I can help you with some of the priorities on that work right now.


Becky Hammond  19:05

Yeah, it reminds me of a leader, one of the best leaders that I have worked with in the recent years who says that he, during this time of crisis, maybe it was probably about, I don’t know, six or seven weeks in where people are starting to feel that burnout. He said that he had just a conversation with one of his team members who came to him and just said, You know what, this is a lot. I don’t know, if I can manage this. I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. And as he just kind of stood, stood in that place, and had a listening ear, stood, I don’t know, he might have been sitting because he was probably on a zoom call at that point, but had a listening ear for her situation. You know, by the end, they were laughing together. And he was just kind of letting her know like, You’re not the only one that’s feeling like this and here’s some strategies that maybe we can try and, you know, he’s good at cracking jokes and such. And so they were laughing together, you know, high positivity, strength type leader. And, you know, at the end of the conversation, she just said, you know what I came in just feeling so down and I appreciate that I’m able to have a conversation with you that you’re willing to stop and talk to me. And you can always make me laugh, even if I feel like, you know, everything’s about to crash, crash and burn. So you know, that I feel like that’s an example of, of tailoring that one on one of, of knowing that it was not time to be like, I mean, it probably wasn’t even time to be like, Okay, well, let’s list out everything that you have going and see what we can eliminate it, you know, that might have been a helpful fix. But really, all she needed was that emotional connection, and that sense of being understood and being heard, and adding a little bit of levity back into her life at that time. So that leader just did a really good job of individualizing that experience so that he was helping her get what she needed in that moment.


Murray Guest  21:03

Yeah, I love that. And I love the practical examples with these great leaders that you work with Becky, because I think it helps us understand how this can look, in a day to day approach. I just want also flag I think what’s a really important distinction here. Leaders caring about their people is obviously important, something that we are so passionate about. But leaders also aren’t counselors. So it’s also striking that balance of showing you care, building that trust, but also being aware of when you may need to refer or suggest other support mechanisms your organization has to support that person as well. And just so I think that’s an important element that leaders need to be mindful of, and not stepping over and getting and also not being too emotionally invested. And show you care. Yeah. But at the same time, making sure that you keep some boundaries there as well. Yeah, I think the bit that I just add to that, explaining your intent is really important. If you are asking someone how they’re doing or you’re asking how things are, some people may be thinking, Oh, this is a bit personal, you’re diving in too quick. So it needs trust. But explaining your intent that the reason I’m doing that is because I do care about you, I want to make sure you’re okay. Some simple words to explain your intent go a long way.


Becky Hammond  22:28

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, we’ve talked a little bit, kind of all weaving throughout these stories are some of the behaviors that we’ve seen of good leaders that individualize and are providing flexibility in this kind of lockdown time and after, we’ve talked a little bit about impact. What more would you say about the type of impact that being an individualizing leader, a flexible leader, really has on your team and your team culture and your end products?


Murray Guest  23:01

Well, I think the word we’ve said a few times is trust and 100% I think it builds trust, builds that greater connection between team members and the leader, also reduces stress, anxiety, and worry. I think it also builds employee engagement, it builds that connection to the team and that connection to the organization and the purpose. And you and I’ve talked about this in the Leaders Who Give a Damn program around, you know, the, I think it’s 70% of an employee’s engagement relates to their relationship with their manager. So if my manager shows, my leader shows, they care about me, then I’m engaged, and I’m going to show up. So there’s the impact there, isn’t just from human to human, but also from a business sense. So I think the other thing that also does is that creates a new way of working and a new team culture, that transition to this time right now where some businesses are working back in the office or back in their workplace. And then beyond that. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running workshops with a range of clients. And I’ve been asking the question, Who wants things to go back to the way they were before this all started? I think you know the answer. Drumroll for the surprise. Yes. It’s been, I think around 200 people, and honestly, I’d be like, two people have said we want it to get back the way it was. Everyone has enjoyed or been inspired or appreciated or changed the way of working, been exposed to a different way and wants something out of that to continue, whether it’s the flexibility, whether it’s the start time, whether it’s working from home, whether it’s the type of work they do, it’s just so strong, so strong right now. And unfortunately, though, I was talking to a team recently, and they said that the message they got from a leader was when you go back into the work, it’s back to five days a week, exact same hours back to what we’re doing. And they’re all like, hang on, hang on, hang on. That’s not what we want. And there’s this conversation happening right now about how do we individualize? How do we take what’s worked for me and what’s going to work for the team going forward? Because otherwise, Becky, if we don’t do that, as leaders, there’s going to be massive, honestly, massive emotional mental impact and massive disengagement.


Becky Hammond  25:55

Yeah, yeah, that is a really striking, a striking story about, you know, an organization saying, you know, we’re just gonna go back to doing what we were doing. It’s not like, we’re asking you to do anything more than what you did before. Yet, people are starting to say, but look, I’m doing a great job. And look at all the less miles that are on my car, the less pollution that we’re putting in the air, the less number of hours I spent on the train, and you know, all the different elements, whatever kind of they’re pulling out as man, this was a real benefit to me, and I’m still doing a good job for you, aren’t I? You know, and yeah, it’s really fascinating.


Murray Guest  26:33

And I’m getting the chance to invest in my health and well being, whilst I’m not commuting into the workplace. Now, I’m not saying, and I don’t want to put my assumption out there for people to think that I’m saying everyone should work from home going forward. I’m not saying that. I know that’s not what you’re saying, either. I think what we’re very clear on is it’s the individual needs of the person and the team and the business and how they can all come together. Because there’s lots that has worked over these past few months. And I think from a habit point of view, if it takes 21 days to form a new habit, people have been forming new habits for over 90 days. And if we consider that, we consider that we’ve got people that have formed some new habits and new ways of working, and they’re getting locked in pretty solid. And, like you said, it’s working in the sense that they’re delivering on what the team needs as well.


Becky Hammond  27:31

Right, right. Since as you’re saying these things that I’m gonna take your Venn diagram approach, I feel like there’s a middle, right, there’s the me, there’s my team, there’s an organization, and where does that overlap? And, you know, as an individual team member as well, you know, you don’t just get to do whatever you want, right? There has to be some from the team and from the leader and from the organization. And I think for the first time we’re seeing that. That it can work when there can be a really great place of overlap of all those things, and still be focusing on the human and the individual and, and what people need. Yeah, really good.


Murray Guest  28:15

Yeah. I totally agree, Becky. And I think that’s a good way to, I think, wrap up this conversation and for leaders to actually take that pause, and maybe even get the piece of paper out or get out their device and think about those diagrams, those circles and how they do intersect. What do my individuals need, what do my team members need? What does our team need? What do I need? What does the organization need? And how do we map that going forward? Talk to your team. And really listen, and be prepared then to invest the time and shaping this amazing opportunity going forward. Because right now, there are so many different versions of work that is being developed and being implemented. And it’s about finding the one that works for you and for your team and for those individuals in your team.


Becky Hammond  29:11

Yeah. Now, I love that practical application of just kind of being able to see like, where do these things overlap? We’re not saying that, I think what I’m careful of is we’re not saying that every individual’s needs have to trump everything. I mean, that won’t work, right? It won’t work. Not everyone can get every thing that they feel like they need. Maybe they can, but most likely they can’t. And so where are those biggest sections of overlap? And how can we come to a solution that looks at the individual for their situation, the individual for their strengths. I think about individual ways to encourage and recognize each employee. I mean, this has been something that’s been a thing, you know, since the beginning of management, and it feels even more important in this time where people are feeling just more uncertain. And so as a manager, you know, one practical takeaway is just okay, think about who each of my team members are as an individual, and what can I do to encourage and recognize them for the work that they are doing during this time, and the value that they provide based on their individual needs and their individual strengths.


Murray Guest  30:24

And, of course, Becky, there’s a really great link here to Module Three in the Leaders Who Give a Damn program, which is knowing your people. And I know as you go through that module, there’s some resources there to help you invest in deepening that knowledge of your people, to connect with them on an individual level. So if you haven’t checked out that program, I would love you to check that out. Because I know that module links so strongly to what we’re talking about today.


Becky Hammond  30:51

Yep. And it leaves you with some real good, solid action planning guides and some practical next steps that you can take to individualize as a leader and even more when it comes to knowing who your people are, and being a leader that inspires them to follow. So yeah, definitely check that out if you haven’t, and we will be excited to continue this series about leadership in lockdown. Next week, whenever the next episode is in our fourth episode of this series, we will be talking about clarity. And clarity is something that Murray, you especially have been thinking about and are passionate about in this time, that you’ve been seeing the best leaders are those that create a sense of clarity, and there’s some interesting ways that they’re doing it and that you’re seeing that happen. So I’ll be excited to dive into that in the next episode.


Murray Guest  31:42

So Becky, if you expect to get a word in next time, you’re going to be severely disappointed. I am so passionate about clarity, and I am looking forward to talking about that with you. So thanks again so much. I love I love love our conversations and thanks everyone for listening.


Becky Hammond  32:01

Yep, and thanks to the inspiring leaders that are teaching us what it looks like to lead well in lockdown. Bye now


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